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Hunter Lovins: On Business Education, Public Service and our Green Future

DSC01260I recently had the opportunity to interview Hunter Lovins over breakfast at the Streamliner Diner on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Kathleen: So Hunter, what brings you here?

Hunter: I'm teaching at Bainbridge Graduate Institute this weekend at Islandwood, which is truly a singular honor. BGI remains the MBA program with the deepest and most authentic commitment to their vision — "changing business for good." If you look at the most recent data projected for our planet's future, all of life is literally at risk. Things have to change. They are going to change. It's a matter of how. Transforming business education, which is what BGI has done, is critical to transforming our business model, which is critical to our survival. One of the things I am most impressed by is BGI's willingness to keep improving an already successful program.

Yes. I noted a similar impression in my post about Vision 2050 this past year. At that point BGI had decided to integrate the Vision 2050 goals into their curriculum, across the board. It's an incredible example of leadership. Speaking of leadership, I know you've met this past week with green team members from some of the most committed cities in the region. What do you think of their work?

I met with some folks on an informal basis, at a potluck hosted by the City of Shoreline's green team, and then got to participate in King County Green Tools' Sustainable Cities Roundtable. What I saw were some truly dedicated and intelligent individuals grappling with all the right questions, and reporting on the fairly sophisticated projects they have underway. There are a million reasons to get discouraged, but the work at the local level is really where much of the work is being done. And you've been pretty successful in the Pacific Northwest providing leadership in sustainable development. 

In what way?

Well, this where the Living Building Challenge came from, for example. And you have the legacy of leaders like Greg Nickels and Ron Sims who years ago recognized that we'd already locked in harm from climate change, and that we needed to look at adaptation not just prevention. One thing I've noticed is that local government leaders in the Northwest are willing to look beyond their jurisdictional borders and beyond serving only constituents. For them it's about truly serving the public and the well-being of all.

What advice would you give to public sector folks working in the trenches?

First I would caution them to prepare for the disruption that climate change will — not may — produce. Our best hope is for a soft landing. Cities need to plan for that transition and look at how to provide the basics — food, water, health care — using local resources. Second, I would celebrate what you are already doing. For the Sustainable Roundtable discussion, we met in the Kenmore City Hall. This is a LEED Gold Building that narrowly missed Platinum. LEED isn't perfect but it does provide accountability. The quality of light, air, and acoustics was just so high in that building. People feel better and produce more in green buildings. In conventional buildings, everyone's tense with their shoulders up around their ears. Keep up with good, basic green building practices — performance contracting, transit oriented development, green team management, keeping yourself accountable by using LEED for your public buildings.

One of the issues public servants face is the lack of financial resources, especially with the economic downturn, do you have any suggestions? Foster initiatives that bring businesses together to work on conservation, perhaps through their Chamber of Commerce. Improved profitability through sustainability will both improve your local economy (and thus your tax base), but it will also help meet your goal of sustainability.

Since not all businesses have the resources of a Walmart, my organization has developed a rapid e-learning tool (Solutions @ the speed of business)

to help small businesses (which is what comprises the majority of business in most towns) improve their profitability through sustainable practices.  You can also look at local educational institutions for students that might help coach small businesses in sustainability. We are working with the City of  San Rafael, where students from the Dominican Green MBA program provide this kind of hands-on assistance. BGI's internship program is an obvious  resource for coaches here.

Hunter Lovins, author and a promoter of sustainable development for over 30 years, is president and founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions, a 501(c)3 non-profit in Colorado. She teaches sustainable business management at Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) in Seattle, Washington, and Denver University. She co-founded with Amory Lovins, her then-husband, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), which she led for 20 years. Named a "green business icon" by Newsweek, a millennium "Hero of the Planet" by Time Magazine, she has also received the Right Livelihood Award, the Leadership in Business Award and dozens of other honors.

KathleenOBrien-webKathleen O'Brien is Editor of Building Capacity Blog, and contributes monthly to the Daily Journal of Commerce's Green Building Blog.  Like Hunter, she has been in the sustainable development field for nearly three decades. She provides consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project. Her book The Northwest Green Home Primer, is popular with both professionals and laypersons alike.

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