Transforming Cities A Matter Of Survival For Millions

Can Sustainability Movement Outrun Climate Change?

By Rob Garris, Director for Bellagio Programs, Rockefeller Foundation

Leading figures from governments, civil society, and corporations from around the globe gathered in August 2013 at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to imagine a different kind of future for the world’s cities.

Sustainable and resilient cities
Sustainable and resilient cities a critical leap forward.

In a series called “Visionaries Unbound,” we have partnered with The Economist Intelligence Unit and subject matter experts in each of the Foundation’s four issue areas to design a series that will:

•Engage global experts in future-visioning exercises

•Build new high-level contacts among thought leaders on each issue, across sectors and geographies

•Generate understandings of future trends that will drive the Foundation’s work

•Generate insights that will shape the long-term strategies of all participants

Co-organized with the University of Pennsylvania, the first event addressed the future of transforming cities. Now available, this report offers a vision of a different kind of urbanization, one that can accommodate the estimated two billion people who will move to cities in coming decades, and do so in ways that build resilience and expand opportunities for their most vulnerable residents. Participants were asked to look to the future and at the intersection of markets, governance, and civil society to envision new trends and solutions for the challenges and opportunities arising from the planet’s dizzying pace of urbanization.

They drew from their experiences in real estate markets in Asia, planning new eco-cities in China, catalyzing new livelihoods for urban migrants in Bangalore, participatory mapping of informal settlements in Mumbai, financing sustainable infrastructure in South Africa, revitalizing the economy of Barcelona, and many other types of innovative work. Participants used these experiences to envision ways to, for example, tap into the underutilized space on rooftops in slums, incentivize sharing of proprietary data to strengthen entrepreneurship in Bangalore, and envision a flexible and inclusive long-term land utilization plan for Lusaka. Collaborations were cemented during the event. Participants from Bangalore and Lusaka upon returning have already presented the insights from the Bellagio discussions to governing authorities in their home cities, and are optimistic that real action may emerge in coming months. The conversations at Bellagio also centered around a new form of urban innovation that is shaped by long-term inspirational visions, but draws on decentralized, short-term, adaptable action driven by public, business and civil society actors.

Working with the Economist Intelligence Unit, we have just launched the Visionaries Unbound digital hubwhere over the course of coming months you will find a series of articles, videos and events that offer compelling insights and activities across sectors on building a more resilient and equitable world. We welcome you to browse materials just posted on The Future of Transforming Cities, and to check again in 2014 for news on planetary health, ecosystems, and livelihoods.


Business Must Collaborate With Local Government To Expedite Sustainability

 Bottom-Line Partnerships Critical To Success

Many cities have a vision for what a sustainable and resilient urban environment and community look like, but openly acknowledge shortages of capital, employee bandwidth and political cover to pull it off alone. 

“What unites us on an urban level is more unifying than divisive,” – Paul Hawken.

If you were to judge solely by the plenary sessions at VERGE, a conference uniting the sustainability and tech communities in San Francisco last week, you would be hard-pressed not to be hopeful that we are turning a corner on the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st Century because of, not in spite of, business. The intersection points between business and society’s agendas are undoubtedly growing and this overlap is nowhere more apparent than in cities.The future health of our urban environments increasingly represents the future health of our planet. I won’t bore you with a bunch of figures, but one illustrates the stakes: 70%. Let me explain:

  • 70% is the global GDP that cities account for today.
  • 70% is the population that will reside in cities by 2050.
  • 70% (ok, actually 75%) is the share of all the world’s resources consumed by cities.
  • And just under 70% is the share of all the world’s energy consumed by cities.

To wit, many large metropolitan areas, in the US and elsewhere, are attempting to rise to the occasion, acting as ‘first responders’ to system-level challenges colliding on their doorsteps, from escalating consumer waste to water scarcity; from “food deserts” and de-carbonization of the electricity grid to how to re-envision and repurpose land.

“The “urban century” will only be considered a positive sustainability catalyst if cities and companies can understand, engage and leverage the best of each other to address resource shortages, social equity, and a broad and diverse economic base collaboratively.”

