Friday, January 05, 2007

News From My Backyard: In Oregon, It's Jobs and the Environment

Oregon Business Leaders Embrace a Plan to Build on Oregon's Expertise in Sustainability

[From the Oregonian:]

The headlines from today's Oregon Leadership Summit will surely focus on proposals by business and political leaders to overhaul the health care system and strengthen schools and universities.

Those are vital issues, and the summit will provide useful advice to the Legislature, which opens its 2007 session Monday. Yet today's summit is significant for another reason: It signals a new chapter in Oregon's history of economic and environmental conflict. The choices always have seemed stark: jobs or the environment, cheap power or salmon, loggers or the spotted owl.

However, at today's summit, the state's top business and government leaders will rally around a new economic strategy of building on and selling Oregon's history and expertise in sustainability.

Sustainability is a broad concept that has steadily gained traction over the last decade. It refers to development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The business leaders who wrote the "Policy Playbook" for today's summit are right: In a world hungry for ideas and innovation on sustainable practices, Oregon has a competitive advantage.

Consider a list of the modern roots of sustainability in Oregon: forest practices rules, land-use planning, solid waste recycling, wetlands protection, greenspace investment, support for light rail and bicycle transportation. Every one of these hard-won policies has been attacked at one time or another as "job killers," deterrents to doing business in Oregon.

Yet today the state's most knowledgeable business leaders will discuss how these very policies are now key to building a vibrant future economy in Oregon.

The opportunity is there. The world is searching for innovation in energy efficiency, alternative fuels, recycling, green buildings, alternative transportation and land use. There is real money to be made, big markets to supply, countless jobs to create in the search for sustainability.

There is also enormous benefit in strengthening Oregon's reputation as the place where sustainability is understood and valued. Smart, ambitious, innovative people are looking for the right place to start businesses, or work for them, that focus on sustainability.

Oregon is that place. Already, the state is home to many businesses with a deep expertise in and commitment to sustainable business practice. Nike, Hewlett-Packard and Intel, three of its largest employers, are ranked among the 100 most sustainable corporations in the world. Portland, meanwhile, is ranked first in urban sustainability in annual rankings of the nation's 50 largest cities.

But Oregon has more work to do. It's crucial that the state improve and strengthen its land-use system and resolve questions raised by Measure 37. The business leaders also suggest that elected officials take fresh looks at the state's energy policy, and water and wastewater policies, with stronger commitments to efficiency.

Of course, there's much more to do to position Oregon as a global leader in sustainability. And of course there will continue to be tensions between economic growth and the environment. But Oregon has spent a century grappling with the big questions of how to build an economy while preserving quality of life. In a time when everyone is pursuing sustainability, we've got a head start.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I like the concept of "sustainability" as a marketing hook, I wonder if the differences between the business community's vision of sustainability and the state's will be overcome. An interesting take on this is available here.