Op-Ed: Local think tank forming to take on sustainability

By Spencer Critchley, from the Salinas Californian: By now it’s clear that the future of the economy is a sustainable one, as global investment trends attest. As the cost of cleaner technologies falls ever lower, sustainability is becoming a question not of limits, but of opportunities.

Imagine, then, the possibilities for a region that combined these assets: world-class academic and defense institutions, excellent infrastructure, a coastal California/Pacific Rim location, some of the most fertile land in the world, a culture of innovation, and a quality of life that attracts talent from all over the planet.

There is such a region: We live in it. The Central Coast is equipped to benefit mightily from the sustainable future  if we recognize the opportunities.

There are already many hopeful signs. Santa Cruz is reinventing itself as a center of design and clean technology. In Salinas, city leaders have committed to an updated vision of the “green gold rush” that made Salinas a world agriculture capital. Many more examples could be cited.

Ironically, though, the sheer number of the sustainable initiatives under way could present an obstacle to their overall success. That’s because of the risk presented by “silos”  vertical
organizational structures that are not connected. Say a large company has brilliant talent in each of its divisions, but those divisions don’t communicate well. That company has a silo problem.

On the Central Coast, we have many smart people working in various parts of the sustainable economy. But many of them are operating in silos. They are not nearly as inter-connected as they could be, and should be.

It was connectedness that led to the rise of Silicon Valley. No one could have planned exactly what happened there, nor should they even have tried. But Silicon Valley was positioned for success by the presence  and connectedness  of a great
university, defense installations, good infrastructure and a culture of innovation.

Sound familiar? Just as those elements made Silicon Valley fertile ground for innovation, so can they here  especially since we have the advantage of still having a lot of actual, not just metaphorical, fertile ground! Given the rapidly growing value of the biotech, biofuels and sustainable agriculture sectors, our natural assets look all the better.

But we are behind the curve on connectedness. And it is to remedy that problem that Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue and I started a group called Imagination Coast. It is designed not to be yet another sustainability organization, but to connect the existing ones.

To that end, Imagination Coast will hold the first in a series of “Future Camps” on Saturday at the Moss Landing Marine Lab. It will be a day of work by knowledgeable people on meeting the challenges of the sustainable future. We believe if all interested parties work together to achieve that goal, we will realize greater benefits than any of us could by working separately.

In the sustainable future, our economy will still have silos  independence, after all, is also a source of innovation. But the silos will be connected.

Spencer Critchley is managing director of Boots Road Group LLC, a marketing and public relations firm.

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