Grunke Column: Sustainable economic development in Missoula

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “sustainability” and “economic development” in the same sentence?

It’s a common misconception that these two practices are mutually exclusive goals. However, not only are they compatible with, but essential to one another’s success in today’s world.

Economic development strategies must reflect the culture and values of a community. That is why no two communities have the same priorities. One of Missoula’s community values is sustainability, and the Missoula Economic Partnership tries to reflect that value through our strategies and practices.

Sustainability means different things to different people, so let me explain how we think about it and incorporate it into our work.

The International Economic Development Council defines sustainable economic development as “the investment in business, social, built and natural environments that creates increasing prosperity for all, now and into the future.”

Measures of sustainable economic development range from access to public transportation to the affordability of housing, from food security to the cost of living. Evidence of sustainability at work in our community includes access to both recycling and workforce training programs. It’s also about living wages and hiring locally.

And, yes, sustainability includes “green” living and working. It means investing in energy efficiency and zero-waste policies.

Taken together, all these social, economic and environmental investments bring about positive economic development outcomes across all segments of our community.

One step Missoula is taking toward sustainable economic development is the adoption of a zero-waste initiative. Not only does the Zero by Fifty campaign address environmental concerns, it lays the groundwork for more sustainable development.

Partners in this initiative include the city of Missoula and Home ReSource, a local nonprofit organization that describes itself as “triple bottom line” — an organization driven by three core measures: environmental, social, and financial.

One of the nation’s leading advocates of the triple bottom line is Jonathan Kusel, executive director of the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment in Taylorville, California.

“The longstanding conversation has centered around environment and jobs – and whether you could have both,” he says. “But that’s an incredibly narrow framing of the conversation.”

“Yes, we can have the environment and jobs,” he says, “but let’s also create opportunities for local businesses to thrive.”

Caitlin Geary, writing for the National League of Cities, contends that “sustainability is a fundamental component of building a strong community, not only in terms of the physical environment, but also for economic prosperity.”

Supporting the development of sustainable business practices and enterprises is one way that economic development efforts contribute to a triple-bottom-line ethos.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, provides another example of sustainable development meeting a triple-bottom-line imperative. There, city leaders have successfully used the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program to attract new businesses and capital investment.

Grand Rapids currently has the most LEED-certified buildings per capita and the fifth-most LEED-certified buildings overall in the nation.

Here in Missoula, the new Stockman Bank building at Orange Street and West Broadway is a shining example of the confluence of environmental and economic sustainability.

The building was designed to strive for LEED Platinum v4 certification, the highest LEED level attainable. If successful, it will be the first building to receive such status in Montana.

But beyond its environmental sustainability, the Stockman Bank building will also create attractive office spaces where new jobs will be created and contribute to our city’s expanding tax base.

As Bjorn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, says: “Sustainable development is living on nature’s income rather than its capital.”

This is our goal as fiscally, socially and environmentally responsible stewards of development in Missoula.

 James Grunke is president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership. This column originally appeared in the September 10, 2017 edition of the Missoulian’s InBusiness.

Missoula Economic Partnership | 2501 Catlin Street Suite 205 Missoula, Montana 59801 | P: 406.541.6461 | F: 406.541.6464