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Today, E is for Economy

Previously, a frequent theme has been money and how we spend it.  While I was studying at Portland State, Prof. Messer reminded me that Sustainability holds three major tenants, economy, equity, and environment.  I have always had a pretty good handle on equity and environment, bu the economy has usually been something that brings me down. But, as I’ve been writing about money, how tight it has been, which is tightens our economic belt as the pants become a better fit.

I’ve been there, chiding people to buy organic, even though they couldn’t afford it.  How does that fit with the economic aspect of sustainability?  It doesn’t, and it doesn’t balance with the triple bottom line.  So, what can we do about it? How can we get the economy and the environment and equity to all balance? If they are all important on the grand scheme, how can in our microcosm of the home, we balance the 3es?

I can talk about what we’ve been doing.  My husband thinks about economics before he thinks about the environment.  Whereas, I think about the environment before I think about economics.  So, how can we merge the two?  Equity comes into play in our microcosm in how we treat each other and others, not how the man may or may not be bringing us down.

Some people think we should never make any concessions.  Some people think we should be eating, for example, farmer’s market certified organic all the time.  One simple question to help debunk this theory is the certification processes themselves.  Sure, they help the end-consumer more quickly identify a product that could suit their moral proclivities, but does it really do anything for the farmer?  Farmer A never uses chemicals on his produce, but he serves a smaller clientele than Farmer B and cannot afford the leg work and money it requires to get the certification some of his customers would like.  Farmer B can afford the certification because for other reasons he has a larger more profitable outfit than Farmer B.  Who does certification serve in instances such as these?  Farmer B, the potential big guy.  This is one reason why buying local is more important than buying organic.  Often buying local gives you a more validated organic product than the same product with the label.

Okay, but this post is entitled “Today, E is for Economy.” So, what does that organic example have to do with economy? It’s a linked system, no matter which way we slice it, and we cannot vote completely by one instance alone. We cannot rule by environment, or people, or money alone. We must consider the system. Both Farmer A & Farmer B serve the local area where you live. So, for a family, it might be better to opt for Farmer A based on cost. Farmer B has the certification others demand, and it’s not a budget buster. If they like his product, they should certainly buy from him. This does a few things. First, it keeps a diversified food economy. We need our farmers to be plentiful and compete. It doesn’t serve our interests to buy from the Wal-Mart of farmers, for example, because it decreases the number of people farming in our own locales. We need our farmers to supply us with food, not other countries. We need the food to be created locally, so that in the event of economic or environmental disaster, we can have secure sources of simply food.

How do we balance these 3 es? An ongoing conversation, certainly. But, I also think that we’d benefit ourselves by finding some food buddies – that is others who are interested in working with the local farmers who supply our food. We’d be strengthening our local economy, our local food systems, and our local equity – buy supplying from the poeple who work the farms – locally.

That’s really all I have to say about economy. Buy local. Know local. Grow local.

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Volunteer in the New Economy

There has been a lot of talk, especially lately, about our “new economy.” Many I know have been preaching that it has to get worse before it gets better, and I think now, with Wisconsin, budget woes, and this “new economy” we’re seeing how it can get worse. Many businesses are reprioritizing so they can do what is “essential and precious” because they realize, they simply do not have the funds to do everything they want to do.

Budgeting is hard. Managing priorities is hard. Figuring out what’s really important is hard. It takes time to learn about yourself, know yourself, understand yourself, figure out your goals, create a plan, and finish off by doing it. I would hedge my bets that most people don’t wish or dream of working 70 hour work weeks. (Being that nothing is impossible, there are those who thrive in fast-paced, intense environments that give little to no “free” time.)

I made the choice, when I realized I wanted to work, to build a career, that I wanted to work in something I was passionate about. Something where I could go to work every day and know that my part, even if it was filing, was for the greater good – a good cause. But, even at this great cause, I still need time away. Time away refreshes me. It clears my head. It gives me perspective.

I also made the choice to volunteer. It was something my Catholic faith taught me was important, and something I realized, first hand, was important as I entered adult-hood. So, when I had free time, I would volunteer for another great cause.

Robert Putnam links our quality of life, and in many cases declining quality of life, to the decline in volunteerism. He showcases examples of cities, Portland included, where volunteer rates have reminded high or steady through the 90s (many urban areas drop off, dramatically in the 70s) and how the quality of life has also remained steady. This suggests that in order to have a strong community, we benefit greatly by giving back our time.

The Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet, Profit or Economics, Environment, Equity (3Es)) states to have a balanced “Environment” we need to balance the three main things that affect our environment: the people who live in it, the planet itself and all the things that live on it, and the profit that drives the development and for many makes the world go round.

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