Holistic Economic Development for Today’s Communities
This article was original published for the Talkin’ Green column. Download a copy of the column from the Lake Geneva Regional News Real Estate Guide.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines holistic as relating to or concerned with complete systems rather than the dissection into parts. So what does that mean when looking at communities and how they operate?
Traditionally the city or developer would buy a parcel of land, get business and industrial zoning approved for the site and develop an office park to sell the lots. The underlying intention of developing this property being the desire to have companies expand or relocate to their city.
However, in today’s world, due to the internet and communication systems, companies have many more options on where they can locate. The concept of ‘build it and they will come’ no longer applies. A city can’t sit back waiting for someone to come to their business park to start a company or move to town. The key is to look at your community from a holistic perspective and find a way to create natural benefits for being a part of your community’s growth.
Today’s communities need to be retooled and based on a common Holistic Energy System; looking at the entire energy use of the community, seeing each company and building as a pooled resource instead of separate energy users. In this way – you create a natural and sustainable support system for business growth.
Imagine a commercial laundry and a computer data center working together through a central geothermal heating and cooling system (geo-utility). The data center needs cooling and the laundry needs hot water. The centralized system is able to cool the data center, capture the free waste heat that is expelled in the process, and in-turn heat the water for the laundry. The thermal energy from the commercial laundry waste water is then returned to the central heating and cooling system, while the grey water is cleaned and pumped over to the commercial greenhouse for the irrigation of plants.
One building needs heat, another needs cooling; one uses hot water while another business utilizes gray waste water – it all works together. Companies that have to get rid of heat are tied to companies that can use the thermal energy. Companies that generate a waste product or excess material are combined with companies that can use that material as a raw source for their manufacturing process. And the community owned wind and solar array generates free clean energy for all the businesses and residents combined, lowering costs and creating more jobs.
A Holistic approach gathers all of the information for the community and looks for synergistic opportunities to make things come together, working as a whole rather than separate, non-interacting units of operation. Take a look at your community overall – what resources does it have; raw materials, waste materials, people, buildings, existing businesses, access to capital and changing technologies.
Holistic Sustainable Economic Development looks at all of the businesses, farms, and residents as valuable resources of the community. Food waste from restaurants, cafeterias, hotels and grocery stores becomes a resource in need of a company that can process the resource into compost and natural gas for vehicle fuel, or electric generation from renewable organic waste. Other waste materials that can be repurposed include pallets, manure, agricultural waste, and wood chips; offering opportunities for new businesses to emerge and make valuable use of these local resources. And on top of everything is the over-riding need for energy, with community-owned energy systems helping reduce cost and providing clean energy.
Taxes, educated labor force, quality of life and utility costs all impact a business considering locating or expanding in your community. The Department of Energy is promoting the development of renewable energy parks for offices and industrial tenants. Centralized utility services for a group of buildings could reduce the utility costs and capital required, and provide clean energy for the entire community. Community ownership of the renewable energy for the industrial park would also maximize the impact of “buying local”.
Businesses and homes are not independent – we are all connected. The old saying – “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” is never truer than when looking at how a community can maximize their sustainability efforts.