Conference promotes sustainability

Kitsap County hosted a conference designed to promote the concept of sustainability on Feb. 13, offering government employees and private citizens a chance to shape their future through increased teamwork and communication.

“We are all members of separate groups,” said participant Tom Donnelly of Port Orchard. “We are segmented, living separate lives, and there is no collective action. We learn things but never go back to our individual groups and share our knowledge, so we never make progress.”

The conference, conducted by social planning consultant Wendy Sarkissian, is based on the concept of “kitchen table sustainability.”

“The kitchen table is a place where you can share anything without being ridiculed,” Sarkassian said. “It’s where you can feel safe and talk about the things that move you. I use ‘kitchen table sustainability’ as a metaphor for the kind of discussions that we can have with our families.”

And out of this framework, Sarkissian said, solutions emerge.

Sixty-two people attended the all-day conference, which included a lunch prepared from locally grown food.

Participants paid from $65 to $75 to attend. Less than a third of the attendees were Kitsap County employees, whose admission was covered by the county.

Of these, four attendees paid the fee out of their own pocket, and a dozen contributed their time in order to pay for expenses.

Sarkissian, an internationally known authority in her field who was previously acquainted with South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido, received a $2,500 fee that was negotiated after her arrival and was based on how many tickets were sold.

Garrido said the money collected paid for Sarkissian and her expenses. So in that respect the conference itself was sustainable.

“This is all about starting conversations between different people in the community,” Garrido said of the event, “the people who care can take these messages and spread them throughout the community.”

County employees attended the event in order to work together in a more effective manner. Linda Hanna, a planner for the Division of Aging and Long Term Care said it was important to coordinate efforts “so we don’t have to correct mistakes.”

And Parks and Recreation Director Chip Faver said involvement was necessary because, “You can’t just walk outside and shake your fist at the sky and expect the climate to change.”

Like many issue-oriented gatherings, the event drew like-minded people who were already subscribed to the concept of sustainability. “I am disappointed that (the opposition) is not here,” Donnelly said. “But maybe requiring them to put out $75 for an exercise like this is too much to ask.”

Kitsap Association of Property Owners (KAPO) Executive Director Vivian Henderson, perhaps the most prominent member of the local “opposition,” said she wanted to attend but had a scheduling conflict.

She said the money was not necessarily the issue.

“I would have liked to have gone to hear what was said,” she said.

If property owners represent the group that could be most resistant to the sustainability message, Faver understands their reticence.

“The Constitution is based on the idea of private property,” he said. “We all want to see clean water and clean air, but if you own property you don’t want to give it up for the common good. Wresting control of land from the property owners could prove to be a very difficult battle.”

Sarkissian felt those who chose to attend were receptive to her message.

“This is a very sophisticated group,” Sarkissian said midway through the conference. “They have a lot of expectations, along with the feeling that what they say won’t be taken into account.

“But if people spend time with me or one of my colleagues,” she said, “they get the sense that they won’t have to start from scratch.”

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