40 Under 40 The Class of 2010

Daniel Finn

Age 39: Executive Director and Organizer, Pioneer Valley Local First

Daniel Finn never forgot a language lesson from high school.

“I remember learning that the words ecology and economy share the same root word, ‘eco,’ meaning ‘home’” — a fact that helped him see the connection between taking care of both the economy and the planet.

Finn eventually found a way to meld those concepts, launching Pioneer Valley Local First in 2001. The group promotes buying local by emphasizing both the economic benefits of keeping dollars in the region and the lessened environmental impact of doing so.

“We want people to think local first,” he said — and that means looking beyond the price tag at the overall prosperity and self-sufficiency of the region. “Shopping locally makes a lot of sense. We want people to see that it’s in their enlightened self-interest to support businesses here in Western Mass.”

One major accomplishment was the creation of the Pioneer Valley Local Business Guide, a detailed, categorized listing of area businesses that have aligned themselves with the organization’s mission.

Meanwhile, Finn has worked for 13 years as an employment specialist with Riverside Industries, helping people with disabilities develop life skills and procure jobs. He and a client with Down syndrome recently cleaned up a bike path from Amherst through Hadley, Northampton, and Florence, removing more than 1,000 pounds of trash from the path and the surrounding woods.

“If we take care of our home, it’ll take care of us,” he said. “If we don’t take care of our home, watch out.”

Again, it’s that concept of home that helps him bridge a perception gap between the environment and economic growth.

“When I explain this to my environmental friends,” Finn said, “they appreciate business more, and when I say it to business-minded people, it helps them to understand the importance of taking care of our air and water, and having a stable climate.

“We can have great businesses and a beautiful environment,” he continued. “You don’t have to give up one to have the other.”

—Joseph Bednar