Archive for the ‘Quantifying Sustainability’ Category

[This post was written by Megan Foster, Grant Russ, and Tina Xiong, and complements previous students’ analysis of the question What is Sustainability?]

One of the many topics of change that the Coalition for a Livable Future‘s Regional Equity Atlas expands on is poverty and, more specifically, child poverty. The Atlas presents a figure of 31,000 people living in poverty in the Portland metro area in the year 2000 and almost a third of that number were children. A collection of research also cited by the source provides an unsettling correlation of poverty stricken children and elevated exposure to crime and an increased chance of teen pregnancy, family problems, and a lower standard of education. In order to improve these unfortunate circumstances it would be necessary to utilize preventative and tertiary methods.

Preventative methods would aid in addressing the root of the problem rather than simply taking measures that will just move the population of poor to other areas. (more…)

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[This post written by Chris White, Daniel Gray, Tony Smith]

The Coalition for a Livable Future‘s Regional Equity Atlas (REA) provides a wealth of information regarding the socio-economic conditions of Portland and the metro area. This tool is useful for research regarding many various aspects of the equity pillar of sustainability. One potentially useful aspect of this resource is the ability for small and large businesses to find new areas for investment and development. One example of a positive development is the Yellow Line expansion along Interstate Ave. in North Portland.

There have been significant instances where communities were not included in the planning stages of major development. The REA has made note of two major projects which have left the community feeling neglected. In the 1950s the construction of the Memorial Coliseum uprooted many members of the local community without proper compensation. Another example is the construction of I-5 which tore through the same community as the Memorial Coliseum had done a decade before.[1]

There is a significant difference between how proponents of these two projects approached the local community and how the MAX Yellow Line project was built. (more…)

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[This post written by Noah Sharpsteen, Teddy Messan, Nigel Peltier, John Stephenson]

This discussion focuses on the Coalition for a Livable Future’s Regional Equity Atlas (REA) and will address the strengths and weaknesses of the atlas’ ability to provide/represent useful data in regards to equity. [1] More specifically, we will argue that the type of representation in use by the REA (visual representation) allows for the specific learning and recognition of the trends being presented, but, ultimately, the lack of certain kinds of information to supplement these maps limits the atlas’ availability to make substantive connections and provide for causal reasoning in regard to the different situations exemplified by the specific maps given.

The REA uses maps to represent data relevant to equity considerations. We believe that this kind of visual representation allows for the following benefits: 1) it provides a holistic approach so connections internal to the specific map can be made; 2) fosters ‘quick and easy’ correlation of ‘trends’ or ‘conclusions’ which makes the identification of problems much easier; 3) and allows for pattern-development which leads to a greater sense of organization for the reader.[2] We feel that these benefits apply within the REA as well.

Unfortunately, the ‘trends’ or ‘conclusions’ that are the resultant benefits of the use of visual representation are communicated poorly within the REA as a whole. (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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I discovered the graphic above in a recent Slate.com article by Chris Wilson, Dinner at the Kwik-E-Mart: Food Deserts in America.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines food deserts as “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.”

One of the key lines of research and discussion that the SHP pursues is the degree to which “sustainable” methods can be measured. In fact, an important component of the working definition that we use includes the stipulation that “sustainability” must integrate methods of quantitative measurement, tracking, and evaluation.

U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a quantitative and accessible tool to evaluate food deserts in in specific counties throughout the country: The USDA’s Food Environment Atlas.

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In the face of complexity, many people conclude that sustainability is impossible to define, or that the use of the term is so broad that it means nothing. The SHP holds that sustainability certainly is a complex topic but that it is not at all beyond comprehension or definition. One way to attempt a definition of sustainability is by describing what sustainability is; another way is to determine what sustainability isn’t.

How do we do attempt the latter?

One interesting project to help us evaluate claims of sustainability is the Greenwashing Index. This web-based tool is a project of the Enviromedia Social Marketing and the University of Oregon, and has three goals:

    1) Help consumers become more savvy about evaluating environmental marketing claims of advertisers.
    2) Hold businesses accountable to their environmental marketing claims.
    3) Stimulate the market and demand for sustainable business practices that truly reduce the impact on the environment.

Greenwashing is “whitewashing, but with a green brush”: businesses that inflate their environmental credentials to obscure environmentally harmful activities.

The Greenwashing Index is a forum where anyone can contribute to evaluations of business practices. Through this community input, these practices are rated on a 1-5 scale of “Authentic” or “Bogus” green claims. This project achieves some of the critical elements of the SHP’s definition of sustainability because it provides quantifiable metrics and because it’s open & participatory.

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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.

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

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