Shares in Cascadia 

Cascadia, the area that includes Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, is a region whose identity and character have been formed by its natural environment.

Think of Cascadia and what images come to mind? Rain, cedar and salmon?

The region's economy, once dependent on natural resources, is changing. Population growth and development have put pressures on the region in ways that force all who live here to confront these new realities on a daily basis.

Think again about Cascadia. What images come to mind now? Starbucks, Microsoft and Nike? How about urban sprawl, traffic jams and a degraded environment?

Growth and sustainability are some of the biggest issues currently facing Cascadia, and Whistler is not insulated from these problems.

Whistler’s permanent population has more than doubled in the past 10 years, from 4,500 in 1991 to somewhere around 10,000 today, while Whistler-Blackcomb now records more than two-million annual skier visits.

Issues that were once restricted to urban areas – like improving transportation systems and keeping homes affordable – are affecting former rural areas.

With those images firmly entrenched in my mind I strolled into the Westin last Friday to listen in on the Cascadia Mayors Council meetings.

More than 60 mayors from up and down the Pacific Northwest Coast were in town to discuss regional concerns affecting the Cascadia corridor, including growth, sustainability; transportation and international border issues.

The first guest speaker during the Sustainability in Cascadia forum was Darcy Winslaw, Nike’s general manager of environmental business opportunities.

The Beaverton, Ore.-based company operates 750 factories in 53 countries and generated $10-billion in sales last year in 110 countries around the globe.

Nike has been tagged as a big, bad multinational company for unsavoury labour practices overseas, but Winslaw was here to tell the mayors how the company uses a scientifically based planning framework – The Natural Step – to move towards achieving sustainability in its business.

"Innovation, sustainability and progress are joined at the hip," she said.

According to Winslaw, Nike is striving towards becoming "socially responsible" and "eco-efficient" by taking a "green" approach in the manufacture of its shoes and clothing.

The company is trying to move towards "product sustainability" by implementing zero waste and toxic substances programs via a closed-loop manufacturing processes.

"We’re trying to re-envison and re-think so that nature and the environment are not diminished," she said.

But what does a company like Nike put first when dealing with sustainability – economic, environmental or social issues? It is a corporation that must generate profits for its shareholders.

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