Archive for the ‘Oregon’ Category

Oregon law gives teeth to business sustainability

Oregon has opened its doors to a new kind of corporation. In a bill passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2007, businesses can state in their Oregon articles of incorporation they will operate with equal regard for environmental, social and shareholder impact. It appears Oregon is the first state to adopt such a law. And according to The Oregonian:

It’s not an empty gesture. One of the principles of business law is that corporations must act in the best interests of their shareholders. Some courts have narrowly interpreted that to mean companies must act only to maximize profits, even if the action runs roughshod over wider community interests.

It will be fascinating to see where this little publicized change in Oregon’s corporate governance laws will lead. Last spring, I heard a presentation from the founders of B Corporation, an organization whose aim is the widespread formation of corporations acting on behalf of all stakeholders (environmental, community, employee, supplier), not just shareholders. Oregon’s new law gives legal teeth to efforts such as this. According to Oregon Lawyers for a Sustainable Future, which drafted the legislation (HB 2826),

The statute makes it clear that anyone forming an Oregon corporation can include a provision in the
articles authorizing or directing the corporation to be operated in a sustainable manner. Moreover, any
existing Oregon corporation can take that step by amending its articles of incorporation, which will
then govern operations after the date of the amendment.

Under such a provision, corporate officers will be directed or authorized to make decisions that adhere to a triple bottom line (people, planet, profits). How this will all play out is anyone’s guess. Ideally, we will see businesses throughout Oregon adopting the triple-bottom-line standard for governance. And perhaps even a rush of out-of-state companies that want to incorporate here so they can legally act out of concern for more than maximizing shareholder return. But how long might it be before powerful investment groups challenge Oregon’s amended corporate code in the courts? Or an individual company is sued by shareholders for failing to act in their best interests while making decisions that benefit other stakeholders? Conversely, will the adoption of these sustainability provisions leave businesses vulnerable to lawsuits from other stakeholders who claim the business is failing its environmental and social responsibilities?

Legal issues aside, I’m anxious to see how companies that adopt these new governance provisions actually behave. Will their conduct be measurably different from shareholder-centric companies? When push comes to shove, will they make decisions that reduce short-term corporate profits or shareholder return out of an obligation to the environmental or social common good?

The Oregon lawyer group behind HB 2826 acknowledges “profitability is built into the DNA of a corporation.” The question for Oregon, and the rest of the country, is whether the truly sustainable corporation is even genetically possible. Thanks to the Oregon Legislature, we’re about to find out.


Buy Nothing Day, Buy Local Week

Friday after Thanksgiving. A perfect day to stay home, or at the very least do no shopping. Instead, join with folks around the US and the globe who are observing the 15th annual “Buy Nothing Day.” The Adbusters Media Foundation originated the event in Vancouver, BC. According to Kalle Lasn, the organization’s co-founder, the day’s focus has shifted over the years from simply an escape from modern life’s obsession with consumption. Increasingly it’s about making a statement that we cannot continue our consuming ways in the face of climate change.

“So much emphasis has been placed on buying carbon offsets and compact fluorescent light bulbs and hybrid cars that we are losing sight of the core cause of our environmental problems: we consume far too much. Buy Nothing Day isn’t just about changing your routine for one day. It’s about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment. With over six billion people on the planet, it is the responsibility of the most affluent, the upper 20% that consumes 80% of the world’s resources, to set out on a new path.”

I couldn’t agree more. There’s another way to make a statement this holiday season: buy local. Keep your gift dollars circulating in the local economy by shopping at locally owned, independent businesses. Avoid the chain and big box stores this year. Not only will more of your money stay in the community, you’ll be reminding others of how important local merchants are to the unique character of our communities.

Here in Portland, the Sustainable Business Network of Portland is sponsoring Buy Local Week, December 1-9. (Full disclosure: I am a board member of SBNP.) Vote with your dollars by visiting your favorite neighborhood businesses, restaurants and service providers the first week of next month (and throughout the year). Also, start looking for a special Buy Local Coupon Book at a variety of SBNP member businesses across the city.

Buy less. Buy local. Sounds like a great New Year’s resolution.

Monday, November 19th, 2007
Posted in Business & Economics, Climate Change, Oregon, Sustainability | No Comments »

The quiet work of restoring balance in our world

As most Portlanders know, our city has earned a reputation as a leader in green building design and development. Two great examples are the Oregon Health & Science University Center for Health & Healing along Portland’s South Waterfront and Portland Center Stage’s Gerding Theater at the Armory. Both were among the first buildings in the country to earn a platinum LEED certification from the US Green Building Council.

And now there is an emerging effort to expand LEED certification beyond building structures to also include the building site and surrounding landscape. I was alerted to this effort by Stacey Triplett at Metro in Portland. A national group called The Sustainable Sites Initiative is in the process of developing guidelines that ultimately would be incorporated into future LEED certification standards by the USGBC. According to the Initiative group:

Landscapes provide valuable services such as climate regulation, clean air and water, and improved quality of life. However, conventional land practices often limit, rather than enhance, the ability of landscapes to provide these important services. The Sustainable Sites Initiative was founded to address this concern and investigate and define sustainability in land development and management practices.

If this effort interests you, check out the preliminary report issued by the Initiative group to collect public comment.

Closer to home, Nature in Neighborhoods at Metro has a design competition, called Integrating Habitats, that’s attracting worldwide interest and hopefully worldwide entries. The aim of the competition is to generate innovative ideas and site designs that protect and enhance water quality, as well as fish and wildlife habitats.

Thanks to Stacey for giving me the heads up on these two programs. It’s a hopeful reminder that many smart people in Portland and elsewhere are quietly, creatively and urgently working to restore a sustainable balance between our manufactured and natural environments.

