The Green Counties

The green valleyThe counties of Benton, Washington, Madison and Carroll in northwest Arkansas are spawning and promoting initiatives to make Arkansas a center of innovative green businesses and business practices.

The focus of this region sprang from an effort to improve the economy of Arkansas but also in response to growing demand worldwide for sustainable products and practices. A number of key initiatives and coalitions are listed below, many of which have received support from Walmart and associated foundations and have capitalized upon the concentration of supplier businesses located near the Walmart Headquarters in Fayetteville.

The Applied Sustainability Center, established in July 2007 with a $1.5 million grant from the Walmart Foundation, is based at the University of Arkansas Sam M. Walton College of Business. The Center seeks to accelerate the creation of a sustainable global consumer goods economy by serving as a catalyst for innovation in the retail and consumer goods industries using the "lens of sustainability."

A related initiative, based in part at the University of Arkansas and in part at the University of Arizona is The Sustainability Consortium, or TSC. Retailers, manufacturers, suppliers, governments, NGOs, researchers and consumers all hold a stake in the sustainability of global product production and use. They all need to more accurately quantify and communicate better standards for more sustainable products and consumption.

Life Cycle Management is a new framework for analyzing the ecological footprint of consumer goods from raw material extraction to consumer use. The three major barriers to more sustainable consumer action are: - (1) Inconvenience, (2) Cost, (3) Confusion. Science-based Life Cycle Management can address all three of these.

For example, a TSC tool in development is Open IO, a research project that consists of an accessible, transparent economic input-output life cycle assessment database that permits complete access to the user desiring a greater knowledge of the development of the database, and allows for model data and results to be available for other applications. Features of Open IO are cradle-to-gate, cradle-to-consumer, and cradle-through-consumer impacts. Open IO allows users to isolate impacts for each stage of the product´s life cycle through the consumer stage.

The Green Valley Network is a non-profit coalition that fosters collaboration and commercialization of sustainability technology. Green Valley bills itself as the “center for the sustainability technology revolution. Green Valley is home to the highest concentration of plant scientists in the world, the corporate headquarters of Wal-Mart, the largest funnel for global consumer demand and the largest proponent of sustainability on Earth, the largest pre-existing supplier cluster with 1,300 consumer goods companies, one of America’s largest oil and gas energy centers, the world’s busiest cargo airport and one of America’s largest agri-business centers with biofuel and eco-tourism opportunities."

The Green Valley website includes a host of information and statistics that support the positive business environment in Arkansas, which was named in a 2011 CNBC assessment as #1 in the nation for the cost of doing business.