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On April 30, 2012, the 3rd Annual Massachusetts Sustainable Economy Conference was presented by Integrative Sustainability & Environmental Solutions (ISES) in Boston, MA. ISES, an environmental consulting initiative led by Crystal Johnson.The conference leveraged a variety of discussions on the community and business practices that cultivate a sustainable economy. Higher education plays a critical role in this conversation as the educational driver which creates meaningful programs for career preparedness, community innovation, and participatory citizenship in order to prepare students to create a sustainable future.

Participants included local and multinational businesses, higher education representatives, chambers of commerce and non-profit organizations.  the daylong conference was divided into three main informational sessions with topics including: Active Citizenship for Sustainable Communities, Principles of Product Stewardship and Supply Chain, Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion in Business, and Emerging Energy Issues and Technologies. The final session for the conference was a full-attendee dialogue on “The Role of Women in Creating a 21st Century Economy.”

In “Active Citizenship for Sustainable Communities,” session leader Pat Stewart, President of the North Country Sustainability Center, discussed NCSC’s shift from what was originally created to provide a community kitchen for local agricultural value-added demands, to a regional hub for practical sustainability practices. Recognizing the increasing demand for, and value of, traditional knowledge, NCSC has expanded its services to offer a wide range of guild workshops on topics ranging from weaving and cheese making to masonry, all of which are offered by local experts, or as Pat noted “older folks who don’t even realize they are experts”. The NCSC model represented a critical dialogue point between “formal” and “informal” educational institutions, modeling from the latter steps towards creating a local economy which can depend on local production as well as preserve an array of increasingly vanishing traditional knowledge.

Alongside the community center and the small business owners attending the conference, Chamber of Commerce leaders discussed different effective partnerships with town/city leaders, other business owners, and local schools. One example of this was the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s partnership with Nexamp to form the Merrimack Valley Clean Energy Partnership (MVCEP). “The Chamber was awarded a $500,000 contract through a competitive bidding process to provide clean energy consulting and energy monitoring to 31 Merrimack Valley companies” and as a result, received the Northeastern Economic Developers Association “Program of the Year” award in 2011.

In addition to the continuing discussions on supply chain management, urban agriculture techniques, and community partnerships, the conference placed a special emphasis on the role of diversity and minorities in the shift towards a sustainable economy. During the final, all-conference dialogue devoted to the role of women in creating the 21st century economy, Jackie VanderBrug discussed the role of gender lens investing at a business and individual level as a critical sustainability lens. Another imperative aspect of this session was the dire need and current process of getting more women in leadership positions, such as the 20% by 20 campaign. Steven Grossman, State Treasurer and Receiver General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, opening keynote for the session, underscored the role of partnerships as a baseline method for accountability and progressive reform.

As a cross-sector conference, the 3rd Annual Massachusetts Sustainable Economy Conference provided critical points of conversation on a range of sustainable economy intersections, at which the role of education stood out as a strong partnership imperative, and critical point of movement necessary to shift policy and practice throughout Massachusetts communities.

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