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Creating the Sustainable Economy


Toby Heaps the president, editor and co-founder of Corporate Knights (http://www.corporateknights.ca/) was the keynote speaker at the Recycling Council of Alberta’s annual conference today. The independent magazine launched in 2002 focuses on prompting and reinforcing sustainable development. The magazine is distributed every quarter to 100,000 subscribers of the Globe and Mail and through other venues.
An engaging speaker he spent most of his time talking creating a sustainable economy.
His talk was about the power of ideas- some understandable and some whimsical. Out of that melange he sees hope and the possibility of progress. The point he was trying to make is to find new ways to think. Out of the box is too clichéd. It is more like finding a different place far away from your current place to gain a fresh perspective.
According to him there are three key reasons impeding the development of a sustainable economy.
1.Time perspective. Politicians and decision makers typically operate on a short term time scale. This prevents the long term investment needed to develop a sustainable economy.
2. What we pay does not tell the whole story. We don’t pay the true price for many of the things we consume. That is the environmental and social costs are often not fully accounted for.
3.The human mind. We think how we think. We do what we do. We do not respond to most of the things we hear and see.
Indeed it is the human mind that can start to make the difference. The challenge lies in breaking through the “mental filter” of how we do things. Enacting the changes needed to develop a sustainable economy will require competition with the myriad of ideas that we see and hear every day. To effect these changes involves innovative and sometimes quirky initiatives.
He had five ideas that City’s could use to help facilitate these changes in how we do things.
1. Annual Statement of Wealth. City’s should develop a report card of sorts that highlights the social, environmental and economic wealth in a community. This will serve as a benchmark and annual measureable that will allow residents and businesses to assess progress.
2. Billboards. In a more off the wall idea he thinks that 50% of all billboard space should be public and be used for civic messages. A bit Orwellian but who knows.
3.Greater use of Incentives. Cities need to use more incentive based programs to effect desired environmental changes. For instance the current waste diversion rate is 35% but if the City achieves 40% you will receive the following…
4.Move People Out of Boxes and Silos. We become very stale in our thinking and can’t break out of how we think. This leads to unimaginative and stale ideas. For instance he suggests that every City have senior staff switch positions with lower level staff (and presumably vice versa) for one day to gain a more on the ground perspective.
5. Find More Ways to Generate Revenue. Cities have different opportunities to raise revenues that can be used for environmental initiatives. Revenue is of course code for tax so this can be a delicate balance. In Vancouver they have just raised the gas tax and will use the proceeds to fund transit. So far there seems little resistance to the idea.
There are of course many more ideas but boiled down achieving a sustainable economy requires two things.
1. Finding ways to get people to make meaningful changes to their behaviour. Simply asking them is not enough. They need to be better prompted, embarrassed or otherwise incentivized.
2. Finding creative ways to raise the revenue or taxes to pay for environmental initiatives supported by the population.


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