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[This post was written by Teresa Celestine, Scott Demming, Stephanie Lewis, and Stephanie McCarthy.]

Sustainability is not only defined in terms of how things should be done in order to reduce material consumption and waste, but practical in ways that are actually being put to use by various individuals and organizations. Speaking from a purely academic point of view, ideas about how to be sustainable are endless. People can dream up an infinite number of ways to reduce consumption and waste. Most definitions of sustainability are subjective, correlating to the perspective of individuals and their experiences. Moving beyond personal interpretation toward a common language would improve the general acceptance and commitment of individuals to further advance the cause of creating more sustainable behavior individually and by organizations. There are an equal number of infinite applied sustainability practices that could be placed into effect. The key component for sustainability in business operations is to strive for this common language and understanding about what is real and what is not. The last thing a start-up business needs is to commit to a sustainable idea that is not real, but is simply green washing. The costs for running a business are only magnified when considering the additional time; effort and money necessary to navigate a business with the additional layer that sustainability questions add to the endeavor.

The definition of a sustainable business today is not the same definition of a sustainable business ten or twenty years ago. (more…)

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[This post was written by Teresa Celestine, Stephanie Lewis, and Scott Demming. The post and complements previous students’ analysis of the question “What is Sustainability?”]

In theory, sustainability practices seem straightforward. To put it simply, try to do what ever you are doing in a way that will allow it to continue on, hopefully forever. This applies to economic, social, and environmental factors. In this three part theory, as initially introduced by the Brundtland Commission in 1986, we see that each factor can be equally important to the goal of sustainability[1]. This seemingly simple theory, however, is difficult to put into practice, especially in today’s business world.

Current practices and cultural awareness of sustainability measures are a far cry from what they were 30 years ago. Yet, (more…)

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OregonBusiness magazine published a list of the state’s top “green” firms for 2010. The survey and analysis methods can be found here. As OregonBusiness characterizes the results,

    Winners range from longtime sustainability gurus such as Gerding Edlen and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to newcomers such as Ruby Receptionists and Hummingbird Wholesale. Add in respected businesses that are always expanding their green programs such as SOLARC Architecture and Boly Welch Recruiting, and the final result offers diverse representation of a statewide trend toward more sustainable business practices.

For the 2011 iteration of this list, OregonBusiness is collaborating with the Natural Step Network to “insure that the survey probed whether an organization is taking a strategic approach to sustainability as well as asking about specific actions a company is taking” (source).

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Old AM radio tuner, photographer Claudio Divizia, 123RF Stock Photos (www.123rf.com)

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud radio program this morning was on the topic “Sustainable Oregon and Iraq.” This program featured discussion of two recent developments in regional sustainability efforts. The first was on the five-year agreement that Oregon State University and the government of Iraq entered into help Iraq’s universities in developing sustainable engineering and design programs. The second topic of discussion was on “EcoDistricts,” a new and evolving urban planning concept that seeks to coordinate various existing environmental, equity, and economic strategies in a particular neighborhood to foster cohesive, mutually-reinforcing positive outcomes.

This program this morning got me interested in reviewing other segments of two regional radio programs that I’ve found highly informative over the years, OPB’s Think Out Loud and KUOW’s Weekday. See below the fold for this list.

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I just learned about a book of relevance to the SHP that is soon to be released:

This book is “a collaborative exploration of how small businesses can effectively and efficiently shift toward sustainability and thrive.” This exploration involves “Fifty-one small-business people from Portland” who “share their experiences with implementing sustainable practices in their companies.” The collaborative effort to create the book involved crowdsourcing. As the book’s website identifies:

    The difference between crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific other body. The difference between crowdsourcing and open source is that open source production is a cooperative activity initiated and voluntarily undertaken by members of the public. In crowdsourcing the activity is initiated by a client and the work may be undertaken on an individual, as well as a group, basis.

Mercy Corps Northwest is hosting a free-of-charge book release party for Portland Bottom Line on Wednesday, November 10, from 5-8 pm (with a program at 6) at Mercy Corps HQ, 45 SW Ankeny St., Portland.

The book’s website provides some sample chapters and a forum for other regional business professionals to share their stories.

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** Updated soon after posting, with information from the editors. Thanks, editors!

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Patrick Emerson wrote a reply in the Oregonian on Aug. 8, 2010, in response to Jack Hart’s OpEd on the “fallacy of growth,” titled “Economic growth: The planet’s poor need sustainable expansion.”

Emerson has three primary crititiques of Hart’s assertion that growth is a fallacy:

    1) “Hart’s views reveal a wealthy-country bias about what growth means and fail to appreciate the perspective of poor countries.”
    2) “His characterization of growth is also inaccurate and perpetuates a common misconception about economic growth — that it necessarily means resource depletion.”
    3) “Finally, his anti-growth agenda would leave the world more imperiled: Economic growth represents the world’s best hope to meet the challenges of the future.”

Emerson provides examples supporting his three contentions that show how Hart’s definition of “growth” is overly simplified. With this over-simplification, Hart is then able to characterize growth, in general, as fallacious. However, with an over-simplified definition of growth, Hart has actually engaged in a fallacy himself — the “straw man” fallacy, whereby a contrasting point of view is misrepresented so that it can be refuted more readily.

In contrast to Hart, Emerson sees “sustainable growth” as a solution to poverty and inequality:

    Developing countries present a key challenge to a sustainable future because their growth often comes at a high environmental cost. When more than one in every 10 children dies in infancy, it is hard to prioritize the environment. It behooves the developed world, then, to create the proper incentives — through carbon taxes, technology transfers, grants and aid — so the poor countries of the world can achieve growth through sustainable practices.

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Jack Hart wrote a thought-provoking piece in today’s Oregonian outlining what he identifies as our culture’s misguided commitment to the “fallacy of growth.”[1] Hart finds that, in the short term, “growth supports families, relieves social pressures . . . pays for amenities . . . [and] offers opportunities for entrepreneurs . . .” However, he asserts that growth has long-term negative consequences that outweigh the short-term benefits: “growth is also an addiction. And, like most addictions, it threatens to destroy us.”

Hart doesn’t see “sustainable growth” as a viable option, either:

    Hardly anyone, it appears, stops to think that ‘sustainable growth’ is an oxymoron. Combine constant economic growth with a constantly growing human population, place them on a finite world with finite resources, and you have a recipe for unsustainability.

Providing alternatives to the “fallacy of growth” are “a small but growing contingent of “steady-state” economists and activists is arguing that humanity needs to find a better way.” These include:

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[1] Jack Hart, “The fallacy of growth in a finite world,”Oregonian, Aug. 1, 2010.

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