What Else Is Your Locality Doing to Be Green?
Part two of two part series.
I n the last issue of the Virginia Review, we discussed some of the more immediate areas where municipalities can have an impact on the environment, like adopting LEED standards for new buildings, closing the loop by using products made from recycled content and other green office practices. The acronym LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This article delves into the broader issues of sustainability and what you and your city can do to tackle the environmental concerns of your community.
WHY IS SUSTAINABILITY IMPORTANT?
Reason one: Population pressures appear to be on the rise for the foreseeable future, yet our natural resources are limited. The real advantage of a locality following sustainable principles is to create a situation for future generations that preserves as much of our resources—particularly water, air, and arable land—as possible. In 50 to 100 years under our current scenario, we are likely to totally deplete much of these finite resources for future generations. We are essentially borrowing from our children and grandchildren. However, in five to ten years or less, by planning and developing sustainably, we can preserve precious resources and hard fought budget dollars, allowing future generations to enjoy a quality of life somewhat akin to what we've enjoyed.
To address the growing number of pressing issues concerning the environment and the development of our city, two of my closest friends and I embarked on a mission in 1999 to answer key questions regarding issues of environmental and social sustainability in the Dallas community by forming a group we called Sustainable Dallas.
Because of the efforts of Sustainable Dallas, among many other accomplishments, the city of Dallas has incorporated alternative fuel vehicles and hybrids into its fleet. Sustainable Dallas also played a role in the city's utilization of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for new buildings.
Texas Instruments' (TI) recently completed, world class, semiconductor manufacturing facility in Richardson, Texas (near Dallas) was in part inspired by Amory Lovins during his appearance at the 2003 Sustainable Dallas Conference. Organizers of the sustainability conference arranged a private meeting with 23 engineers involved in planning the LEED certified plant, designed with many ideas wrought from that landmark meeting. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times was impressed enough by the TI facility that he penned a column on it and included it in his two Discovery Channel documentaries Addicted to Oil, and Green: The New Red, White and Blue.
By starting small and thinking big, your locality can make a positive and perhaps even more profound impact on your community than we have done thus far.
Reason two: Green is here to stay. Big businesses realize it, and so do localities all over the country.
The recent spotlight that global warming has received and the numerous corporate scandals over the last ten years have caused citizens and government employees to place a much higher value on reputation and responsibility. Thus, we are witnessing a trend in entities of all types capitalizing on the "growth of green." Organizations—corporate, private and governmental alike—want to promote, sell and advertise that they are doing their part to help the environment.
In regards to sustainability in America, we have seen tremendous strides in the last 20 years. Buildings are designed to use less energy. Hybrid and alternative energy vehicles are becoming more common. Localities, schools and corporations are recycling more. As an indicator that green is not merely a trend of the moment, industry leaders in the financial sector like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and Wachovia have incorporated green practices into their business models. Bank of America is putting its money where its mouth is. The company announced plans in early 2007 to dedicate $20 billion over the next ten years to support the growth of environmentally sustainable business practices to address global climate change.
Bank of America isn't the only household name in the financial services sector to launch a green initiative. In November 2005, Goldman Sachs announced its environmental policy framework. Again, the company is not investing in our planet to be the "nice guy." Rather, the company believes that long term, sustainability initiatives will provide a healthier return on investment for its shareholders. The Goldman Sachs Environmental Policy Framework states:
"We take seriously our responsibility for environmental stewardship and believe that as a leading global financial institution we should play a constructive role in helping to address the challenges facing the environment."
These businesses recognize that as our population increases and resources diminish, we ALL will have no choice in becoming more and more sustainable. Sustainability will become the ONLY way of doing business. Likewise, your locality needs to recognize that sustainable growth will be the only way to grow. The time will come when your community will have no other choice. The Dallas area, like many other larger metropolitan areas, has been in nonattainment for ozone and air quality for years. It is the eighth most polluted metropolitan area in the country. Businesses considering a new location may have looked past Dallas because of increased respiratory health risk to its employees living in a nonattainment area. Get the picture?