For a conference that was set, rather appropriately, amidst the backdrop of a US government shutdown, the excitement that government leadership not only exists, but is thriving on a local level can make a Pollyanna out of almost anyone.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic too—as my colleague Chris Guenther and I wrote in our Citystates research last year, “Sustainability needs cities as much as cities need sustainability.” While there is risk of hyperbole and rhetoric outpacing results, I do believe much of the hype is well-earned, with one important caveat: The “urban century” will only be considered a positive sustainability catalyst if cities and companies can understand, engage and leverage the best of each other to address resource shortages, social equity, and a broad and diverse economic base collaboratively.

BeFunky_green citypeople.jpg

How close is that to a reality? Here’s what I heard:

Cities can’t do it alone. Many cities have a vision for what a sustainable and resilient urban environment and community look like, but openly acknowledge shortages of capital, employee bandwidth and (depending on the city) political cover to pull it off by themselves.

Corporates want to be relevant urban players. Companies, large and small, read the tea leaves too—they know cities are the economic engines of the 21st century. They also are increasingly buying into the hype that mayors rule the world and that the preferred PPP (public-private partnership) of the future is one with actors that show vision, demonstrate decisiveness, and have a willingness to collaborate across the spectrum of urgent sustainability issues in more pragmatic, less idealistic ways. In a time of rising expectations for the private sector to contribute solutions to complex, interconnected and transborder issues, companies need serious and able partners too.

To recap, cities have vision and are demonstrating results on a host of sustainability issues (especially as they relate to resource challenges), but need more capital and manpower to extend progress.

Corporates, recognizing cities as loci of not only growing consumer markets, but the homes of their employee bases and even extensions of their supply chains, face increasing expectations to contribute solutions to these same resource issues, and have financial and human resources to boot.

So what’s missing and how can we connect the dots? This was the conversation occurring between plenary talks at VERGE and within the hallways of the conference venue, and it will be the subject of my next blog.

The emerging answers, nascent and diverse, speak to the difficulty (perhaps even foolishness) of generalizing across cities within the US, and especially across urban areas in developing/developed countries. The same goes for businesses, as the motives, capabilities and adaptability companies can bring to bear in partnership with cities can differ substantially depending on whether you’re an “incumbent” or “insurgent.” Reservations aside, the disconnect identified by both businesses and cities represented at VERGE speak to the importance of translation, a role SustainAbility will undertake by, learning from and working with business, cities and other urban stakeholders to help answer more “missed connections.”

Source: This post originally appeared in edited form on the website. Based in Washington DC, Mohammed Al-Shawaf works at SustainAbility, particularly for clients in the automotive, energy, technology and food & beverage sectors.

Silver Spring Networks Lightens Load For LED Cities

 Energy Efficiency A Bright Move For Everyone

By Joel Makower

How many technologies does it take to change a city’s light bulbs? That’s a question being addressed, more or less, around the world as major metropolitan areas retrofit their street lights, traffic signals and signage with higher-efficiency bulbs and technologies, notably LEDs. Such efforts are often part of a larger project to modernize and digitize much of the information around energy use — the so-called smart grid — making it easier to control and optimize it.

paris lights LED
LED lights will transform the Paris streets.

For a city, lighting can be a “gateway drug” to a larger smart-grid implementation. A smart grid is a complex puzzle of utilities, buildings, cities, vehicles and devices using electricity — not to mention the transmission and distribution lines that distribute it. Throw in the so-called Internet of things — billions of computer-addressable objects and devices — and you’ve created a complex system.

Like all such systems, they can be powerful tools or an unwieldy mess. Creating the former, and doing so profitably, will be one of the great business opportunities of the 21st century.

Much of that action is happening inside cities, which are spawning grounds for a wide range of technologies designed to optimize city services while reducing their citizens’ energy use and carbon footprints. Many of these technologies are nascent, continually improving in both price and performance. For cities, figuring out which technologies to deploy — and when, and from which vendors — is a complicated and sometimes confounding question.

But sometimes it all comes together. Consider the case of Silver Spring Networks and the city of Paris. The Silicon Valley-based company develops equipment that creates wireless mesh networks and transmits real-time energy consumption data between meters, consumers and utilities.

Paris, for its part, is known as the City of Light. Can these two partners — an iconic city and a technology upstart — find success?

