Green Is the Color of Money: Growing a Sustainable Local Business Approach
Today I attended the monthly green business networking lunch organized by Sustainable Local Investment Partners of Spokane. The incredibly dynamic and inspiring speaker was Michelle Long, executive director of Sustainable Connections in Bellingham and also of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), a national "network of networks" for sustainable businesses.
She showed a quote from Wendell Berry; I found a longer version of it at the Unstuffed blog. It's from The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (here's an Amazon link but what you SHOULD do is go buy it at Auntie's if you're in Spokane or at your own local independent bookstore to support a truly local business).
"One of the primary results--and one of the primary needs--of industrialism is the separation of people and places and products from their histories. To the extent that we participate in the industrial economy, we do not know the histories of our families or of our habitats or of our meals. This is an economy, and in fact a culture, of the one-night stand....
"In this condition, we have many commodities, but little satisfaction, little sense of the sufficiency of anything. The scarcity of satisfaction makes of our many commodities, in fact, and infinite series of commodities, the new commodities invariably promising greater satisfaction than the older ones. And so we can say that the industrial economy's most-marketed commodity is satisfaction, and this commodity, which is repeatedly promised, bought and paid for is never delivered. On the other hand, people who have much satisfaction do not need many commodities.
"The persistent want of satisfaction is directly and complexly related to the dissociation of ourselves and all our goods from our and their histories. If things do not last, are not made to last, they can have no histories, and we who use these things can have no memories. We buy new stuff on the promise of satisfaction because we have forgot the promised satisfaction for which we bought our old stuff...
"The problem of our dissatisfaction with all the things that we use is not correctable within the terms of the economy that produces those things. At present, it is virtually impossible for us to know the economic history or the ecological cost of the products we buy; the origins of the products are typically too distant and too scattered and the processes of trade, manufacture, transportation, and marketing too complicated. There are, moreover, too many good reasons for the industrial suppliers of these products not to want their histories to be known...
"If the industrial economy is not correctable within its own terms, then obviously what is required for correction is a countervailing economic idea..."
What was so exciting about Michelle's presentation: They have demonstrated in Bellingham that encouraging businesses to connect with other local businesses genuinely grows the local economy.
After having a much higher unemployment rate than the rest of the state, they have had a lower unemployment rate over the past five years. They were recently certified by the EPA as being #1 in the nation--in the nation--for green power. They're working with local government to change permitting processes so a green building isn't a problem that goes to the bottom of the stack to be processed.
National numbers are quite clear: There's more job creation in small businesses than in the giants. In Bellingham they appear to be learning to think first about whether there is a local source for something they're used to importing, whether it's food or anything else.
This idea isn't the least bit anti-business--it's pro-good-business-we-can-live-with-over-the-long-haul.
Here's another take on our economy (and how the financial system is not the same thing as the economy), from someone far more knowledgeable on finance than I--Leslie White, a Wall Street veteran:
"Let's get to the task of facilitating the efficient exchange of goods and services, which, in the process, employs people in productive capacities so they can then afford to buy what they need. It sounds simple, and it is simple.... Every one of us can take a leadership role in some aspect of our local economies. We can buy local food, shop at locally owned stores, enjoy neighborhoods and communities, and engage in financial transactions at the local level."