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'Green' Report Explores Sustainable Economic Growth for the Garden State

A sustainable green economy must meld consumer demand for new products and services and state and federal mandates crafted to support environmental goals.

A green economy can be a "game-changing economic strategy" for New Jersey, but only if reinforced by state and federal policies that actively support green products and services, according to a paper by the senior leadership at the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

The short five-page paper explores ways to develop a sustainable economic growth strategy for New Jersey, recommendations that had been solicited from the institute by a senior member of the Christie administration.

Many of the ideas raised by the paper have been embraced by the state, including ambitious goals to have 30 percent of New Jersey’s electricity delivered by renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power by 2020. The paper repeatedly mentions the need to invest in the green economy, which has experienced ample state support in the past, support that has been dramatically curtailed as the new administration faced a massive budget gap in its first year in office.

Green Is the Way Out

"The way out of this recession is through a green economy," said Jeana Wirtenberg, co-founder and senior advisor at the institute and one of the authors of the report. "We need to switch gears and have a game-changing strategy."

That strategy would rule out trying to balance economic and environmental concerns, focusing instead on exploiting the synergy between the two, the paper said.

"The health of the state economy, and the competitive advantage of New Jersey and businesses that operate here are deeply connected to the health of New Jersey’s environment,’’ the paper said. “We cannot have one without the other."

Consumer Demand Only Part of the Answer

In developing the green economy, the paper argued, the demand for new products and technology is partly driven by consumer demand and partly by federal and state mandates for cleaner energy, less waste, conservation and protection of water resources, among other things.

Beyond the government-driven policies, the transformation to a green economy also will require corporate social responsibility, involving potentially all of New Jersey’s economic sectors, the paper suggested. "All jobs will be green jobs," Wirtenberg said. "That’s the future of business."

If a green economy is going to happen, it must also involve the protection and restoration of environmental resources, the paper said, as well as developing new ways to measure economic and social well-being. To that end, it recommends developing incentives for companies to go "beyond compliance" with regulations.

No Boom Forecast

No matter what the state does, however, it probably is not going to experience the type of growth that occurred in the postwar years or during the telecommunications and Internet boom of the 1990s, the paper said.

Such a high level of growth is virtually impossible because the state is running up against the increasing environmental and social costs of doing "business as usual," the paper noted.

Even now, New Jersey, once only second to California in the number of solar installations, is losing ground and green jobs to other regions.

"We believe that we still have the ability to excel in this area, but only if we recognize that the time for action is now and that significant investment is required, even as we try to constrain wasteful spending in other areas," the paper argued.

Rolling Back Environmental Standards

At a time when some environmental groups are concerned the Christie administration and Democratic lawmakers are rolling back strict environmental standards to help revive the economy, the paper cautions against engaging in a debate over "more" or "less’" regulation. Instead, it said the state needs to engage in conversations about how to get the right regulation.

"At the end of the day, New Jersey needs highly effective governmental agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection, which do not become captive to special interests," the paper said.

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