At GreenBiz’s Convergence Paris event last month, I met up with Sterling Hughes, Senior Director of Advanced Technology at Silver Spring. Hughes heads up development for new market initiatives, including its international and smart cities businesses. At Convergence Paris, Hughes participated on a panel on “future cities.”

Earlier this year, Silver Spring was selected to participate in a streetlight and traffic signal management project for Paris, part of the city’s efforts to reduce its public lighting energy consumption by 30 percent over 10 years. The project in which Silver Spring is participating is the first part of a multistep process to manage a complex array of thousands of streetlights, streetlight control boxes, traffic signal control boxes, and other elements of Paris’ public lighting and traffic control infrastructure. It’s also part of an effort to upgrade Paris’ electricity grid and turn Paris into a “smart city.”

Lighting first. Smart grid later

Doing the latter requires first doing the former. That is: A city can cost-justify a citywide rollout of the wireless network it needs for a smart grid because light poles are pretty much everywhere.

“Smart cities is a very broad term, but for us it starts with a network throughout the city for all of the city services. It then enables people to build software applications on top of that,” Hughes told me. Those additional applications can be used to improve a range of city services, from electricity delivery to traffic control.

Retrofitting street lighting with efficient LED bulbs makes sense beyond the reduced electricity costs, though those can be considerable: New York City expects a 35 percent reduction in lighting energy costs when its citywide retrofit is completed in 2019. That’s lower than other cities report, however. According to Hughes, energy savings from LED street lighting is more typically around 65 percent.

There are also maintenance cost savings — primarily, the labor it takes to replace bulbs when they are no longer effective. (Unlike other light sources, LEDs usually don’t “burn out”; instead, they get progressively dimmer over time, referred to as “lumen depreciation.”) Good-quality white LEDs in well-designed fixtures are expected to have a useful life of 30,000 to 50,000 hours or longer. In comparison, a typical incandescent lamp lasts about 1,000 hours; a comparable CFL lasts 8,000 to 10,000 hours. The cost of replacing a single streetlight bulb — sending a crew out with a bucket truck, sometimes having to close lanes or roadways — can be hundreds of dollars, many times the cost of the bulb itself.

“There are a few applications that pay for themselves,” says Hughes. “One is smart parking” — which typically results in higher revenue from parking meters. “The other is smart street lights.”

The difference with street lights, says Hughes, is that “you get much more ubiquity across the city so you’re able to have that network infrastructure. It basically finances the rollout of a network across your city. If you implement LEDs and you choose a network that can support multiple applications, every additional device you choose is going to be way cheaper.” The alternative to a wireless network, says Hughes, is to dig trenches to install fiber optics throughout the city.

In the case of Paris, there are actually two separate projects, each attached to different city budgets. One has to do with LED traffic lights, enabling them to be not just more energy efficient, but also digitally networked in order to improve traffic flow. The other is for street lights, providing operational savings from energy as well as detecting that a street light is out (or degrading) without physically inspecting it.

Europe’s drive for smart lighting

Much of this kind of work is playing out in Europe first. “Europe has a few more drivers for smart lighting,” explains Hughes. “One is there’s roughly double as many lights in Europe as there are in the United States, even though the U.S. is much larger. The engineering standards on roadway lighting here in Europe much more specific.”

One key metric is pole-spacing on roads — the distance from one light pole to the next in order to have sufficient illumination on roadways. “In Europe there’s a very well-defined classification and system of roads that is defined by the CIE [International Commission on Illumination], which is a standardization body for lighting. Not only do they define what the pole spacing is in order to have enough light on the road, they also define the traffic conditions and the light on the road based upon the traffic conditions.”

Hughes explains: “Road classifications are based on their traffic — the number of cars per minute or per hour. Based upon that it’s either called a highway, a thoroughfare, or a pedestrian roadway. The way dimming schemes work is, essentially, if the highway at 2 a.m. has only the traffic of a pedestrian roadway, you can de-rate the road to a pedestrian roadway in terms of your lighting level, which means you can reduce the light level by 50 percent, and therefore save a bunch of energy in the middle of the night.”

Equivalent standards don’t yet exist in the United States.