Even though businesses and communities have made great strides in recent years, we must realize that it took us decades to get into our current environmental predicament, and it will take us several decades, if not a century, to undo the damage we have inflicted on the Earth. We have only one planet, and we need to preserve it for future generations.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you are serious about promoting the virtues of sustainability within your locality, begin this new journey by learning the issues as you would when embarking on any other new path in life. Do your research and arm yourself with as many facts as possible.
Bob Willard's The Sustainability Advantage makes the business case for sustainability in economic terms, and does so quite well. In it, he wrote about companies that have adopted sustainable practices. These companies tend to have less employee turnover, are more highly productive, experience lower operating costs and generate higher profits.
Similar benefits can be enjoyed by sustainable tax supported entities. The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken is another commonly read book in the arena of sustainability; he also cogently articulates the business case for sustainability.
I also recommend Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise. Here, Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface Corporation, shares how he found "turning around the Titanic" to be daunting, yet, highly rewarding.
Moving from the realm of business and into that of municipalities, Daniel Lerch recently wrote Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty.
The book addresses and defines "peak oil" and the challenges it creates for cities and local governments. He then delves into the problems associated with climate change, highlighting what some local governments have done to address environmental issues. He also offers the readers recommendations for a course of action.
In an interview with the Post Carbon Institute (www.postcarbon.org) Daniel Lerch said, "[T]o truly deal with the challenges that peak oil and climate change pose to your city, you [need] to understand the full complexity of these challenges, identify the vulnerabilities those challenges are creating in your city, and then mitigate those vulnerabilities by— ultimately—building local resilience: building up your capacity to cope with the uncertainties of the future."
If you live in a town or city, and your mayor has not signed the US Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, this is an excellent first step that your city can take to address sustainability at the local level. Beyond signing the agreement, visit www.usmayors.org/ climateprotection. At this site, you will see a document titled, Climate Protection Strategies and Best Practices Guide: 2007 Mayors Climate Protection Summit Edition. This report details successful strategies and plans that 52 mayors and their cities have implemented. The topics covered in the guide include: conservation of energy and other natural resources, the acquisition of clean energy, and the adoption of products and practices that reduce the greenhouse gas emissions known to contribute to climate change. The guide highlights initiatives that reduce emissions generated by city government operations, and other initiatives that encourage city residents and local businesses to conserve resources and energy.
After your mayor has signed the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, your locality should consider joining ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability. This organization is an international association of more than 650 local governments. Founded in 1993, ICLEI's mission is "to improve the global environment through local action." ICLEI is not an enforcement entity, but rather, an organization that provides basic resources, various tools, best practices, and technical guidance to help local governments measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their communities. However, the point of ICLEI is not to join for the sake of joining. Be certain that your municipality is receptive to taking action and implementing the suggestions from ICLEI.
Even though one person can make a profound impact, do not assume that you have to shoulder the whole burden. Align yourself with reasonably minded individuals, in both your department and other departments, who are deeply committed to creating a sustainable planet. You can send out a simple memo within your organization to have a meeting regarding sustainable issues in the community. See who shows up, and take action. As we mentioned in last month's article, government employees are often sympathetic to environmental causes. So, do not rule out working with people from other branches and agencies of the government. If you meet resistance from within, form a "global warming citizens taskforce" or have a conference call with officials from another city who have already taken significant steps toward sustainability.
Once you gain momentum, assess what your community needs in terms of addressing environmental issues. Do not assume that the sustainability group in your immediate area can address all the needs of the outlying communities. If you are reading this article and there is not a sustainability group in your area, start one. If there is already a group in your area and you feel as though it is not addressing the concerns of your specific community (i.e. suburb, neighborhood, county, town), perhaps you can start one that addresses issues most pertinent to your needs. Finally, communication between localities is crucial—how can your locality help others avoid mistakes, become more effective or more successful?
If you work with a local sustainability group, remember that your organization can serve as an industry watchdog to ensure that organizations are doing what they say they are doing.
When hosting conferences to showcase the accomplishments of the sustainability focused corporations and tax supported entities, your group will undoubtedly be "courted" by companies and organizations wanting to be seen as being "sustainable." Not all who court you will be. Establish criteria to weed out those that are not sustainable. Simple preparations will save you much headache, time, and potential legal tangles.
