Economy

"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce

 

A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY
- = Sustainable Economy Initiatives = -

 

Ecotrust - Willapa Bay

Ecotrust is a non-profit organization committed to realizing ecologically sustainable economic development in the coastal temperate rainforest region of North West America. It operates in four locations, including Willapa Bay, in Washington State.

www.ecotrust.org

Origins and Development

Ecotrust is a private non-profit organization, based in Portland, Oregon. Founded in 1991 with support from Conservation International, Ecotrust works to build economically secure and environmentally sound communities. Recognizing that there is an inseparable link between the health of the local economy and the health of the local ecosystems and natural resources on which local people's livelihoods depend, Ecotrust works to build synergy between conservation and development. Acting as a catalyst and broker, it provides technical, scientific, economic and business development tools that are needed to move towards sustainability in the coastal temperate rain forest regions of North America which stretches from California to southern Alaska.

North America's temperate rain forest encloses a very rich ecosystem, containing huge trees, powerful rivers, and some of the most productive forests and fisheries in the world. It has provided a comfortable life for generations of indigenous people. However, it increasingly threatened by overharvesting, and by the replacement of natural forests with industrial tree farms. Salmon habitat is being lost both to development and to poor forestry practices. Ecotrust has a long term commitment in four large watersheds in the North American rain forest - Prince William Sound in Alaska, the Kitlope ecosystem and Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia, and Willapa Bay in Washington State.

The Willapa Bay ecosystem consists of a 100 sq mile estuary and its surrounding watershed. The bay is relatively clean and healthy compared to other US wetlands, and is one of the five largest oyster-producing areas in the world. The 19,000 residents of the region support themselves by forestry, farming, fisheries and tourism. In recent years a long-term trend of decline has set in, first ecological, and then economic. Native runs of chum, chinook and coho salmon were destroyed years ago by the conversion of wetland to farmland, the installation of tidegates, and by flood logging, overfishing and fish hatcheries. Timber yields, salmon and sturgeon catch have all declined, and the oyster beds are threatened by sedimentation, and epidemic populations of sand and mudshrimp. The region has seen an increase in unemployment and poverty, and is in the bottom third of Washington State's per capita income. Most local resources are shipped out, with few jobs and little income created en route.

Ecotrust started by bringing together normally suspicious partners. The Willapa Alliance was formed in 1992, bringing together landowners, farmers, oyster growers, fishermen, small business-owners, the Shoalwater Bay Native American Tribe, and representatives from Ecotrust and Nature Conservancy. The Alliance has become a forum where members can discuss the challenges facing their communities.

The Alliance commissioned a year-long study to examine the area's economic, ecological and social health, including a detailed study of the salmon fishery. This led to a 1992 report which laid the basis for future work managing and developing local resources. The study led to a year-long market test to determine whether development banking could help businesses in Willapa Bay. They assessed the needs of 50 businesses, tracking 13 firms for a year. The key problems facing businesses were a lack of primary business skills, access to markets and credit, and access to financial capital to help their businesses grow. Ecotrust set out to find the expertise to meet their needs, and made an alliance with the Chicago-based Shorebank Corporation, which has a long tradition of serving local communities through bottom-up community development banking, and has unique experience in this area (see LEDIS E51).

In 1994 Ecotrust and Shorebank launched the ShoreTrust Trading Group, to serve as a local economic development organization serving the Willapa Bay bioregion.

Aims and Objectives

The ShoreTrust Trading Group addresses 3 primary areas where assistance is needed by ecologically appropriate businesses :

(1) Market identification and linkages. Green products in North America are worth $115 billion a year, but local entrepreneurs do not know how to go about breaking into the market.

(2) Business assistance. Local businesses need help with business planning and accounting.

(3) Access to capital. There is need for a wide range of credit products, and a different kind of banking, designed to do whatever it takes to make a deal work for people who can't get a normal bank loan.

Most business problems need a combination of all 3 programs.

Activities

The ShoreTrust Trading Group provides marketing and technical business assistance to local entrepreneurs in the Willapa region with ecologically sustainable products. STTG also operates a revolving loan fund, providing capital for higher risk areas involving new products and markets. The fund received over $1 million in start-up capitalization from regional foundations. STTG put a company turning alder (normally seen as a waste tree) into wainscoting in touch with EcoTimber, a San Francisco company specializing in the sale of hardwoods from rainforest companies which practice ecological stewardship and social responsibility, and provided a loan to cover the cost of filling its first order. They helped a group of oyster growers get their oysters into an Oregon chain of natural food supermarkets which had never carried oysters. This involved working with the store's staff to educate customers, providing recipes to local chefs, running promotions, and emphasizing the oyster's clean water origins in Willapa Bay. STTG has also helped native fishermen market their fish to the 'green' market, emphasizing Willapa Bay, the salmon, and the ecosystem.

STTG is working with Willapa Economic Development Task Force, a group of locally concerned business leaders, and helped design an ambitious regional development plan to guide future economic growth in the area. The plan centers on brokering the knowledge and connections of local entrepreneurs to target the growing green market.

Ecotrust has sponsored local research projects, identifying key economic and ecological data, and addressing complex ecological problems, such as the invasive spartina grass, a non-native weed.

The Willapa Alliance has released thousands of chum salmon fry, in hope of reclaiming the Namah River, where they once thrived.

Structure

Ecotrust is a non-profit organization with a Board of Directors from all over the USA and Canada, an Advisory Council, and a staff of 17 people. They also have 5 interns and fellows, and 8 volunteers who work with them.

The ShoreTrust Trading Group is non-profit business development organization, the first joint venture between Ecotrust and the Chicago-based Shorebank Corporation.

The Willapa Alliance is a non-profit organization with a staff of 3, and an annual budget $387,000. It runs programs to restore habitat and salmon runs, and to provide information to tree farmers, fishermen, oyster growers and others whose livelihood depends on the resource base.

Finance

Ecotrust has a $2 million annual operating budget, with revenues derived from foundations, grants and individual contributions. Ecotrust's ultimate intention is to launch a bioregional bank serving the coastal temperate rainforest region of North America. The Shorebank Corporation in Chicago has raised $5 million in 'EcoDeposits' from its client-base, and the money will be transferred to a new ShoreTrust Bancorporation, and used to finance ecologically sound business ventures in the bioregion when the bank is established. In the meantime, the money is invested through South Shore Bank's regular lending programs, and investors are kept informed.

Problems

The major problem is the difficulty involved in slowly nurturing local capacity over the long term in a crisis atmosphere in which the problems are so immediate and urgent. Recruiting capable staff for STTG has also been difficult.

Performance

There has been great interest in Ecotrust's operations, indicating a deeply felt need for this kind of operation in the region. Solid groundwork has been laid through the creation of the Willapa Alliance and the ShoreTrust Trading Group, and through relevant ecological and economic research. The program has not been in operation long enough to produce tangible economic results.

Future

The long-run intention is to establish an ecologically-based development bank, able to provide incentives for improved conservation practices throughout the US portion of the rainforest, from California to Alaska.

For further information contact :

Erin Kellog,
Director of Policy and Communications,
Ecotrust,
1200 Northwest Front Avenue, #470,
Portland, Oregon 97209, USA

Tel : (503) 227-6225
Fax : (503) 222-1517


Written by Guy Dauncey for The Planning Exchange, Glasgow, Scotland.