Sustainable Economy = Sustainable Community What the sustainable economy movement means to me

Story by Jamie Gaulthier | Illustration by Stephen Haigh

I was born in southwest philly and lived there until I was 9. The sights and sounds of that time are vibrant — hopscotch, penny candy, water ice, jump rope. It would never be called a “good” Philly neighborhood, but it’s what comes to mind when I think of a typical one. I remember starkly when things began to change for the worse — the crime, the drugs, the poverty. A standout event was the time a neighbor broke into our house when my mom and I were home alone. We heard the glass shatter and my mom told me to run. I did, as quickly as I could, up the street to my grandmom’s house, the wind roaring in my ears, my heart a drumbeat. We moved soon after — by then, we could afford it, my parents having both recently attained professional degrees. The new neighborhood, Wynnefield, was nicer and safer.

 Over time, I noticed what happened to those we left behind in the other neighborhood. How poverty kept them from learning, and blocked their access to fresh, healthy food. How it incarcerated them and killed them. How poverty led many to accept that there was not much of a world beyond the confines of their block. That to me is about a lack of equity and it is what attracts me to the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) and the sustainable economy movement. I believe that over time this effort will ensure equity.

I love how the sustainable economy movement forces a new way of measuring prosperity, one in which financial success is viewed as a means to an and of supporting a fair and just society, as opposed to an end in and of itself. I love how it promotes fairness for workers, and encourages businesses to facilitate good deeds within their communities. I love how this movement, our movement, promotes more people having an ownership stake in our economy, and how an emphasis on local sourcing ensures that success will be shared with multiple stakeholders. And how it forces entrepreneurs and consumers to acknowledge that resources are not infinite, ensuring that all of us — including generations to come — will enjoy the communities we are building.

As SBN’s new executive director, I am looking forward to many things. I’d like to expand SBN’s network by attracting more businesses that span a variety of industries. I’d like to do more direct marketing and education to consumers, in a way that will ensure their patronage of good business. I plan to continue SBN’s role as the voice of small and sustainable business through strong advocacy. And I’d like to provide an increased level of services to our business constituents that will help them to grow — financially, and otherwise.

To bring it all back home, I ask that you indulge me in a fantasy. It is 15 years from now, and we’ve made huge strides in the local sustainable economy movement — our communities are supported by a variety of businesses (owned by a variety of stakeholders) that nourish and provide for the many. I take a walk back onto a little block in Southwest Philly and again the sights and sounds are vibrant — hopscotch, penny candy, water ice, jump rope. People are outside, talking with neighbors, and instead of a feeling of scarcity, there’s one of hope and abundance. Because people know they can get their needs met — they can go to a good quality school, they can get fresh healthy food, they can get a good paying job or open up a business, they can breathe fresh air. And they know that they will be okay; because instead of being victim to our economic system, they are supported by it. They participate in it. They thrive in it.

And, that’s a worthy vision, right?

JAMIE GAULTHIER joined SBN in March 2013 as Executive Director. She has a background in business and community development and prior to SBN worked as a Program Officer with Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corporation. For more on SBN, visit sbnphiladelphia.org.

Each month, Dispatch features personal reflections on adventures in sustainability. Have a story you’d like to share? E-mail getinvolved@gridphilly.com