Archive for the ‘Oregon’ Category
Does sustainability change the rules of branding? I believe it does and describe why and how in a guest column today for Sustainable Business Oregon. Here’s an excerpt:
In branding, the job of connecting emotionally is typically left to marketing and advertising. History suggests that works for many product categories where competitive differentiation is scant and great advertising is their only hope of making consumers care.
Once a company starts hanging its hat on sustainability, however, the rules change. Branding is no longer a game of emotions alone. It becomes a game of facts and emotions. That takes the practice of branding outside the narrow zone of marketing and advertising and into the broad realm of operations and employee engagement to ensure sustainability practices are, in fact, implemented.
My piece also includes the 10 steps to building a sustainable brand. Check it all out and let me know what you think!
In my vision of sustainable communities, I picture a thriving economy built around locally owned, independent businesses that embrace the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits. So it is that I have little patience for economic development practices prevalent in Oregon and around the country that emphasize national business recruitment over local business development.
I believe we should be doing much more to take care of the businesses that are already here putting down roots, hiring local residents, keeping their profits local and multiplying as they circulate in the local economy and being run by owners who are active in their communities — because they live here, too.
Editors at The Oregonian lost an opportunity to underscore that point in an editorial on Saturday about last week’s announcement of the Hynix semiconductor plant closure in Eugene. The decision puts 1,100 people out of work, many of them paid well above the average Eugene wage. Hynix, like any number of tech companies wooed by Oregon officials in the past several decades, was given large state and local tax credit incentives to locate in Eugene some 13 years ago.
Although the Hynix plant closure is an opportunity to question the wisdom of showering national or international businesses with tax breaks to locate in Oregon, The Oregonian editors say forget about it:
It’s not productive to second-guess the state’s wooing of Hynix and its use of tax incentives, as some in the Legislature have begun to do. A 2003 study by University of Oregon economics students Melinda Rowan and Jennifer Witt found that the $49 million in tax breaks and road enhancements used to lure Hynix resulted in a positive impact in taxes, wages and system development charges of more than $275 million over the first five years of its operation. Had the state not offered its incentives, Hynix wouldn’t have built its plant, employed 1,100 people and paid taxes.
Their argument against re-examining the Hynix recruitment strategy is hardly convincing. The editors conclude Hynix would not have come here without the $49 million incentive package, so the positive impact in taxes, wages and whatever system development charges would not have been realized. But that’s assuming the $49 million in incentives were not spent at all.
What might have happened had the state and city pledged that same $49 million in 1995 for support of locally owned, independent businesses? Hynix received the equivalent of $44,500 for each of its current 1,100 employees from state and local government. What might 1,100 locally owned, independent businesses in the Eugene area been able to do with $44,500 each? Or what might 110 of the best locally owned, independent businesses in Eugene been able to do with $445,000 each?
We’ll never know the answer, but I’m not aware of any state or local economic development group even asking those questions. Businesses based and owned in Oregon are getting the short end of the economic development stick. They can only dream of government officials coming to them and saying, “We believe in you and want you to thrive in Oregon. Here’s a half-million dollar package to help you grow your business.”
Can you imagine what a select group of Oregon’s most innovative, most environmentally and socially committed business owners and their employees could and would do to reward the citizens of this state for making a meaningful public investment in their businesses? Not all of them would succeed, of course, but I’m certain enough would to add at least the equivalent of 1,100 quality jobs.
And most important of all, those successful locally owned, independent and sustainable businesses would keep repaying Oregon’s investment long after the 13-year life span of Hynix in Eugene.
I find it difficult to avoid the topic of Wal-Mart when speaking of sustainability and marketing. The company came up again today at a breakfast presentation by two professors of business from the University of Portland, sponsored by the Oregon Natural Step Network. And once again I find myself bristling at the notion of Wal-Mart playing any part in the ultimate sustainability solutions for our planet.
