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The 2014 GoGreen conference brought together private and public sector leaders to discuss how to build a socially sustainable community. Topics discussed included social equity advocacy, the development of new economic models, competitive city strategies, behavioral change, new innovations and corporate responsibility. The City of Portland, together with Metro and Multnomah County, were presenting sponsors of the conference.
Eve Callahan with Umpqua Bank, Tom Kelly of Neil Kelly and Jonathan Nicholas, VP of Moda Health kicked off the conference, which took place October 16 at the Oregon Convention Center. These innovators shared how taking climate action is increasing demand for their products and services, attracting talent and managing risk.
All three organizations have signed the Oregon Climate Declaration – a call to action from leading American businesses, urging the public, policymakers and business leaders to seize the economic opportunity in tackling climate change. Over 20 companies signed the declaration on Thursday, and dozens more attendees participated in a photo booth, standing for climate action.
In his keynote, Mayor Hales stressed that economic and environmental advances cannot be made without making strides in equity. Mayor Hales cited a report from Coalitions of Communities of Color, which shows that people of color fair worse in Portland than their counterparts in other cities, while whites fare much better than their counterparts. Addressing this dichotomy is at the heart of being a successful and sustainable city.
The Mayor joined Rick Cole, Deputy Mayor for Budget & Innovation, City of Los Angeles, SaraHope Smith, Placemaking Director for City Repair Project and PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions Director Jennifer Allen in “Smart Strategies for Enhancing and Engaging a Vision for Competitive Cities.” The session explored how new technologies and innovation can foster a vibrant, functional, livable and modern society of sustainable growth.
A very special session, “What's Next? The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations” explored the history of tension between green activism and racial justice and the many attempts at reconcilement. Panelists included Alan Hipolito, Executive Director of Verde, Rashad Morris, Program Officer of Bullitt Foundation, Dr. Emily Drew, Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at Willamette University, Mychal Tetteh, CEO, Community Cycling Center and Desiree Williams-Rajee, Equity Specialist at Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, City of Portland. Organizations that innovate, grow and prosper will be those that understand the needs of communities of color, understand the impact of their work on these communities, engage these communities, and reflect these communities in their leadership.
How does this happen? “We need to get over our fear of the R-word,” says Williams-Rajee, “By addressing institutional racism – the systemic interaction of policies and programs designed to not benefit people of color – we can begin to live into our rich potential as a diverse society. This is both a professional competency and a performance measure…that’s a lesson in change we’ve had the benefit of learning from the sustainability movement.”
“These leaders presented such a clear and compelling case for the environmental community to place equity to the forefront of our initiatives,” said Megan Shuler, Sustainability at Work Program Manager. “It was phenomenal to be in the room with businesses we’ve served and several of our partner programs who were on their feet with a standing ovation. What a powerful platform we now have to advance this important work.”