Sustainable Business: Economics, Architecture & Banking

By Tom Bender

The core of sustainability is spiritual. This is equally so for sustainable design, economics, and investment. Most of our intractable social problems are merely symptoms of a single disease of the spirit – lack of self-worth, lack of respect by and for others, and lack of opportunity to be of value to family and society – which turns ever-present temptations into epidemic problems. Our true goals in life have more to do with love and being loved, and with having meaning in our lives than with how much money we make. Healing diseases of the spirit requires open hearts; honoring the elements and forces of nature, the rhythms and cycles of life, the users of a place, and all of life – in our buildings, in what dreams we allow to manifest through our investment, in the economic institutions we create.

Sustainability requires work done with reverence. What is made with love becomes loved, and what is loved endures and is sustained. We have been taught that work is something to be minimized for both the worker and the employer. Yet meaningful creative work is essential for everyone to develop and apply our abilities, to have self-worth, to be of value to our communities, and to find rewards in what we do. Health is not possible without it.

Immersion in spirit allows us to experience the wholeness with which all is inextricably connected. No part of that wholeness just exists. It exists because of an intention that it be manifested in our universe. So we also have to pay attention to underlying values, goals, and dreams.

Approaching economic issues from a wholistic perspective can give an order of magnitude more effectiveness. Conventional economics ignores the future where we will live the rest of our lives. It says to cut forests when the trees are only 40 years old. However, every time we cut a forest, we lose the benefit of the next 20 years of solar energy falling on that land. Rotations four times as long produce more wood per year, more net income, less work needed in the forestry operations, 75 percent fewer clearcuts, restored productivity of fisheries, improvement in other forest products and recreation. Total forest benefits from true sustainable forestry can be 20 times those of conventional forestry.

Embodying these dimensions of sustainability in the making and use of our buildings is far less advanced than dealing with energy efficiency or indoor air quality. Initial costs of buildings are only a sub-set of lifecycle costs. Buildings themselves are also only a sub-set of the institutions they house. An office building can cost three times as much as usual, yet generate greater profit if it improves worker productivity by only five percent! Spending more on building design that results in healthier and happier employees can be a huge productivity tool.

Oregon’s Bank of Astoria is a community bank, one of the best in the nation in reinvestment in the local community. Both their Manzanita building and how it was made embody what community banking and green money are about and what they contribute to a community. It used local design, contractors, skills, trades, materials and products. In doing so, it honors, empowers, and serves the community – with incalculable value to both the bank and the community.

Commercial forests constitute 85 percent of the county, so celebrating trees and community forestry skills became an important design element. Native plant landscaping connected the building with the surrounding ecosystem. A roof spout pouring out 100″ of rain into a pond has been one of the most delightful design elements.

Major effort went into coordinating city, county, and utilities to initiate utility undergrounding desired by the community. Roundwood, siding, and framing lumber was obtained from sources within a 25-mile radius of site. Art in the building came from community artists, with provision for rotating exhibits by local artists. Bark from the cedar central post was given to local artists for basket-making. Shingle and trim scraps were given to a local birdhouse-maker.

The project was part of a state economic development program to develop use of local wood-grading, woodlots, and small-mills. Recycled driftwood was used for posts, casework, door handles, and landscaping. Curved timbers were used to develop their merchantability. Roof trusses used finger-glued wood chords to maximize strength, with recyclable steel webs.

The building has 100 percent natural daylighting (except for the vault), 100 percent on-site stormwater retention, 100 percent natural ventilation and cooling; passive solar design. The building envelope efficiency is double Oregon’s already stringent code standards. Its high-efficiency lighting is expected to be needed only 25 percent of the time. Operable windows and a high-level exhaust vent provide ventilation, supplemented by night-flushing in summer.

The project shows that vitality and life can be achieved in our buildings simultaneous with state-of-the-art energy performance, local ecological fitness, community benefit and economic success. Our institutions can find new life through building design processes focused on community, cultural, spiritual, and energetic dimensions of sustainability. They can honor and celebrate our natural and human community and enrich our lives.

A building that dramatically employs and enriches people skills and resources stands as a yardstick to encourage others to develop and use skills. A building that can move our hearts, be an outstanding business success, and be even more magical in the worst weather is one we know is in harmony with its world.

Tom Bender is the recipient of national and international awards for his seminal work in development of sustainable economics, communities and design. His most recent book on sustainable economics, Learning to Count What REALLY Counts, is available through your local bookstore or online through

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A photographic report on the Bank is available at:

FROM The GreenMoney Journal, a Content Partner

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