If you believe that positive change in the world must include fundamental changes in our economy and how we do business, and if you believe that the most power we have to affect real change lies right where we live, in our local communities, then you should know about the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies (BALLE, pronounced “ball-ey”).
BALLE is a consortium of business networks spread across the USA and Canada. Each of these networks brings together the green, sustainable, locally-focused businesses of a given region. Each network is independent and autonomous, focusing on the unique resources, culture, and challenges of its area. BALLE acts as a forum for all of these green business networks to share information, encourage each other, and coordinate their agendas.
It sounds simple, but that’s probably where the beauty is. By linking together over 22,000 small businesses across the continent, BALLE has turned what would otherwise be lots of well-intentioned but unconnected green businesses into a force for advancing local, sustainable, human-scale business practices in the world, starting at the grassroots level. According to its website, “BALLE believes that local, independent businesses are among our most potent change agents, uniquely prepared to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century with an agility, sense of place, and relationship-based approach others lack.”
In today’s globalized world, where it seems that big, abstract entities such as nations and corporations dominate the news and control the agenda, why do small, local economies and businesses even matter at all? To name a few reasons:
Those of you who have followed my columns over the years know that Allison and I started a green “intentional neighborhood” here in Paonia back in 2001 (www.hawkshavenllc.com). Since my name, Hal, is forever associated with the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I should have suspected that I was embarking on a green development odyssey. After nine years of jumping through hoops, we’re finally moving some dirt. This year’s project is a super-insulated, earth-bermed garage and upstairs studio, crowned with a 3 kilowatt solar system. We’re psyched!
Before we design and build the main house, we need to get up to speed on what’s new in the world of eco-home building. So I signed up for a Natural Building conference focused on creating high-performance homes using earthen, plant- based, or recycled materials. What I came away with was not so much new building techniques, but a renewed commitment to living lightly on the planet.
Energy activist Randy Udall came to speak fresh off a backpacking trip. He reminded us that it would only take two degrees of global warming to change Colorado’s alpine wonders (and the planet) into a bleaker habitat than we enjoy today. Randy’s outlook was sobering: Science magazine reported that even if we stopped building new CO2-emitting infrastructure today (no new cars, no new fossil-fuel power plants…an impossible scenario!), we’re still cooked. The “inertia” from using what is already built will raise CO2 levels to the point that we’ll be perilously close to that 2 degree rise in temperature. In other words, everything new that we add to the planet really needs to be carbon neutral. In the context of natural building, this means building smaller, smarter homes that conserve resources and produce their own energy.
Of course buildings are just one piece of the solution. Pretty much every human activity needs to undergo a similar trans- formation. This seems enormous – and it is! – but I humbly offer one insight about how this could happen: Everything we see in the human-made world began as an investment. The tools of Natural Investing, if widely applied, would shift the economy towards one that values long-term ecological health. To paraphrase Gandhi, we need to invest in the change we wish to see in the world.
Udall next touched on other trends that might alter the bleak greenhouse gas forecast.
In spite of all today’s economic challenges, this is an exciting time for values-based investors. The range of investments has grown from just a handful of SRI funds when we started in the 80’s to hundreds of values-based options. SRI has become a global movement, corporate responsibility is a mainstream issue, and the opportunity to create a low-carbon economy is the major thrust of the current administration.
But despite these achievements, the challenges have grown even faster. The earth is groaning under the strain of supporting consumption-based lifestyles, while debt-based economies demand even more consumption to keep the whole game going. In an ideal world, we would have a coordinated global approach with sufficient wisdom and clout to address global challenges while keeping local economies vibrant. But Wall Street and a handful of mega-banks are designed to funnel capital into globalization, while the local realm has been almost ignored by the investment world. In response, many people are finding that the local level is the most appropriate place to direct their energies, for it is in our neighborhoods and communities that we can have the most meaningful impact.
So I was elated when I picked up a new book called Slow Money written by Woody Tasch. Just the title gets your attention…who talks about the speed of money? But money has gotten fast, whizzing around the world as blips of data, seeking the highest return no matter what the consequences for the planet. Slowing money down fits right in with “natural” investing – our term for investing in ways that are aligned with the planet’s patterns at a deeper level. In September I attended the first national Slow Money conference in Santa Fe. I felt right at home, as the 400+ attendees were a blend of activists from the financial, farming, and nonprofit worlds.
Tasch’s focus is on local food, also known as the Slow Food movement. We all know the splendid taste of vine- ripened tomatoes and fresh-picked corn.