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Be Careful What You Ask For: No Impact?

Last Saturday was Give Your Stuff Away Day, which means it was the day for “freecycling” and swapping clothes, furniture, housewares, electronics and other durable goods with friends, neighbors and family members – instead of buying them new. From a store. That employs people. That pays taxes.

The Three Ps of sustainability say you should be able to address the needs of People, Planet and Profit/Prosperity. Can you find the right balance or do they require tradeoffs that don’t quite add up? Proponents say it’s all about balance, and that makes sense to me most of the time. But there should be no denying that there are also some tradeoffs and tough choices.

Look at the current economic situation, which is being driven in a significant way by low consumer confidence. People are trying to save more and spend less. However, as a result, many businesses are still reluctant to expand or hire, and many have been forced to contract or close. Surely, this is not sustainable. And, yet, in some narrow definitions of sustainability, consumption is the enemy of sustainability. Some will say the current lack of consumption is the silver lining in the current downturn.

Take the example set by Colin Beavan, the best-selling author of No Impact Man, the book that chronicles one family’s efforts to make zero impact on the environment for an entire year. It also means no positive impact on the economy for an entire year. Fortunately, you can now buy the book, which at least provides some economic value.

Sustainable materials, products and designs – their purchase and use – are critical to the future of our world. In Cleveland, that’s what we call “Building an Economic Engine to Create a Green City on a Blue Lake.”

On the other hand, a future built on no impact is not much of a future at all. That’s only One P and it’s not sustainable, don’t you agree?

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