PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Jill Fuglister on Equity + the Triple Bottom Line

GoGreen: Can you give us a primer on the work you’re doing at Coalition For A Livable Future?
Jill Fuglister:
Coalition For A Livable Future (CLF) is a partnership of about 100 different institutions working together to shape big decisions being made about Portland’s future—and how it grows and develops. In terms of the content we’ll be discussing at the GoGreen Conference in October, the panel will be talking about the equity part of the work and looking at it in terms of advancing the concept of sustainability.

We’re very committed to taking a triple bottom line approach to that. In our experience, what we’ve seen since CLF’s inception in 1994 is that the equity part of that equation—if we look at it as environment, economy and equity—is the portion that is least understood and least acted upon in the context of regional development and decision making.

Since about 2002, we’ve put a significant amount of time and energy into shining a light on that part of the triple bottom line equation so that we can shift that dynamic.

GG: Why do you believe that addressing sustainability beyond environmentalism is so important?
From both a philosophical and a practical place, I don’t believe we’ll get closer to true sustainability if we ignore the equity part of the equation. There is ample research and evidence which shows that in places where environmental degradation is the worst—particularly when you look at developing nations—social inequality is the most extreme. So it seems that those two phenomena go hand in hand. With that in mind, we believe we have to work on all of the facets of sustainability if we want to get to where we want to end up.

GG: What is the role of partnerships? Is there no one organization that can do it all?
I think sustainability is all about holism. We’ve built our whole society and culture around becoming experts in very specific disciplines. And what we’ve found is that, in reality, the way we need to approach the world is not just by looking at things in silos and specific disciplines. It’s very helpful to have that expertise, but we need to be able to integrate across those separate areas if we want to come up with truly comprehensive solutions. Otherwise, what happens is that we only address one part of the problem with the consequence of externalizing the other impacts of our decisions and actions.

GG: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve come up against in terms of “fighting the good fight” for equity? And how has CLF overcome those challenges?
Well to start, there are issues surrounding even the definition of what we’re talking about. In the context of regional developmental decision-making, usually the main conversation about equity has centered on geography. It’s not been about what populations within the different geographic areas of our region, neighborhoods, counties and cities have the least access to the sustainability and the great livability we have in this region.

From our perspective, we’re falling short, because we believe that equity is about looking at populations that have historically experienced the greatest burdens and negative impacts of our decision-making—or has experienced the least benefit from the development we’ve put in place. That’s not true for every single issue, but for the bulk of them we think that if we’re going to make a push for sustainability, we need to ensure that every population is getting their fair share of the benefits.

GG: Is there a growing issue concerning equitable access to opportunities within the green economy?
Absolutely. We’ve been a part of several initiatives covering this issue—particularly the City of Portland’s Clean Energy Works Program—and making sure that the jobs that are created in those programs and the broader green economy, are accessible through training and contract awards guidelines, so that populations that are historically the most underemployed or unemployed are able to participate equitably.

If we look at unemployment in our region and state right now, it’s at about 10 percent. But if you look at niche communities, such as the African American community here, their unemployment rate is double what the general rate is. When we look at this phenomenon through an equity lens, we want to see that we account for that disparity and make sure that in the context of creating jobs in the green economy, we are very proactive in implementing a set of strategies that will help shift that dynamic positively. We know we can’t fix it immediately, but we need to start doing things that will continuously move the needle in a positive direction.

GG: Do you think the responsibility for catalyzing that shift lies with governments and NGOs? Or do business owners and stakeholders need to help bridge the gap as well?
Our ultimate vision is that all sectors are contributing to enacting solutions. I absolutely think the private sector has a role to play and probably has a lot of know-how to bring to the table. It’s got to be all of us working together, proactively tackling these issues. We need to acknowledge that there are these disparities and start finding ways to create pathways for those that are in poverty, and those who are part of populations that are historically underemployed above the general average.

GG: What are some of the programs and ideas CLF uses to accomplish those goals?
Within the context of Clean Energy Works—and this is something a private sector employee can adopt too—we’re actually creating a public community workforce, we’re establishing targets around the numbers of individuals and businesses from different communities of color, etc. that are employed or contracted with. We’re looking at who is providing training to them, what kind of benefits they receive, etc. You can get very specific if you outline your targeting and figure out what groups you want to reach—and again this is something that any private sector business can do as well. There are lots of organizations to connect with in terms of workforce development and they’re very open to partnerships. It just takes a little extra effort.

GG: Are there any developing trends or programs you’re seeing that are especially exciting to you and have great potential to change the landscape of equity in the Northwest?
One of the really neat projects we’ve been involved with is through Portland State University. It’s a social bottom line project and it’s focused on development. It’s a tool for developers and others in the industry to integrate more equity best practices and the social part of the sustainability triple bottom line into projects. They’ve been very explicit about saying that this is a tool and it’s supposed to be responsive to any particular context you find yourself in, so as not to overwhelm businesses that are using it. It’s very comprehensive and it gives people a place to start finding answers for a whole bunch of different questions that come up when you start integrating that equity piece into green development plans.

GG: What are your goals for the GoGreen session you’re moderating in October? What information do you hope attendees walk away with?
I think people who come to this conference every year have bought in wholeheartedly to the green part of the sustainability movement. I hope that folks will walk away from our session with the inspiration to integrate a piece of the equity part of sustainability into what they’re doing. I want to spark their interest and get them to recognize that it’s an important piece of the solution, but without overwhelming them with a menagerie of new things to be worried about if they’re actively pursuing status as a green business. We want to inspire them to start questioning and acting on behalf of equity.

Jill Fuglister is Director at the Portland-based non-profit Coalition For A Livable Future. She is also a featured speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. To register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland, please visit: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration. GoGreen ‘09 sold out, so make sure to sign up soon!

To learn more about Jill Fuglister and Coalition For A Livable Future, visit: http://clfuture.org. Follow their work on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/clfuture.

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