Don't make any assumptions about who presents in, or attends the sustainability conference your organization hosts. Your group needs to exercise due diligence to ensure that your speakers are legitimately green. If not, you lose hard earned credibility. Many leaders in the business community are taking positive steps in regards to sustainability; however, recent involvement in sustainable business practices does not automatically qualify an individual as an expert or as a case study example. Consider that there might be somebody in a particular field who has ten or even 20 years of experience with sustainability issues.
To determine if green businesses and entities are actually practicing what they preach, take a look at the organizations to which they belong. If they are members of multiple groups like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Environmental Defense, or the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), chances are they are truly green. If a business is not a member of any of these or similar organizations, dig deeper, and be wary of organizations that practice self monitoring or perform self reporting with no outside certification. Do not assume that any organization with a green label or sustainability claim is legitimate.
When Sustainable Dallas had completed its first two conferences, we debriefed with local business and community leaders who had participated in our 2000 conference. One of the questions that emerged was, "how do we know if we are truly creating a sustainable Dallas?" Another question that surfaced, "How do you measure sustainability? Is it possible to set goals and be able to measure our success through attainment of those goals? For instance, is it possible to quantify reduction in emissions and reduction in landfill waste going to local landfills?"
Only by engaging directly with the local business community and government could we know that we were having measurable success through reporting of accomplishments by these private sector and tax supported entities.
An ongoing frustration was the possibility that we were only preaching to the choir. Sustainable Dallas did just that for a period of time until we built credibility. You never know whether you are actually making a difference in the sustainability of your community because there is often little to no evidential feedback. We only had a gut feeling that we were making any progress. Keep in mind that most sustainability forums started small and built momentum over a period of years, not weeks or even months. As was once expressed to me by one of my political heroes, "you can't undo the mess we got ourselves in over a period of a few years. This is a hundred year endeavor!"
To be truly sustainable in building a sustainability organization, consider a bioregional approach. You don't have to look halfway around the country to find qualified speakers and presenters any longer. Further, webcasting technology is far superior to what it was even five years ago. By using technology, the presenters win by saving time and travel costs, yet they receive the same benefit of disseminating their message to a new audience. Emissions are dramatically reduced or eliminated completely, and the environment and community win as well.
If you do fly a speaker in from another region, you can maximize his or her appearance by setting up multiple presentations and engagements. Additional opportunities can be private meetings with key leaders in the public or private sector, much like we did when leveraging Amory Lovins' time and effectiveness on his visits to Dallas. We arranged meetings with The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board, executives from Texas Instruments, and Richland College President, Dr. Steven Middlestedt.
Because of our insightful and fortuitous meetings, we helped keep a world class computer chip plant in the Dallas area. Scott Burns, a financial writer at the Dallas Morning News, now preaches the virtues of sustainability to his readers. The Dallas County Community Colleges' Cedar Valley campus created its Energy Efficiency Institute because it was impressed with the ideas brought forth from Sustainable Dallas.
So, we've only covered a small bit of ground on the issue of sustainability and creating a "green" locality. I have a role to play while I'm here on this planet. Do I make a difference, or do I just hang out and take up space, using more stuff? In 1990 and 1991, I petitioned my fellow citizens in an effort to get curbside recycling in Dallas. In 1992, I conducted the first public collection of recyclables at the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas. No collector or processor would accept the materials. So, in 1993, I founded my company to help spark demand for products made from recycled content. Had I not stepped into the middle of the issue concerning all the waste humans create, I would never have started my business, nor would I have helped create Sustainable Dallas. It has been a fun and rewarding challenge—more than I could have ever imagined.
JUST IMAGINE WHAT YOU CAN DO!
What are you doing to help create a more sustainable community, a more sustainable Virginia, a more sustainable country, a more sustainable planet? You can start small by simply purchasing products made from recycled content, or you can become a leader in your community.
Call if you get discouraged. I will take your call. I am also available for speaking opportunities.
|An error occurred on the server when processing the URL. Please contact the system administrator. If you are the system administrator please click here to find out more about this error.|