Saturday, November 17th, 2007
Posted in Climate Change, Oregon, Sustainability | No Comments »

Adding cement to the climate change mix

Portland’s downtown is practically ripped to shreds by an unprecedented building and redevelopment spurt. Doesn’t make for happy motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians. But navigating through the city’s maze of construction zones, as frustrating as it is, may not be the worst of it. Until this week, I thought I understood the primary sources of CO2 emissions. However, I’ve managed to overlook a big one: cement, the basic ingredient in concrete.

In my last post, I referred to a BusinessWeek’s latest cover story, “Little Green Lies.” One of the companies the magazine mentions is Lafarge, a giant cement manufacturer based in Paris. Despite praise from the World Wildlife Fund as a “climate saver,” Lafarge’s CO2 emissions have actually risen by “11% over two years,” the article states. The company alone generates more greenhouse gases than Portugal!

And today, the New York Times has a feature article, “Cement Industry Is at Center of Climate Change Debate.” According to the Times,

Cement plants account for 5 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming. Cement has no viable recycling potential; each new road, each new building needs new cement…Cement poses a basic problem: the chemical reaction that creates it releases large amounts of carbon dioxide. Sixty percent of emissions caused by making cement are from this chemical process alone, Mr. (Olivier) Luneau of Lafarge said. The remainder is produced from the fuels used in production, although those emissions may be mitigated with the use of greener technology. “Demand is growing so fast and continues to grow, and you can’t cap that,” Mr. Luneau said. “Our core business is cement, so there is a limit to what we can change.”

So therein lies the rub. Despite successes by cement producers to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions for each ton of cement, the worldwide demand for cement is skyrocketing. Especially in China, which “alone makes and uses 45 percent of worldwide output.”

But we can’t make China the scapegoat here. There are countless cities like Portland across the globe where cranes dot the skies and trucks form block-long queues to pour concrete for underground parking garages and condominium and office structures. Construction folks, like my brother, sing the praises of concrete for its strength and versatility in conforming to just about any desired shape. It’s a nearly perfect building material — if you overlook the CO2 part. Cement making’s contribution of 5 percent of global CO2 emissions exceeds that of the world’s airline industry.

So are there any cement alternatives? I’m no expert here, but a quick Google scan indicates alternatives are starting to emerge but their widespread adoption remains on the distant horizon. If you’re into this sort of thing, check out this piece that explores ways to reduce cement’s CO2 emissions and several cement alternatives.

Friday, October 26th, 2007
Posted in Climate Change, Oregon, Sustainability | No Comments »

Lattes, scones and what really matters

I know him only as Mohammad. Today I learned his last name when much to my surprise I read a brief editorial that featured him and his cafe. Most weekday mornings for nearly six years I stopped in at Mohammad’s corner juice bar for a latte and one of his irresistible scones or muffins. It would usually be a brief stop, because like Mohammad I had my own business and needed to get to my office just a few blocks away and get started on my day. But many times over the years I would linger to chat between the orders of his many other loyal customers. We talked business at first. Eventually we got to know about each other’s families. He met my mom before she became too physically unstable to visit. He still asks about her today. My wife drops by regularly, too. And now Mohammad has met my in-laws from out of town. Several years ago, I started seeing Mohammad’s young son at the cash register on Saturday mornings or weekdays when he didn’t have school. I can’t help but think of myself, years ago, when my dad would bring me to his store. I liked operating the cash machine, too.

Like my dad once did, Mohammad runs a family business. I don’t know that family businesses are endangered species, but for the last 30 years or more they have inexorably given way to corporate chains and franchises. And as they have, we citizens of communities keep losing faces and places that bind us together. Like me with the editorial writer at the Oregonian. I’ve never met him, but I know now we share something important in our lives. Taking direct aim at the mermaid joint directly across the Park Block, he writes:

Mohammad would never ask you if you stupidly forgot to order something from his pastry case. He figures if you want a scone, you’ll order one. But he has been known to slip one into a sack and just hand it to a good customer once in a while. That’s class. It shows why his tip jar is usually brimming, and why he’ll probably be able to take his kids back to Disneyland or somewhere else fun next summer, too.

Mohammad has also shared his story with me of taking his kids to Disneyland this summer. I was happy for him because I know he almost never takes a break from his business. I suspect you know people just like him near your workplace or home. If not, look a little harder. Your life will be richer for it.

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
Posted in Business & Economics, Food and Drink, Oregon | No Comments »

Deserved accolades for Portland restaurant scene

There are a lot of reasons I love living in Portland. And the New York Times has done justice to one of them: our amazing restaurant scene. I’m sure the tourism crews in the city and state are diggin’ yesterday’s lengthy piece, “In Portland, a Golden Age of Dining and Drinking.” For those of us living here, it’s not news. But it’s a good feeling to know we live in a city where the ingredients that make for a high quality of life – local, sustainably grown food and people who revel in producing and preparing it – are in such abundant supply. The article also touts our local wines, micro brews and distilled spirits. I would add my favorite, terrific local coffee roasters, to the list as well. (Another New York Times reporter recently featured Portland’s burgeoning and distinctive tea culture.)

If you have read this blog, you know my bias for things local. Local businesses and the people who own and work at them give communities their unique character. In Portland, we are blessed with many fantastic locally owned restaurants. I look forward to the day the New York Times returns to feature Portland for the thriving locally owned businesses of all sizes and types and their thousands of loyal customers that have stood up to America the Franchise and declared victory for what makes our community special.

Thursday, September 27th, 2007
Posted in Food and Drink, Oregon, Sustainability | No Comments »