Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 23: Economic Development and Sustainability

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
This is the 23rd post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the review.

This chapter is called Economic Development and Sustainability:  A Case Study from Long Island New York, by Robert Brinkmann (me). The chapter begins with a review of how economic development has been a part of our modern economic world for generations. From the Department of Commerce to state and local government economic development offices, governments are deeply involved in trying to advance national, state, and local economic interests. Many industry organizations are also involved. For example, the California Association of Wine Growers works to advance the economic agendas of their members. 

Brinkmann reviews a range of tools available to those involved with economic development including tax breaks, land use, direct investments, laws and zoning, technical assistance, infrastructure development, education, and political access. He also points out that there are distinct ways to measure the success of economic development interests such as in jobs created or number of businesses opened. However, there are distinct critiques of traditional economic development that are discussed within two themes:  opportunities for corruption and the fallacy of unending growth.

The chapters continues with a discussion of sustainability and economic development. Some major themes include public lands, water, energy, agriculture, food, transportation, building, land use, environmental justice, brownfields, pollution, and ecosystems. Businesses are searching for ways to become more authentic with their sustainability initiatives and are often searching for local partners where they can advance their business while enhancing local sustainability. For example, a large computer company may search for a location for a manufacturing site where they can help a region develop green energy sources. Or, a food company may wish to expand the amount of organic food they use by partnering with local food growers to ramp up their output. No matter the approach, sustainability is becoming a much bigger part of economic development in our modern era.

More natural assets of Long Island:  the impressive
beach. Photo by Bob Brinkmann, your author, on left.
The chapter focuses its case study on how the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council infused sustainability within a new innovative approach to economic development put forward by Governor Cuomo. After the downturn of the Great Recession, Cuomo divided New York State into several regions for distinct state investment. Each region created a council that was charged with working with local leaders to develop an agenda that would enhance and grow the economy. On Long Island, the local council decided to infuse sustainability and natural assets within their plan. Individuals and organizations (both for profit and non-profit) could submit projects that sought some degree of investment from the state. The organizations had to come to the table with personal or organizational funds. The projects that focused on sustainability or natural assets centered largely on agricultural enterprises, improving fisheries of shellfishing, and protecting natural assets like waterways and natural landscapes.

The chapter provides several examples of successful projects. For example, one project focused on growing the Peconic Bay scallop industry that declined decades ago. Improved water in the Bay suggested that reintroduction of the scallops in the Bay could greatly enhance the shellfishing industry in the area and the Long Island Economic Development team supported a range of initiatives to advance the restoration of the scallop industry.

The chapter notes that there are several lessons learned. Certainly economic development did not solve Long Island's sustainability problems. However, the fact that sustainability was infused in many of the projects was seen as a win for advancing a regional sustainability agenda. However, sustainability was not the only deciding factor in what got funded by the council. Some projects were funded that had negative impacts on the environment. In addition, because there were not clear sustainability benchmarking outcome metrics associated with the plans, it was hard to assess the overall success of the projects. Nevertheless, the Long Island region, which is largely considered suburban New York City, is one of the only suburban regions of the country to infuse sustainability within an economic development framework.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some class discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on green economic development.

1. What are some local examples of how our community sponsors a particular type of economic development in our region?

2. What groups are involved in local economic development in our area?

3. Economic leaders are keen to get involved with economic development. How do you think economic development advocates can ensure that projects don't become a form of local greenwashing?

4. Given the State of New York's economic strength, why do you think Governor Cuomo put so much emphasis on economic development during the Great Recession?

5. Why do you think Long Island emphasized sustainability and other regions of our country do not?

6. Benchmarking of success of economic development is largely focused on job or business creation. What alternative benchmarking tools could be developed around two of the major Long Island sustainability themes of agriculture and fisheries?

7. One of the three themes of Long Island's sustainability approach was protection of natural assets. Why do you think protection of these natural assets were so important to those interested in economic development?

8. If we were to start a green economic development project in our region, what types of projects would we support?

Previous Entries in This Series


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