Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sustainability

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sustainability

Article excerpt

THE current environmental buzzword - "sustainability" - means using resources only at the rate they can be replaced in nature: like cutting forests no faster than they grow, or rotating crops so that soils have a chance to rest and recharge.

It seems so logical, if not simple. Logical yes, simple no. For when idealistic buzzwords run into real-world economic buzz saws, the public policy machinery whines and snarls with conflicting interests.

Bearing the costs, all too often, are individuals and communities lacking the political power or business know-how to avoid disaster. It happened to energy towns 10 years ago, and now threatens timber towns in the Pacific Northwest.

It must be something in the clear air above 10,000 feet, but the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado has another good idea: community renewal that encourages economic development based on four principles. 1. Plugging the leaks of dollars out of small towns and rural areas; 2. supporting existing enterprises; 3. encouraging new business startups; and 4. selectively recruiting outside firms that are compatible with local goals.

The Rocky Mountain Institute - the brainchild of Amory and Hunter Lovins - advises more than 150 clients in 30 countries, including utilities, governments, and manufacturers, and RMI takes some credit for the fact that seven times more energy has been gotten from conservation in the United States over the past decade than from new sources.

RMI's economic renewal program takes a similar philosophical line: that prosperity does not have to mean ever-increasing consumption of resources. In other words, there can be sustainable development (more business activity and jobs) without growth (construction of new buildings, roads, and utilities).

There are many examples of how it already is working: By plugging energy leaks, Osage, Iowa, is saving $900 per family each year, which keeps more than $1 million in the local economy. The "Oregon Marketplace" program in Eugene links local suppliers with local buyers by identifying products imported from outside the state that could be purchased locally (like prepared airline meals). In its first year, the Oregon program resulted in $2. …

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