Sustainable Enterprise Conference: Urgency, economic viability in environmental movement
By Lou Fancher
If the sustainability movement is to endure, we’ll need some hare with our tortoise. While drawing wisdom from the well-known fable that slow and steady wins the race, experts and activists concerned about the environment, and especially climate change, suggest rapid response is necessary to take advantage of technological developments.
The urgency was apparent Nov. 1, at the second annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference, a one-day gathering of business owners, civic leaders and interested community members at the Pleasant Hill Community Center.
Based on a model practiced for more than 12 years by sustainability organizations in Sonoma County, the Contra Costa conference earmarked sustainable strategies to build and support immediate and long-term economic viability.
Keynote speakers and panels at the event, co-hosted by Sustainable Contra Costa, the county Office of Sustainability and Contra Costa Small Business Development Center, offered practical tools, resources and future visions for environmental stability.
In addition to responsible “green” development, carbon dioxide emission reductions and other initiatives, there was an introduction to Project Drawdown, a science-based plan to reverse global warming.
Jody London, Contra Costa County’s first sustainability coordinator said her primary task is to make sure the Climate Action Plan adopted in 2015 is functional and money is allocated according to plans.
She is ensuring that commissions are staffed and grants completed, in addition to checking in with experts in energy efficiency, land use, transportation, solid waste and water and government action plans.
London’s core principles were developed in childhood.
“I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, near a subdivision called, ‘The Lakes.’ That never made sense to me — manmade lakes in the desert. We’ve messed up the planet and I want to leave it a better, cleaner, more equitable place.”
During the conference, London said top county priorities are connecting departments, educating its 10,000 employees about sustainable practices, introducing the general public to programs that include a sustainability commission and energy, coastal protection, electric vehicle readiness projects and more; and expanding outreach efforts to schools and businesses.
“I feel really lonely as a certified green business,” said Péllo Walker, president of Daily Digital Imaging. “One of the tenets of being a green business is to go out and talk to other businesses. I find most of the companies don’t care about being green: it’s price that matters. Until we can tell them from an economic point of view how sustainability impacts them, they don’t care.”
Conference producer Mark Westwind introduced the One Planet Living Principles framework for assessing and mitigating negative impacts on cities, regions, businesses, development projects and other sectors.
Risks that impact a company’s or community’s bottom line also lead to increased food insecurity, waste disposal problems, job loss, negative physical and mental health outcomes, and damage to land, wildlife, water and natural resources.
“A big issue is where to fit sustainability into consumer decisions,” said Westwind. He suggested creating a sustainability rating for products. “How many of you would use it to make a purchasing decision?”
Westwind said the system could empower customers, convince businesses to upcycle, dispose of waste properly, use green materials. Posted on social media, the information might spark people- and eco-friendly competition.
Economic development analyst Renee Pierce, with the California Employment Training Panel, outlined the state’s process that reimburses employers for the costs of employee training.
“Green clean technology is huge for us,” said Pierce. “Tell employers and businesses that there is a way to train employees, do sustainable practices and grow that activity — and we will help provide the support. They can become a successful business that not only drives sustainability, but creates a better culture in California.”
As the workforce shiftsto high-tech operations, transportation converts to battery-powered electric vehicles and family farms adopt sustainable agricultural practices, employment will require knowledge about sustainability.
High on the list is water conservation. County Water District supervisor Chris Dundon suggested changing what’s acceptable for landscaping by replacing grass with native plants and hard materials, improving sprinkler systems, repurposing water and more. Mandates that govern new construction projects, he said would lead to high improvement rates overall.
Sustainable Contra Costa president Tina Neuhausel said the conference goal was not to reinvent the wheel, but to give people and organizations working for sustainabilty a forum to join, learn from each other, and continue to reach out to the wider community.