Selling Sustainability

Business people and environmentalists are not natural allies, but they may find common ground on 135 acres of land in Petersburg, Missouri. The site, resting along the Missouri River bottom, will be converted into the nation’s first physical location for The Institute of Ecolonomics.

Alice Billings

Ecolonomics, a term coined by actor and environmentalist Dennis Weaver, is the combination of ecology and economics—demonstrating that sustainability and profit are not necessarily incompatible.

Weaver, of Gunsmoke, McCloud and Lonesome Dove fame, is founder and president of the institute. He apprenticed for his new role by setting up ecolonomics programs at such colleges as Missouri Southern State University at Joplin and the University of Colorado at Denver.

“The institute is about giving us good jobs, a strong economic base and honoring that which gives us life,” says Weaver. “It’s the understanding that ecology and economy are interdependent.” Weaver expects the institute to create a win-win approach so that environmentalists and businesses can benefit from each other.

The Missouri site will teach green business and management. It will also serve as a think tank, an incubator hosting enterprising businesses, students, scientists, engineers and inventors who can work on such feats as converting naturally-occurring methane to useful fuel, and developing new approaches to organic farming, energy efficiency, sustainable forestry and green building construction.

Weaver, a native of Joplin, Missouri, teamed up with Peter LaVaute, president of EcoSense Solutions, an environmental consulting company in Columbia, Missouri, to plan and build the facility. LaVaute specializes in helping emerging green businesses move forward and, eventually, make a profit. “Without a cash flow, an ecological business can’t really do much about environmental problems,” LaVaute says. “There has to be a marriage of ecological-soundness and practical business sense.”

LaVaute is currently preparing the site for construction. The land, which according to Missouri historians was one of Daniel Boone’s favorite camping spots, had largely been neglected. LaVaute saw the opportunity to improve it through sustainable forestry methods.

Weaver and LaVaute have not succumbed to doomsday attitudes about our environmental future. They view the environment much like they do that neglected piece of Missouri property—as ripe for improvement. “When you realize how serious the environmental situation is, you feel like something needs to be done,” says LaVaute. “Within that realization are enormous opportunities to profit while cleaning things up.”