Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ways your small business can help with the Gulf Coast oil disaster

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A:  If there is one thing I have learned about small-business people over the years, it is that they are a committed, idealistic, passionate group, so I am not surprised that there is a desire out there to help. And while the effect of the oil spill on the environment alone is heart-wrenching enough, the devastating effect on our small-business brethren along the Gulf Coast makes it that much more traumatic.

There are plenty of ways you or your small business can help:

Volunteer:  Whether it is giving staff time off to head to the Gulf or going down there yourself, giving time and effort can make a significant difference, but note this word of caution: Don?t just head to the Gulf Coast without a plan or program in place; there is apparently a plethora of people with the same idea.

So start by contacting the right agency. Check out these state volunteer websites:

Volunteer Louisiana, 800-755-5175 —Also here

Mississippi Commission for Volunteer ServiceAlso here

Volunteer Florida

211 Connects Alabama, 866-869-4921 —Also here

Tristate Bird Rescue & Research is also coordinating volunteer efforts, as is the National Audubon Society, which is organizing volunteers for wildlife rescue and beach clean-up.

The government has a volunteer hotline at 866-448-5816, and BP has a community support team hotline at 866-448-5816.

Buy some Dawn detergent:  Dishwashing detergent is used to clean mucky oil off birds and other animals, and if you purchase a bottle of Dawn, $1 will go toward the Marine Mammal Center and the International Bird Rescue Research Center. Note that this donation is not automatic. You trigger it by registering online here.

Put your business to work:  I have run across two sorts of businesses that can help immediately. The first is boating businesses. BP has created a "Vessels of Opportunity" program, using local boats for:

• Clean-up activities.
• Transporting supplies.
• Performing wildlife rescue.
• Towing and deploying booms.

For more information, call 281-366-5511, or go to this website.

In addition, if you own a salon or pet-grooming business, you know that hair is a great absorbent of oils. You can donate your business? cut hair to the group Matter of Trust, which collects hair and uses it to create ?hair booms,? which are then used to help clean up after oil spills: 415-242-6041.

(Note: BP recently indicated that it would not be using these hair booms because more industrial absorbents may be more effective, but Matters of Trust continues to collect hair, believing that the sheer size of the spill will necessitate its use.)

Donate: The International Bird Rescue Research Center allows you to adopt a bird or make a donation. If your business would like to donate to the Audubon Society, go to this site. Other donation options include: The National Wildlife Federation, Alabama Coastal Foundation and Save our Seabirds.

Reduce your carbon footprint:  Thinking long term, another way to help is to reduce the carbon footprint of your small business and thereby make the country less dependent on fossil fuels. has a calculator here to help you analyze your company?s carbon footprint. It then helps you offset it in a variety of ways, here.

Use Twitter:  For current news on volunteer and relief efforts in the Gulf, there are several Twitter feeds/lists you can subscribe to:

Crisis Camp's list
Crisis Mappers' list
• EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
BP America

Speak up:  If you are passionate about some aspect of this issue, and most of us are, let your voice be heard. Contact your congressman of senator. Write a local op-ed piece. Organize a donation drop. Use your entrepreneurial skills in a new way.

Today's tip: Hair can be an amazing absorbent of oil. You can watch a video of just how amazing here.

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —

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