Archive for June, 2010

June 10, 2010

In Search of a Sustainability Tool Kit for Planners

Nicole Isle, Brightworks Sustainability AdvisorBy Nicole Isle

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

I recently had the chance to actively participate in a couple of events at the 2010 Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association Conference (OAPA), including a Sustainability Workshop expertly facilitated by our friends at Cogan Owens Cogan and on the panel session “Attracting Green Industry,” skillfully moderated by Ryan Givens of Cardno WRG.

At the Sustainability Workshop, planners were asked to discuss questions concerning APA views on sustainability, which included comparing the currently adopted Brundtland definition of sustainable development – “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” – to the planning field.  Many shared a  common frustration that the definition doesn’t provide guidance on implementation.  I agree,  it’s tough to capture a call to direct action in a single phrase, so thank goodness there are tools out there to guide us!  Take The Oregon Natural Step Network’s work on broadening this definition to the community scale and the accompanying long list of helpful implementation resources.

Portland's Urban Growth Boundary in Clackamas, Oregon

One border of Portland's Urban Growth Boundary, via Architect Magazine

Since Oregon prides itself on its open space and natural resources, another interesting challenge participants wrestled with was how to reconcile sustainability “needs” across rural and urban areas. When it comes to the Brundtland definition, I contemplate where we should focus more attention on sustainability to best benefit the whole region.  In his keynote presentation  “How Green is My Region?,” Peter Katz suggested that cities are the most sustainable establishments on Earth.  I struggle with this notion for obvious reasons, but agree that when it comes to “containing the damage (of human development),” cities provide the necessary density.  With this is mind, would it be best to prioritize urban density or continue promoting urban agriculture?  Does it make sense to add pressure to the urban growth boundary or make room for that sort of stewardship inside?

Portland's Urban Growth Boundary in Cornelius, Oregon

Living on the edge in Cornelius, OR via the Oregonian

In nature, the most complex systems lie at the margins and transitional zones, and in this case, the most complex and conflicted area is the urban/rural interface.  That may be where challenges become opportunities to accelerate progress toward sustainability for both zones.  To promote better coordination, a good next step would be for the APA Sustainable Community Planning Interest Group to synthesize existing sustainability guides to craft a single executive memorandum that uses the Brundtland definition to further define sustainability for planners. It would help bridge any knowledge gaps between the adopted Brundtland definition and APA’s sustainability and climate change policy guides, and aid in unifying the sustainability “needs” of urban and rural communities.

June 3, 2010


by Scott Lewis
Brightworks CEO

As the “one of the greatest environmental calamities of history” continues to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, we may take the opportunity to reflect.

A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island 6.3.2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

If like me, you drive a car that runs on fossil fuel,

If, like me, your home is heated, cooled or lit with energy generated from fossil fuels,*

If, like me, you aren’t doing everything possible to convince – no, demand – your elected officials (local, regional and federal) that they take immediate and strong action to end our deathly addiction to fossil fuels,

Then – like me – you are complicit.

We are all complicit in the greatest ecological catastrophe of modern times.  And we are all complicit in the destruction of the rainforests, the increasing toxic chemical loads in the bodies of our loved ones, of raptor and polar bears, and ourselves.

So.  This is a great opportunity to re-commit.  To remind ourselves that there is, in fact, a viable alternative.  As Lester Brown is wont to point out, everything we need to do, to get to a sustainable, equitable future, we are already doing, in different places, at different times.  We have the know-how.  We have the technology.

For example, a path to a 100 percent renewable power world is both technically and financially feasible.  As we have observed previously in this space, the issue is not one of technical or financial ability, but one of political will.

So let us not let the still-unfolding Disaster in the Gulf be for naught.  Let it be the final straw – the one that pushes us over the brink of our complacency.  Our complicity. Henceforth, let us all be complicit instead in a global conspiracy to create lasting change – to a sustainable, equitable future.  If enough of us try hard enough, surely we will succeed.

* [stay tuned for news a of our new “net zero, no-fossil fuels” solar home which should go online 12/2010]

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