Sustainability: An Opportunity for Business

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med_Pamelas_Mug_copy55A few year’s ago the Oregon State University Extension Service produced a report called Looking for Oregon’s future: What is Sustainability?  The conclusion, at the time, was that Oregon’s present economic profile is unsustainable because capitalism generates incessant economic growth, while the world has limited resources.

John A. Charles the environmental policy director at Cascade Policy Institute in Portland lamented the authors for their predictions that “the human population will double and resources available per person will drop by one-half to three-fourths.”

Charles insists that virtually every natural resource with any economic value has become more abundant in the past 30 years.  

Meanwhile the Union of Concerned Scientists are saying, “It is now abundantly clear that the world has entered a period of chronic energy shortages that will continue until mankind has learned to harness energy from renewable resources.”

Today, in light of a struggling economy, the thought of capitalism generating incessant economic growth sounds appealing.  But regardless of the state our economy, we are reminded that our world is a precious place in need of constant protection.

We all know that the facts in every case, especially ones that focus on any environmental issue, can be twisted to fit your point of view — to fit snuggly into your own rhetoric or argument that best suits your particular stance of the moment.

However, it seems clear that sustainability — now viewed as an opportunity for businesses to achieve benefits such as higher sales, reduced costs and lower risks from better corporate governance, improved environmental practices and investments in social and economic development — is a concept whose time has come. Corporate social responsibility and sustainable development are not only vogue, but also economically viable concepts.

Numerous examples of companies making changes in their packaging, energy use and waste reduction procedures are prime sustainable practices as well as money saving techniques that increase the bottom line of their finances.

For instance, Les Row, owner and operator of AIAS Green and Sustainable Products, carries a range of products aimed at “greening” vehicles. Driven by the link of hazardous solvents used in the automotive industry to cancer, Row has spent the past 23 years looking for solutions to keep industry operating in a more sustainable manner. The results of his efforts can be summed up as cost savings, lowered emissions and healthier communities (see story page 19).

A 2011 Environmental Center Sustainability award recipient, NorthWest Crossing, has modeled best practices in neighborhood design that enhances livability and sustainability from small lot sizes to narrow streets to planning for live, work, education and play all within walking distance,” commented The Environmental Center. “NorthWest Crossing has also required all new homes to meet Earth Advantage standards, a nationally recognized third party certification for environmental performance. In addition, street design in the project is based on the ‘complete streets’ concept of enhancing mobility and quality of life for all street users: pedestrians, cyclists or motorists.”

Also a Sustainability Award recipient Bendbraodband has built The Vault, which transforms the high desert’s cool evening temperatures into energy-efficient cooling and our sunny days into electricity using photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof of the facility. The Vault is also the first facility in our region that has sought to achieve carbon neutrality, using a combination of on-site techniques and off-site mitigation measures.

Arriving back at the question of who to believe about the state of our globe — regardless of whether you think we have enough oil, gas or water, regardless of whether you think trees grow back quickly or we’re destroying our forests and regardless of whether you want to save unknown fish species — the point is that sustainability is about livability, responsibility and quality of life.

Sustainability means that wasting resources just because we can, is just plain ignorance.  Since people have roamed this earth, we have made great advances in technology and that kind of intellect should drive us to be sensible about the use of our air, water and natural resources. We do not need to argue about how long they’re going to be here.  We should only be aware that the earth is ours to take care of and we hope that it will last for future generations into infinity.

Most business leaders and economists, now agree that business and environmental goals are not mutually exclusive. Cleaner, more efficient industry practices increase profits and strengthen competitiveness for American businesses.  Further, businesses face uncertain and potentially high environmental costs in the form of legal liability, regulatory compliance or work-force health expenditures.

The concept of recycling goes far beyond shortages of viable resources or any other recoverable materials.  Commuting to work or driving cars that use less gas is not just about saving money or improving our air quality.

All the steps that each person chooses to do to help make this earth a better place to be culminate in better air quality, less garbage to stock pile at our landfills and in healthy rivers and open spaces.

Think about your own work practices and how sustainability concepts can fit into your business. Using less paper, reusing some materials and driving less, regardless of the world’s resources, could help your profit margin. pha

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