Green business and eco-tourism

The N&O's recent article questioning the green credentials of the local Chamber of Commerce seemed to signal a departure from their past coverage which generally accepted the Chamber's promotion of the "triple bottom line" without too much skepticism.

I especially liked the following quotation from James Carnahan as it reminds us that the Chamber is not a monolithic entity with only one opinion. In a way, every member is speaking for and demonstrating the organization's values, even if they're not a paid spokesperson.

"There seems to have been a total disconnect between what the chamber has publicly advocated as an organization and what individual members actually practice," Carrboro Planning Board Chairman James Carnahan recently wrote the Board of Aldermen. "What I'm seeing on the Planning Board is chamber members coming in with business-as-usual development proposals that keep us on a path that is absolutely not sustainable."
- | Business group doesn't look green to all

This recent letter from Laurie Paocelli of the Orange County Visitor's Bureau makes the case even better:

The ecological economist, Herman Daley, reminds us that our global economic system is a subsystem of a larger system: the biosphere. The problem, of course, is that our subsystem, the economy, is geared for growth, whereas the parent system doesn't grow.
- |Orange Chat - Tourism: Everybody benefits

Of course, I don't buy her conclusion that local tourism is necessarily a zero sum game. First of all, how are people supposed to get here?



I went to a presentation last year of a consultant's report done for the Visitor's Bureau. The recommended focus, as I recall, was to get folks already coming to visit UNC to stay a day longer or at least to make sure they are aware of area shops, dining, and entertainment. Perhaps not sustainable for too long after peak oil but not an unreasonable approach in the meanwhile.

Like Ruby, I was impressed that we have a VB director in Laurie Paolicelli who can quote Herman Daly and bring that kind of sensibility to her work.

The N&O missed an irony in the James Carnahan quote. His letter and the statement summarizing it were in support of Carrboro's moratorium for the Northern Study Area. Speaking to the BOA next was the Chamber's own Aaron Nelson, rising to oppose the moratorium.

The Chamber is incredibly fortunate to have folks like Carnahan and Marcoplos volunteering to support it's sustainability efforts. I hope the Chamber will find ways to make better use of their talents and insights.

The fundamental issue to me is that the community should have a realistic understanding of the truth about how sustainable we are as a community, who is walking their talk, and how we got to the point where many of the principles of sustainability are accepted in mainstream discussion.

We need to know the history of how we got where we are - where green schools are being built, where energy-efficiency is valued in government buildings, where Chapel Hill has solar access laws, where density and walkability are incorporated into planning, where water conservation policies are in place, etc. Where even the Chamber of Commerce begins to see the value in identifying themselves with sustainable practices.

The foundation for these advances in community practices were laid by many local activists over the last several decades. When people such as Joyce Brown, Dan Coleman, Marty Mandel, Julie McClintock, Dirk Spruyt, Bernadette Pellissier, Kevin Foy, Bill Strom, Margaret Brown - just to name a very, very few - advanced environmental ideas and proposals they were often as not met with derision and ignored by the local mainstream power structure. School Superintendent Neil Pedersen used to resist the idea of green schools and now he is one of their champions. The real credit goes to the activists that persevered over many years to finally get these wonderful buildings built and accepted. I'm not talking about stroking their egos (although it is honorable to recognize the good work of those who deserve it). I'm talking about the value of people understanding how the process really works, understanding the value of grassroots activism. When we obfuscate history, it makes it more difficult for the next generation of budding activists to understand the worth of activism and it makes it more difficult for the "silent majority" to understand how change actually happens.

We certainly should reward baby steps toward sustainability by organizations such as the Chamber, but we should realistically understand the very real impulse toward adopting the trappings of sustainability for public relations purposes that goes on every day.

A credible and honest assessment from the Chamber would go a long way. They should acknowledge the debt they owe to the pioneering community activists over the years. They should acknowledge that they were wrong to have originally opposed so many of the sustainability initiatives that they now support in principle, And they should figure out some credible way to deal with the disconnect between their publicly announced commitment to sustainability and the fact that a large number of their members could care less (but are happy to have a green smokescreen).


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