State of the Economy Conference Examines Environmental Sustainability


California's economy is more sensitive than any other in the country to a jump in interest rates and a continued downturn in the housing sector, the state's chief economist said on May 9 at Saint Mary's College's 2007 State of the Economy conference.

Howard Roth said recent statistics show housing sales continue to drop in California and permits for home building have been tumbling since 2005. Roth predicted, however, that both the state and national economies will begin growing at a faster rate in 2008.

"Consumers continue to spend, otherwise we'd be in a recession," said Roth.

Other speakers at the conference -- titled "Toward a Sustainable Economy" -- said California is leading the national debate over reducing greenhouse gas emissions through legislation like the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

"Everyone is looking to California now as a leader on this issue," said Virgil Welch, climate campaign coordinator at Environmental Defense in Sacramento.

The "green technology revolution" is presenting economic opportunities, said Welch, with billions of dollars being invested in energy-efficient technologies, much of it in California.

"We are relying on market forces to help us achieve environmental gains," said Welch.

Other panelists discussed how green business practices have migrated from small, environmentally minded cooperatives to the corporate mainstream, with Fortune 500 companies now trying to save money through more sustainable practices.

"If you look at the annual reports for companies like DuPont or Merck, you"ll see that they devote a lot of energy to sustainability," said Bill Halpin, Saint Mary's professor of business administration. "Waste is not just a green issue in terms of the environment for these companies, but also in terms of dollars."

While climate change is a global issue, some of the most significant environmental consequences occur at a more grassroots level.

"Decisions about how to plan a city--how to use energy, land and transportation resources--these things happen at the local level," said Brooke Lee of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, which helps East Bay cities measure and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

At Saint Mary's College, which has reduced its annual energy use by 9 percent, concern for the environment is viewed as a moral issue consistent with the school's Catholic mission.

"Respect for the environment is part of being a responsible citizen," said Stephen Woolpert, dean of the School of Liberal Arts. Saint Mary's has taken steps to reduce waste and energy usage on campus, including the installation of lights that automatically shut off and a water-conserving urinal system, Woolpert said. Future campus goals include increasing the use of biodegradable paper products in the dining hall, and joining more than 1,000 other colleges in a national event in January 2008 devoted to stabilizing global climate.
--Debra Holtz and John Grennan
Office of College Communications