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Bridging a Divide with Sustainability

Sat, 09/15/2007

September 15, 2007: Portland, OR

At last the divide between urban and rural Oregon is narrowing. A new generation of leaders and entrepreneurs is recognizing the enormous economic opportunity that our shared values for a better, cleaner Oregon — and planet — represent.

Just last week, three more companies launched efforts to responsibly use the bounties of our eastside landscapes to supply our markets with fuel and fiber made closer to home, to lessen Oregon’s impact on the natural environment and to create jobs.

In Boardman, The Collins Companies and GreenWood Resources have announced the start-up of a 35,000-acre tree farm and sawmill operation. That’s notable because in recent years more than 100 sawmills have closed across the state. The new operation will use hyper-efficient drip irrigation to grow vast stretches of fast-growing Pacific Albus. And the mill will be nested inside the tree farm, minimizing transport and energy costs while providing 100 family-wage jobs. It’ll be the largest hardwood sawmill in the country. But more importantly, it’ll take pressure off our natural forests, which so many Oregonians prize for their ecological and aesthetic values.

Nearby, Pacific Ethanol has started production at a 40-million-gallon renewable fuel plant that will produce ethanol, a fuel additive that makes motor vehicles less polluting. The plant employs 36 people and represents the first major-scale fuel refinery built in our state’s history.

In Lakeview, the whole community has embraced a job-creating environmental future. A partnership among a local environmental nonprofit called Lake County Resources Initiative, the Collins Co., Marubeni Sustainable Energy and the U.S. Forest Service will result in a carefully monitored, multiyear forest stewardship contract, a small-diameter log mill and a biomass energy plant. Indeed, some leaders in Lake County envision a day when they are the first zero-carbon county in the country.

These green innovations are not exceptions. All across Oregon, businesses old and new are embracing similar opportunities, from sustainable agriculture to green building and green chemicals to sustainable energy. Local governments are establishing green centers for businesses. State government is trying to figure out how to walk the talk — across all agencies — even exploring ways Oregon can become the undisputed epicenter for the financing of environmental goods and services. The nation’s first sustainable development investment funds are taking root right here.

It’s concrete efforts like these that demonstrate the importance of Oregon investing in itself, growing our own way, bridging our urban-rural divide in thought and in deed, spearheading the local and global environmental imperative to reduce our footprint, and creating unprecedented economic opportunity that we can all be proud of.

Some 30 years ago, “Mankind at the Turning Point,” one of the first books written about human impacts on the environment, predicted that we would eventually face limits — and possibly dire consequences — because of the way Western society consumes resources. Its predictions were certainly not perfect, but what the authors tried hardest to do was to urge people to understand the real, if somewhat difficult to see, connections that our actions have on nearby and distant people and resources.

That’s what Oregon is doing now. And none too soon.

By Bill Bradbury and Martin Goebel, for the Oregonian. Bill Bradbury is Oregon’s secretary of state. Martin Goebel is president of Sustainable Northwest. They serve as chairman and co-chairman, respectively, of the Oregon Sustainability Board.

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