Monday, June 30, 2008

BALLE - Grow Deep

I spent the day with fellow BGIers representing the Carbon Concierge (CC) at the 6th Annual BALLE Grow Deep Conference held at Boston University. It was a fairly small event, and with two tables dedicated to the CC, we had ample space to engage people in conversations that we would hope to lead to them committing to take action on their companies’ GHG emissions. Considering it was my first foray into talking with new people about CO2 emissions, it went very well (image from

Over the course of seven years, my personal opinion about what sustainability must be to make any progress as changed quite a bit. Immediately following 9/11, I quit my job and proceeded to sell my car and take to the bike, becoming involved in the bike business locally, Massbike, and the Responsible Business Association of Greater Boston (now known as the Sustainable Business Network). My tune changed as I learned about CERES, the WBCSD, and other global networks seeking to create change at the highest levels of corporations. As I have continued my sustainability education at BGI (Marlboro next year?), I believe I have completed my circle of thinking back to the idea of creating (and recreating) local economies. As fuel prices continue to rise (over $4.00/gallon for regular unleaded here in Boston at the time of this writing) this will become an economic imperative.

Hence, my interest in BALLE.

Perhaps the most important element of local economies is food. Given the rise of industrialized agriculture that was founded upon inexpensive petroleum (check out Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I am about 1/4 of the way through), what can we do about reestablishing local food networks? Is there enough arable land (at least we have the ocean) in New England to feed the people in New England? At a subsistence level…I sincerely doubt it; at our current level…no way (uneducated conjecture).

In the spirit of closing the loop locally with the three forms of capital; natural, human, and financial, I attended sessions on local food and closing the loop on waste streams. The former featuring Michael Rozyne of Red Tomato, Marcel Van Ooyen of NYC’s Greenmarkets, and Judy Wicks of The White Dog Café, the latter featured Adam Mitchell of Save that Stuff and Amy Bauman of greenGoat.

I learned quite a bit from the local food session, including the fact that less than 2% of all the food supplied to American consumers comes through farmer’s markets. They have been growing in popularity, yet, they are a very small portion of our food consumption. The representative from Red Tomato, a Northeast regional marketing and sales organization was frank in his assessment of the potential for local food to help meet our demands…it can help…marginally. One of the biggest challenges they face is the destruction of the local food infrastructure…farms are gone, distribution and retail facilities are gone, and transportation costs are increasing. Is there an opportunity for biodiesel here? Judy Wicks of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia, one of the founders of BALLE and an innovator in rediscovering local food networks talked about the importance of the demand for local food. She mentioned her relatively recent discovery of the horrible conditions pigs were subjected to (they had already changed their buying for other meats) and stopped selling pork until she could find a local producer that maintained the natural feeding and rearing of the creatures.

Closing the loop on waste makes a heck of a lot of sense, and will again become more important as energy prices and resource prices increase. Imagine; taking materials that have value, that have embodied energy, and reusing them within the same geography. Why not? Adam from Save that Stuff went on to discuss the challenge of finding the right facilities to process the materials they gather from clients as well as the social implications of the low-wage jobs they create. I liked the fact that they have a service that seeks to reduce the overall waste generated by their customers (they are not paid by the trip). They face stiff competition from Waste Management, the 800 pound gorilla of garbage, and the one that makes more money from hauling MORE trash. I remember learning about WM’s effort to help customers reduce waste, Upstream Waste Management. I met Paul Ligon & Terry Huie, members of Upstream Waste Management at a NetImpact event at Harvard back in 2006. I remember thinking the idea had some merit.

Amy Bauman (who is a passionate advocate for reusing “stuff”) of greenGoat talked with us about the potential for reusing the building materials we blithely throw “away”. I loved her analysis of what materials were worth as salvage, and what they could be used for. She walks into a building and starts assessing the value of the resources that comprise the building; the brick, the cement, the wood, the windows, etc. It’s not something to be torn down, trucked away, and buried, but something that has tremendously valuable embodied energy, that we can harvest again. If you’re interested in tearing apart a house for reuse…give ‘em a call.

It was an engaging event, with people dedicated and interested in creating local economies. I am looking forward to reconnecting with the people at SBN Boston.

One last thing; the question I ask of myself, and sometimes pose to others that are concerned about environmental issues (as many of the BALLE people are) is, why are we traveling great distances for these events?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We're so disintegrated, few true things can be said about us, but I'm comfortable saying we are in a transition. Working locally and regionally to develop abilities and capacities to shift to a give and take that respects each being and satisfies the basic needs of everyone is a rational approach to counterbalancing (prior to replacing, if that's even necessary) the fuels-dependent global economy. Those who agree can begin to help form and put in play the new expectations and relationships, initially emphasizing what's at hand or nearly so.

We need not feel discouraged that food may be the last thing everyone sources more or less locally. Something must be last! Regionalization and localization accomplished earlier can support a longer run of the food system we've got (not to say it will be static), but who knows if some form of fuel rationing will arrive timely to make food production and distribution top priorities?