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Sonoma County Gazette
Sustainable Enterprise Conference 2017

Sustainable Enterprise Conference creates FOCUS for Activists

Apr 26, 2017
by Tish Levee


Every time I attend the Sustainable Enterprise Conference—this was my third—I meet and network with new and interesting people in the sustainability world, go to fascinating workshops, and learn about new products and services to make our county—and the world—a better place. This year the 12th Conference, put on by Oren Wool and his incredibly talented cohort, moved from Sonoma Mountain Village to SSU’s Student Union.

The conference theme—One Planet Living—was inspired by the Bioregional’s ten One Planet principles. During the opening session, led by Daily Act's Trathen Heckman, we all sat at tables labeled with one of the One Planet principles. I joined several people, including former assembly member Noreen Evans and Sebastopol’s Rue Furch, at theSustainable Transportation table. A lively discussion about transit needs in Sonoma County and ways to make this sector of our economy more sustainable followed.

We shared our frustrations about the ratio of transit tax dollars being spent on highways and potholes versus public transit (80% vs 20%) and spending money on parking instead of transit. The need for better connectivity and frequency as well as better marketing and advertising were some public transit solutions discussed.

An intriguing proposal, mentioned by Rue Furch, was the concept of a SMART-style train running along Hwy. 37, linking Fairfield to San Rafael. Hwy. 37 was flooded for 29 days this Spring; an expected sea level rise of three feet by 2050, means Hwy. 37 will need to be rebuilt at a higher elevation. Putting in a rail line instead of adding more lanes to the highway is a great idea. We also talked about having smaller buses on routes with less ridership as well as using them for school buses. I learned why so many people drive their kids to school — apparently it costs an average of $150/student per semester to take the bus. So driving is more affordable, even if it isn’t very sustainable.

As always at conferences such as this, I was faced with a plethora of choices for workshops. (In each time slot there were three or four choices.) My first breakout session, led by Praxis group president, Mark Westwind, looked at how the convergence of consumer demand, Big Data, and intelligent technologies can be adapted to create something that goes way beyond the usual footprint calculators. The possibilities are awesome.

In the afternoon, fifteen teens from a sustainability class at Montgomery High School and their teacher, Len Greenwood, joined “The Leading Edge of Climate Resilience: Sonoma County in Context” workshop, bringing intriguing questions to the panel. It was great to see so many young people involved and caring about sustainability.

Another workshop, “Greening Your Organization from Within,” was very useful; Dr. Elaine Wellin of the Northern California Earth Institute at SSU, shared a program for schools, businesses, community organizations, and faith-based institutions to develop climate discussion and action groups to promote both personal and local community action toward sustainability.

“A Sustainable Future and a New Regenerative Economy,” the closing session, called on us to “bring out our Inner Activist,” saying we “…need to be firebrands now!” We were told not to let ourselves be turned off by “disaster porn” or to use negative imagery when talking about these issues. As activists, we need to take everybody with us; “…we can’t sit this one out.” Our need for Balance and finding ways to take time out was also stressed.

Focusing on one thing that really matters to me, something that excites me and going deep with it, and then letting the rest go was a message I needed to hear. I realized that I have been spreading myself too thin, trying to deal with everything that has been happening in Washington; I need to re-focus on just one issue—for me that continues to be Climate Change.

Sustainable North Bay, the producer of theSustainable Enterprise Conference, will also put onZero Waste Sonoma on May 11th at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park and the first Sustainable Enterprise Conference in Marin on October 26th. Check them out—registration’s very reasonable; you could find them as exciting as I have.


© Tish Levee, 2017


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