How B.C.’s economy can be green and still growing

Reprinted from Business in Vancouver May 19-25, 2009; issue 1021
http://www.biv.com

It’s tough to sit down and put your feet up to watch a good hockey game or laugh through a sitcom these days without being bombarded by political statements about our province’s future and the green economy.

But what is a green economy?

Is there a difference between the green technology and alternative energy that the Liberals had in their election platform or the green infrastructure that the NDP pushed or the green collar economy envisioned by the Green party?

Depending on where you stand, there’s nothing that’s absolutely green. The NDP refers to green infrastructure: projects such as light rail or new types of waste water systems. These are essentially construction projects that create infrastructure to lower greenhouse gas output, which is a good thing. But there’s nothing green about construction, and there never will be.

We should be doing light rail, green economy or not, because it makes sense.

Unfortunately, once infrastructure projects are done, the jobs are gone. The projects are also financed using public debt – which essentially means you and I hired all those people, and now we have a mortgage to pay off.

Housing construction is the same. Realistically, we can’t drive an economy forever on construction.

The Liberals tout green technology and renewable energy as a big part of the economic solution. But there are very few jobs in renewable energy production, except during construction.

Once a plant is finished, its staff is reduced dramatically. The revenue stream goes to a corporation that’s usually not based in B.C. The technology is also from out of province, so little money and few jobs stick here.

Green technology companies include the folks that make fuel cells, wood pellets and smart meters. The shame is that few of those devices are made here. As well, most of the companies are small and, unless you’re an engineer, you probably wouldn’t be working for them.

The Green party vow to create green collar jobs. It doesn’t expand too much on what a green collar job is, but I assume it’s being a consultant with an environmental firm or working on a green construction project.

But we need to focus on what we do best in the world, what drives our economy and what we’re passionate about.

For instance, the forest industry drives 25% of our economy, and we have world-leading practices in that sector. If we can turn our passion for green into developing technology to make forestry less harmful to the environment, we will be winners. We will have a competitive forest industry and technology to reduce water use in pulp mills, to wring every joule out of the biomass created by sawmill operations or sophisticated vision systems to accurately cut logs. These made-in-B.C. technologies are here now and ready to export around the world.

The same goes for mining. Let’s face it, we aren’t going to get rid of mining, but we can be leaders in making it more benign.

How can you Twitter without copper? Or ride a bike without aluminum?

We can make sure that we’re leaders in developing technology in such areas as recycling and water management. Most of these industries are also offering decent-paying jobs. If we want a stronger B.C. economy, we need to look at areas of it that manufacture something and ensure we’re leaders in making that process as efficient and environmentally sound as possible.

So there it is, the Liberals are olive green, the NDP is sea green and the Greens are bright green. But they’re all just shades of green.

What we need is dark green. British Columbians need to stand up and be proud of the industries that built B.C. and the spinoff work that created so much of our technology industry.

We need to be hedgehogs. According to Jim Collins and his famous book, Good to Great, we need to get back to what we do best, to what drives our economy and focus on our passion for sustainability.

That’s what a green economy is.

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