ByFred Winter , Andre Pettigrew
There is a wave of change moving across the nation to act and live in a sustainable manner. More and more individuals, businesses and communities are including green practices (e.g., recycling) in their daily routines in an effort to be more energy-efficient. This movement within our national consciousness makes economic sense and has the added benefit of being good for the planet.
The rising cost and volatile nature of gasoline prices affect every household, especially low- and moderate-income (LMI) families. Increasing transportation costs are impacting businesses large and small as they try to compete in a highly competitive global marketplace. Communities are trying to revive their regional economy by efficiently connecting workers with jobs in the region, and by effectively utilizing mass transit. All of these factors have forced everyone to think in terms of sustainability: how we live, work and compete.
Acutely aware of the impacts that economic vitality has on social mobility, equity and quality-of-life concerns, Partners for Livable Communities (PLC) launched a new agenda in 2009—The Economics of Sustainability—to incorporate sustainability into the ever-evolving definition of a livable community. Today, PLC seeks to explore how community leaders, faced with the challenge of ensuring the future strength of their local economies and quality of life, can employ creative new agendas that not only help reverse the effects of environmental degradation, but leverage the occasion for valuable economic and social gain.
PLC has discovered that a growing national environmental concern is catalyzing emerging economic opportunities in areas of energy efficiency, waste management and alternative energy. The potential of a regional green economy is still being defined and understood by communities for its impact on innovation, entrepreneurship, investment and job creation.
In June 2009, PLC began working with Climate Prosperity Inc. to help communities understand the connection between economic and environmental issues. Climate Prosperity’s focus is on advancing regional approaches to address the challenges of climate change from the perspective of economic development. PLC and Climate Prosperity will work together toward developing opportunities in the green economy by encouraging support of that sector and by engaging community and business participation in green economic strategies.
Climate Prosperity’s approach rests on engaging key stakeholders in regional economic development—including business groups, civic groups, entrepreneurs and educators—to create regional “climate prosperity” (economic) strategies based on measureable outcomes. In 2010, for example, Climate Prosperity completed a St. Louis Green Economy Profile, which provides solid analytic information based on trends in the region’s emerging green economy. The report highlights the wide range of green-industry sectors in the St. Louis region and prospects for development in green manufacturing as well as agricultural and building activities.
The study also provides greater insight into the St. Louis green economy. The findings show that employment in this sector grew by 11 percent in 2007-2008, compared to a two percent decline in overall employment that same year. The profile identified 9,000 core green-economy jobs in the St. Louis area, as well as the regional strengths being used to accelerate economic growth and enhance the environment. This pioneering work has made St. Louis a national model for economic revitalization and environmental sustainability.
Given their combined economic development and sustainability focus, PLC and Climate Prosperity formed “The Partnership for the Green Dividend” (The Partnership). The goal of The Partnership is to demonstrate the applicability of green practices to all American communities and to better document the opportunities emerging from within the green economy. The Partnership intends to match Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) work with essential environmental initiatives, both of which share a common purpose—to reinvigorate communities and revitalize places in need. By combining these elements, The Partnership serves both people and place, improving the overall quality of life through economic revitalization and environmental sustainability.
This intersection of economic opportunity and environmental concerns is not yet fully defined. Both sectors are engaged as never before, thereby creating new opportunities to better leverage traditional community reinvestment programs with emerging environmental initiatives, all of which serve communities. For more than 30 years, the CRA has sought to provide financial resources to LMI communities. Now there is a growing interest in sustainability and environmental programs in these communities because of their potential to improve quality of life through small-business opportunities, job creation, affordable housing and transit-oriented development. The Partnership’s approach combines the efforts of both community reinvestment and environmental affairs programs as a catalyst for social and environmental renewal. Using resources more efficiently is practical for both saving and boosting profits. Therefore, sustainability is a tool for economic success in addition to environmental stewardship.
By providing an accessible path to implement sustainable strategies, The Partnership will help communities more effectively maximize their opportunities in the green economy. Through this work, green economic strategies that are place-based will be recognized as a common sense approach to achieving social equity and regional prosperity.