Business practices that promote environmental sustainability often pay off in more ways than owners anticipate, Portland consultant Marsha Willard told a group of Spokane bankers, community development specialists and builders Monday.
First adopters become long-term market leaders and attract employees who want to work for a company sensitive to the effect their goods and services have on the environment and society, she said.
Wal-Mart, Willard noted, has implemented several earth-friendly policies and is pressing its suppliers to do the same. Businesses that do not respond to increased consumer awareness of sustainability will be left behind, she said.
“It’s just bad business not to invest in green facilities,” Willard said.
Sustainable programs, she said, meet the needs of people today without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
In Spokane, the Sustainable Local Investments Project, SLIP, has taken the lead in exploring ways governments and businesses can apply sustainability practices. Mayor Mary Verner has made sustainability a priority for her administration.
Willard said the goal is policies that enhance the health of people, the planet and business profitability – a “triple bottom line.” Another triple: programs that work for the economy, the environment and social equity, she said.
Jim Wavada, president of the SLIP board of directors, said the group wants to develop guidelines for investment, technical assistance and marketing that will get more information to lenders and businesses.
Thanks to a recent remodeling of its warehouse, Mountain Gear, the Spokane-based supplier of outdoors equipment, not only saved money on energy , but also increased worker productivity, he said.
Willard said a Portland law firm that retained her firm shaved $20,000 off paper costs and saved on rent and personnel expenses.
The Oregon Natural Step Network is promoting measures that discourage natural resource overharvesting, and mining and other extractive industries that produce needed materials but waste much more than they put to use. Natural Step also urges caution with synthetic chemicals with unknown long-term effects on the human body, and policies that worsen social inequities.
But Willard said implementation should not move forward so fast that businesses cannot get a payback on sustainable investments within a reasonable period.
Still, she said, mankind must stabilize, then reverse, trend lines that point to the exhaustion of some resources as demand increases and supply declines.
“We have operated for the last 150 years as if the laws of nature don’t apply to us,” Willard said.
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