Good piece in the June issue of Sustainable Industries (subscription req.) on Dave Williams, CEO of ShoreBank Pacific bank and a resident of the Portland area. The magazine named Williams one of its 20 Leading Green Executives for his success in taking ShoreBank Pacific into the black using a triple-bottom-line (people, planet, profits) approach to its business.
A couple of Williams’ comments struck me as right on. One was his comparison of the cultures of Oregon and the Bay Area around sustainable business development:
“Oregon has historically been a small-business state, so the strength of any particular community is dependent on the strength of the business in it,” he says. ”But in the Bay Area, business is oddly independent of community.” Williams attributes that to a venture-capital mindset in the region. “The thinking is, ‘How do we build it and make it international then sell it off and do something else?” he says. “There’s a different approach to business and community that you get in Oregon where the feeling is more that we need these businesses and we’ll keep them going for the next 100 years.”
From my two decades in high tech, I know the VC model of the Bay Area (and elsewhere) has its place, especially in fostering innovation. But Williams perfectly captures the limitation of the VC business culture: it operates independent of community.
The mindset of fund it, build it and sell it has yet to translate into most urban areas, much less rural areas. That’s certainly the case in Oregon. What’s needed and wanted in most communities are stable, locally rooted businesses that provide solid jobs over many years and understand their success cannot be divorced from the communities in which they operate. The VC model doesn’t serve that need.
Williams, a Portland area resident, also drew an important distinction between green and sustainability. He says his bank distinguishes itself from other banks by focusing on sustainable communities not just green.
“My sense is there will be a backlash over the next three to four years about sustainability, caused by concerns about ethanol and rising food costs, and we need to be prepared for that and consistent in telling our story and why it makes sense.” In the end, Williams says ShoreBank’s commitment to sustainable communities may help it weather a shift in public opinion. ”People who only characterize themselves as being ‘green’ will be under more stress than those that focus on community development and building sustainable communities.”
I agree with Williams. Green is often more about how businesses see themselves, while sustainability emphasizes the interconnections among business, community and environment. In other words, sustainability is not all about you, the business. It’s about operating from a larger mission or purpose than simply finding ways to make money from your customers’ interests in green products or services. And I believe over time, people will reward those businesses, like ShoreBank, that understand the difference.
Do we Americans work too much or otherwise stay too busy to live sustainably? The question has been running through my mind since Saturday, when I joined about 50 other Portlanders in sampling a new discussion course on food by the Northwest Earth Institute. (I am a member of the NWEI board.)
I led a group of 10 people in discussing two articles from the course. One question from the readings, “Does slowing down in terms of food — shopping, preparation or eating — appeal to you?”, drew unsurprising consensus. Although some “hated” going to the grocery store and some “hated” cooking, the idea of slowing down around food appealed to everyone.
That is, until the follow-on question came: “What would be the trade-offs for you personally?” This was a group of well-educated adults whose intense work lives and family responsibilities seemingly allowed no room to slow down. Who has the time or the energy to shop, cook and eat in a manner that always makes a priority of sustaining the environment, our families and us?
We were talking about food, but the same could easily be said of any number of consumption, work and lifestyle choices we face everyday. Sustainable living requires conscious choices. When we’re overly busy or stressed we go on autopilot or revert to what’s convenient instead of what’s healthiest for all concerned.
One of the group members told me that slowing down would mean leaving her corporate job where she was held captive by the “golden handcuffs” — even though she had to work 60 hours a week to keep those handcuffs on. Millions of Americans find themselves in the same predicament. And when push comes to shove, most of us decide to keep our demanding jobs and the financial security they provide rather than choose a mode of living that leaves more time for the basic joys of life, such as preparing and sharing a meal with family or friends.
So what will it take for more Americans to choose to slow down? Or is the story we tell ourselves — that we can’t afford to slow down — true for most of us? And if the latter is the case, what does that say about the prospects for a sustainable future?