City Green Economic Development Plan Sparks Debate about Manufacturing

One of the first casualties of the new wave of climate change awareness in Toronto seems to be the old stereotype of a supposed trade-off between jobs and environmental protection.  In early July, the City Economic Development Dept. presented a report to Council’s Planning Committee on possible green economic development, entitled People, Planet and Profit: Catalyzing Economic Growth and Environmental Quality in the City of Toronto. It featured a 10 point program of fairly constructive measures.  The proposals—for initiatives from energy conservation to green procurement—met with general approval from the Counsellors and interested deputants, but a coalition of greens and labour reps suggested an additional focus for the city: major job-creation through green manufacturing.   


The cause for labour’s concern was highlighted by recent statistics indicating a drastic haemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs from Canada and Ontario in particular (The Star: “239,100 jobs ‘gone for good’,” July 2).  Labour Council president John Cartwright, coordinator of the green labour workgroup, points out that Toronto has lost fully 20 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the last five years alone.  “Many of those jobs,” he said, “were held by immigrants and people of colour, so this loss is also a serious social justice issue.  We see a tie-in between good jobs, quality of life, work for the future and social justice.”        


The green labour workgroup includes reps from the Steelworkers, the Workers Health & Safety Centre, the CAW and Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) .  A recent phone conference, however, also included Michael Shuman (right), a Washington DC-based economic strategist & author of The Small-Mart Revolution, and a founder of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), a rapidly-growing community business network. Shuman suggested that simply replacing old forms of mass production with eco-technologies will be insufficient to plug the job drain.  “Today, fundamental solutions depend on building diverse local economies,” he said, “and even strong export sectors depend on import substitution policies that prioritize local needs and local markets.”  He argued that the old-line “attraction and retention” strategies of economic development—where cities pit themselves in competition with each other to attract transnational corporations—are a particular recipe for disaster today. He also told the group that manufacturing is one of the sectors with the greatest potential for decentralization, and especially in green development, the key is generating homegrown manufacturing clusters that serve regional needs for renewable energy, green building materials, sustainable food production & processing, etc. 


LC president Cartwright (left) acknowledged the limitations of the city consultants’ vision, preoccupied with exports, attracting external capital, and marketing the city to the world.  His own suggestions include exploring possibilities for local production of eco-building materials utilized for LEED-certified building projects—much like the recommendations of recent New York City green development studies.  But Cartwright and his allies at TEA seem hesitant to embrace a full localization and import-substitution strategy, largely because they want fast results and they are not so confident that localization counter-trends can be strong enough to fully offset globalization’s pressures toward outsourcing.  “We’re not stuck on big factories with 10 or 15,000 people working in them,” Cartwright said. “But as we lose places with 800, 1000, 2000 people, replacing them with small local low-intensity entrepreneurs employing 10, 15 or 20 people isn’t easy; it takes a hell of a lot of those to replace just one plant of 800 people.” 


While labour’s green economic strategies may still be in development, sectors of big labour are moving to create  partnerships that it hopes can boost manufacturing employment.  The Steelworkers, for example, have linked with the US Sierra Club to create a Green Blue Alliance which has already had some success in protecting and generating jobs in five targeted states.  Canadian Steelworkers rep Carolyn Egan cited the example of a Pennsylvania initiative: “The union entered into a partnership with Gamessa, a wind turbine manufacturer, to refit three abandoned mills to start producing products for windmills and now they are employing over 1000 steelworkers.”   She and a labour Toronto group will be traveling to Dearborn Michigan this month (August) for an upcoming Green-Blue Alliance meeting to discuss possibilities in Canada.


Meanwhile, Council’s Planning Committee has approved a special green task force to look into possibilities for green manufacturing, which should have some recommendations ready by October.  “We’re glad to see the city move on this,” Cartwright said. “We have a whack of industrial land and intellectual resources here to make it happen, but the question is how we can connect the dots to create real opportunities in the green economy.”


Manufacturing in green economic development is fertile ground for research by B&E students. Clearly, global outsourcing driven by labour costs is based in global inequality; and maximizing the production of material commodities is unsustainable environmentally. Most of us have heard arguments from a “peak oil” perspective, insisting that increasingly costly energy will make localization a priority for future economic development.  But there are also industrial ecologists who argue that the very nature of a green economy entails a transition from producing stuff to meeting needs—that is, a transition from product to service production.  By the same token, they say that closed-loop production-consumption cycles, featuring design for disassembly and reuse, require greater proximity and more regionalization.  From a slightly different standpoint, writers on “values-driven business,” like the Bainbridge Graduate Institute’s Jill Bamburg (left), suggest that, for both business and society, the most sensible strategy may be to “match manufacturing to mission.” This might be quite different for every business, industry and region. But, she argues, this subordination of manufacturing to need can be quite compatible with profitable domestic manufacturing—as evidenced by innovative companies like the vertically-integrated American Apparel. 


In Toronto, we need more research, combined with active experimentation, into possibilities for manufacturing, specifically connected to waste diversion, food processing, green building, and all manner of products now uneconomically outsourced.  We also need more quantification of the full costs of outsourcing in various sectors, along with the full benefits of work providing decent incomes, security, etc.   Finally, there is a pressing need for more documentation of the relative costs and benefits (including local economic multipliers) of subsidizing local vs. global businesses.  Such information could be very useful for both government policy and business incubation. 


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