And then there are the societal benefits of smarter, more energy-efficient city lighting. “The light from LEDs is massively better,” says Hughes. “I didn’t really think they were anything that special before I started looking at street lights, but the light from LEDs can actually demonstrably reduce crime. In Los Angeles, it’s reduced crime by 15 percent. In Chattanooga, certain public parks have gone from three or four gang incidents a week to none.”

Suffice to say, such societal benefits need to be part of the calculation for cities investing in smart lighting systems. We know how to put monetary values to social benefit, from reduced law enforcement needs to higher property values and resulting property tax revenues, not to mention resident safety and satisfaction. They are as important as the reduced energy and maintenance costs.

“Cities don’t quantify the societal benefit,” Hughes acknowledges. “That’s one of the things you learn right away. There’s always some societal benefit that never gets captured.”


Sustainable Cities and Communities Throughout The Americas A Priority

Sustainable Cities North America

City mayors, development planners, and civil society representatives met on Monday in Antigua, Guatemala to kick off the 43rd Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly to discuss challenges linked to rapid urbanization in the Americas and exchange best practices for the sustainable development of cities and communities.

mexico city
Participants also discussed priority areas for cooperation on urban sustainability ahead of the 7th World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, in 2014.

The public roundtable discussion on the theme Building Sustainable Cities and Communities in the Americas: From Demonstration Projects to Scale was hosted by the Spanish Agency for International Development (AECID) Cooperation Training Center in Antigua and jointly organized by the Department of Sustainable Development of the OAS and the Permanent Missions of Guatemala and the United States.

The meeting took place in the context of the Sustainable Communities in Central America and the Caribbean initiative, which was launched in 2012 under the framework of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) with support from the U.S. Department of State. This initiative supports the implementation of 14 community-level demonstration projects in the following priority areas:

    • Clean energy and energy efficiency;
    • Resilience to natural disasters;
    • Sustainable transport solutions; and
    • Waste management and recycling (including electronic waste).

Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS, emphasized the need for collective action to address shared challenges and invited all OAS member states to contribute to future collaboration on urban sustainability through the OAS. She noted that the roundtable provided an important opportunity for dialogue that facilitates the exchange of lessons learned and best practices in urban design and planning. Ambassador Lomellin pointed to the Sustainable Communities initiative as an example of fruitful cooperation under ECPA.


Sustainable Cities Get Boost From IBM, Citigroup

Banks Back Sustainable Cities

Citi has been involved in a project in Brazil that demonstrates how cities can be more sustainable. For three weeks in April, myself and Derek Rego, from transaction banking, worked in Porto Alegre, the capital and largest city in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, with a population of around 1.5 million people.

Greener Cities network

We were invited to participate in IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge program, which has sent a team of executives (usually all from IBM), to 100 cities over the last three years. Porto Alegre’s goal for our three-week project was to learn about how technology – social media, mobile and data processing – can make their city smarter so that decision-making is better informed, citizens are more engaged and citizens’ daily lives are improved.

Citigroup also just launched its CitiBike program in New York. Hopefully, similar programs can spread to other cities around the world, while shaping future development and infrastructure upgrades.

Urban expansion puts pressure on the natural environment, but there are solutions. Energy and resource efficiency can be encouraged with smart incentives and commuting times (and pollution) can be reduced with low-cost apps to make travel more efficient for cars, buses, and taxis. Citi has a role to play in sharing best practices between cities, capitalizing new urban technology companies, and helping cities access capital for their infrastructure projects. For example, Porto Alegre currently treats only 27 percent of its sewage but a new treatment plant will increase that to 80 percent in the next year. The cost is relatively modest for a city of 1.5mm, at roughly $600 million, and loans are repaid almost entirely from future revenues of the water & sewer system. A cleaner river will not only improve livability but will open up the old industrial waterfront for re-development, increasing the return of this kind of environmental investment for the local economy.

We can also use our knowledge for smaller scale solutions. For example, Porto Alegre is often flooded because surrounding trees have been cut down and the city is paved with impermeable surfaces. Here in the U.S., we’ve seen how Philadelphia consumers can install plants on their rooftops and replace impermeable surfaces with permeable surfaces in their parking lots, all through the levying of lower utility charges for these properties. Those sorts of investments take time to pay off. However, sustainability is not about tomorrow. It’s about building up long-term assets to enable a more sustainable planet for us and future generations.

