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Pillar 4 of a Bioregional Economy – Environmental Business Indicator: The Point of Contact between Business and Government

The early operational framework that has been developed for the Rappahannock Exchange, a proposed bioregional marketplace to be located in Central Virginia, to stretch from the Chesapeake Bay to the Blue Ridge Mountains, features the use of an “Environmental Business Indicator”. Exactly how the indicator will be deployed won’t be known until the Ecosystem Services Council convenes to create the Exchange Business Plan in 2010. The idea, however, is clear. An “Ecological Screen” or “Footprint” would be used to inform consumers how products and services transacted on the Exchange restore the Rappahannock River and The Bay. However the environmental business indicator is deployed, it must be linked to PLACE – defined by the Rappahannock watershed, so that entities that use the Exhange understand it benefits people and businesses across the street, down the road, in the next town, and up or down the river.

I have recently become more aware of the controversy surrounding the use of these types of metrics. A screen or label can be thought to be legitimate one moment and the next attacked as greenwashing (The Six Sins of Greenwashing). They can also be very expensive and exceptionally complex to use. Then there are questions about what the unit of assessment – the company or the product or both, should be. Finally, there are questions about the type of label that would best reveal compliance with a river water quality goal, for instance.

Regardless, the vision of linking bioregional product and service flows to keystone environmental asset health is compelling enough to merit pilot program development at various scales in multiple locations. And, there is so much work that is now going on in this arena that can be considered for possible weaving into the framework for the Exchange. Several months ago, I attended a presentation hosted by GreenBlue in Charlottesville. GreenBlue’s mission is to make commerce  ecologically and socially regenerative. They are at the forefront of life cycle cost analysis, specializing in the infusion of ecology into industrial supply systems. The presentation was by Scott Kaufman with The Carbon Trust, an international group that has developed The Carbon Label, that helps consumers to understand the carbon footprint of the products and service we use. Products that now have publicly available footprints include granulated sugar, milk, paving products, cotton apparel, orange juice, lightbulbs, potatoes, laundry detergent, shampoo, and fruit smoothies. In the world of carbon neutrality, there is TerraPass, that offers calculators for individuals and businesses to be carbon neutral, and TerraCarbon. In the broader area of ecological footprinting, there is the The Global Footprint Network, The Natural Step, and others.

A significant challenge for the creators of The Exchange will be the creation of indicators that are affordable, plainly legitimate, simple, and actually measure watershed restoration. As my colleague Buck Kline mentioned to me yesterday….”I want to be a fly on the wall for the meetings where this part of the project is debated”. I agree Buck, it is going to be interesting.

Thanks to The Carbon Trust for the use of their Carbon Reduction Label.

- Michael Collins

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  1. River point properties | Riverfront Land and Properties:

    [...] Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:14 pm Pillar 4 of a Bioregional Economy – Environmental Business …Pillar 4 of a Bioregional Economy – Environmental Business Indicator: The Point of Contact between Business and Government. … An “Ecological Screen” or “Footprint” would be used to inform consumers how products and services transacted on the Exchange restore the Rappahannock River and The Bay. However the environmental business indicator is deployed, it must be linked to PLACE – defined by the Rappahannock watershed, so that entities that use the Exhange understand it …  read more… [...]

    --October 8, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

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