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Oregon can paint its future green

It's time for Oregon to be known as more than a place of great beauty, but also as a place where all Oregonians can achieve success. That can be accomplished by investing equally in both the state's environmental and economic future.

For the past 18 months or more, interest in sustainability has spread like wildfire.

At last week's Oregon Leadership Summit, the momentum behind sustainability grew even more. When asked, more than 600 public and private leaders unanimously decided that sustainability is not a fad, but should be an economic and environmental principle that distinguishes Oregon and defines its success.

The decision was highly commendable - and it was one that many other states and nations already have made and are moving forward to achieve. The vote was seconded by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who told summit attendees that 'we don't have to decide between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.'

Moving that commitment forward takes more than just words. It will require a change not only in how business operates, but how environmental, economic and civic special interests advocate for their causes.

For too long, business goals have appeared at odds with the environmental values expressed by Oregonians. While this conflict has not fully been resolved, the leadership summit demonstrates that collaboration is the key to a more sustainable environment and a healthy, robust economy.

Old relationships based upon conflict must change. The world is changing. People are increasingly concerned about global warming, dependence on oil and rapid consumption of the Earth's resources.

Such a moment fits Oregon very well.

Oregonians already value the state's quality of life above all else.

But this also is an income tax-based state that relies on jobs and the economy to pay for needed public services such as strong schools, health and human services, and public safety.

Looking forward, efforts to link the environment and the economy cannot solely be an ethic of words. Success can be achieved only by focusing and investing in outcomes that build success.

At last week's summit, several such partnership initiatives were discussed.

One called for a policy to thin and ecologically improve Oregon's choked federal forests to reduce fire danger and improve the forest environment. A study indicates such an effort on more than 4 million acres could create 7,000 high-paying jobs and generate electricity to serve 100,000 homes.

Other initiatives were related to land-use policies, the creation of a sustainability learning center, and the ability to offer economic incentives in return for pollution reduction investments.

The summit accomplished another victory. It overwhelmingly brought attention to the requirement for Oregon to again invest in a decaying transportation system that increasingly threatens public safety, the economy and the environment.

Business leaders joined Kulongoski and numerous state and federal elected officials to call for transportation improvements to bolster the state's economy and livability.

Last week's summit was a call to arms to move the state forward in new ways. Oregon has much to be proud of, including its beauty and landmark environmental achievements of the past.

But leaders of today - and all Oregonians - must commit to build upon those accomplishments by creating new environmental and economic partnerships.