For most of his life and, especially during his career as a high-paid lawyer, Richard Canaday was not what he would call “a tree hugger.”
Despite attending Stanford University in the late ‘60s and UC-Berkeley in the early ‘70s, he was not caught up in the tumultuous events of those times.
Instead, he was a big-firm lawyer in downtown Portland for more than 40 years, where he represented banks, timber and global companies, and “one percenters.” The closest he came to sustainability was working with younger lawyers who were experts in environmental laws and land use planning in big real estate development projects.
While he could advise clients about Oregon’s Comprehensive Land Use Goals and Guidelines, he says he “didn’t appreciate their importance to a more sustainable future. I was not a friend of 1000 Friends of Oregon. We represented school districts. We didn’t soil our hands with social justice issues.”
About five years ago, he began to change. First, he saw sustainability as a theme for business development in the real estate industry when LEED and other building certifications that led to tax credits helped finance building construction in urban cores.
He became acquainted with and started “hanging around Mark Edlen, who believed in the bigger ideas of sustainability,” Canaday says. “I thought I’d better be able to walk the talk if I was going to represent guys like Mark.”
Then, his first grandchild was born and the big-time lawyer began thinking more about his future than his present – so much so that, in 2011, he enrolled in Portland State’s graduate program in sustainability.
“Every class was wonderful in the literal sense,” he says. “Through the fickle finger of fate, I have become friends of some real big shots in the Portland sustainability community. Everything about sustainability has become interesting.”
His education at PSU awakened him to global warming and other worldwide problems that can have an adverse impact on future generations.
“Now I am almost a tree-hugger myself,” he says, all the while keeping his 14-month-old granddaughter Berkeley occupied with treats.
Yes, he even babysits.
Canaday admits that when he and his wife, Gay, also a lawyer, were building their careers, an au pair raised the children. “We saw them in the evening and on weekends,” he says of his children.
These days, babysitting is part of his lifestyle. When his daughter, Megan Daniels, also a lawyer, was having her home constructed she and her children – Kellan, 5, and Dylan, 3 -- lived with her parents for six months.
Canaday sees his retirement years as a “great opportunity to catch up on that,” and so he has toys in his home office to keep his grandchildren occupied while he’s working.
“I’ve also become concerned about Oregon’s failure to educate its children for the future,” Canaday says. “The economic prosperity of a region or a country is directly connected to an educated workforce. The most wicked problem of all may be the corrupting influence of money in politics, which may effectively block any real progress toward environmental protection and social justice.”
Since retiring, Canaday is working to create a Lifelong Learning Academy lecture series at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center in which discussions on global warming, the wealth gap, and wellbeing and happiness are discussed. He is hoping the academy at the adult center will attract more 50- and 60-year-olds.
The proposal includes weekly 90-minute discussions, with Canaday as operations officer and Ann Adrian as director. He wants the focus on the “three Es” of sustainability – environment, equity and economy. (Also known as the “three Ps” – planet, people and profit.)
He proposes to cover the following topics: senior advocacy for generational equity, the failure of Oregon’s education system, rising college debt and possible solutions, climate change, feeding the hungry in Oregon, and lectures by Paul Lyons on the meaning of life, native American petroglyphs of the Northwest, life’s philosophy and art.
As an example, he’d like to address economic policies in developing nations, saying that measuring the success of a person, community or country by citing its gross national product is a narrow focus, based upon the sum of all the incomes in an economy.
“Genuine savings is a more sophisticated measure,” he says, because it deducts depreciation on man-made capital, natural resources and the environment, and then adds the appreciation of human knowledge and the present value of future technological changes.
He mentions the Human Development Index, which measures a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living. Other indexes would be opportunity, well-being and happy planet.
This is a sample of the kinds of lectures Canaday proposes that he believes not only would stimulate lively conversations but eventually could help promote legislation or changes in the system.
Canaday coins his concern for future generations as “generational equity.”
“I’m part of the aging population,” he says, feeding Berkeley a piece of tangerine. “My interest in the future is obvious.”