By Patrick Brett, Managing Sales Director, Structured Sales, CitiRead. Read more about the Citi for Cities initiative here: www.citiforcities

Sustainable Role Models For Cities and Communities

Green Capitals Of The World

bogota Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

10. Bogotá, Colombia

In recent years, Bogotá has drastically improved its reputation, moving from a city plagued with organized crime and poverty to one that is renowned for its green living and sustainability. The capital city of Colombia boasts an efficient public transport system, more than 1,100 urban green spaces and hundreds of miles of bike trails. It’s also greatly improved its air quality and water supplies.

hamburg 300x225 Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

9. Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg, winner of the 2011 European Green Capital designation is busy developing its city to bring it in align with sustainable standards, and it’s this change that’s earned it a place in the list. Hamburg is currently redeveloping 388 acres of industrial land to make way for shops, parks, housing and other essential amenities.

Stockholm Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

8. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm took the title of the European Green Capital back in 2010 for its outstanding commitment to sustainability. Its carbon emissions are impressive, the average for a European city is 10 tons per capita, however Stockholm produces only 3.4 tons. It’s also famous for the fact that over 40 percent of the city is made up of green spaces.

Copenhagen Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

7. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen has built up a reputation as being a worldwide leader in the efforts to combat climate change. It’s also renowned for its bicycles. With nearly one third of residents primarily using their bikes to get around the city – this number is expected to increase to 50 percent by 2015.

Curitiba 300x225 Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

6. Curitiba, Brazil

Curitiba is undoubtedly the green capital of Brazil, with over 1,000 green spaces, 14 forests and 16 parks it’s no surprise it has made this list. A whopping 70 percent of the city’s waste is recycled and even has flocks of sheep in its parks and green spaces to keep the grass under control.

Portland 300x227 Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

5. Portland, Ore

Portland was the first city in the USA to take on a climate change action plan and it has plans and laws in place to ensure that the city stays within the limits so the rural land is only preserved for agricultural uses. It also has an excellent reputation in terms of its commuters with over 25 percent of its workforce either traveling by public transport, bicycles or carpooling.

Vancouver 300x199 Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

4. Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver has high hopes that it will become the world’s greenest city by 2020. The city is famous for its innovative clean techniques, for example it has solar powered trash compactors which are the same size as a regular bin but can hold up to 5x more rubbish, meaning fewer pick-ups for the bin men and therefore lower emissions. It also has a vast amount of renewable sources available meaning it can draw an impressive 90 percent of its power from these green technologies.

sweden malmo 300x240 Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

3. Malmö, Sweden

Malmö is the proud owner of one of the largest energy parks in the world and it boasts an abundance of green space as well as a vast variety of green technology solutions. The Western Harbour in Malmö is completely powered by renewable energy from the sun, wind, hydropower and biofuels. Even the city’s buildings are green, constructed using sustainable materials they’re specifically designed to be as energy efficient as possible.


san francisco 300x222 Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

2. San Francisco, California

San Francisco has been at the forefront of sustainable living for many years, in 2007 it became the first US city to ban the use of plastic bags, this has saved over 100 million bags from being thrown into landfill each year. It also started a comprehensive recycling program in 2009 and so far has managed to save 77 percent of materials from ending up in landfill – making it the most successful program in the United States.

rejkjavik Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World

1. Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik in Iceland has taken the top spot, and rightly so as it’s a city completely powered by renewable energy. The city is surrounded by geothermal activity which can then be converted into clean energy. The plan for Reykjavik is for the city to be completely independent by 2050, having no reliance on fossil fuels at all. The city currently uses hydropower and geothermal activity to provide hot water, electricity and heat for the city.


Smart Cities Council Launched to Promote Smart, Sustainable Cities

Sustainable Cities Network

Cities around the world are under pressure. Budgets are tight. Growth is necessary. Demands and costs are escalating. Extreme weather is taking its toll. Efficiency and sustainability are priorities, but where should they start to balance the moving pieces? Civic leaders have a new resource in the fight to achieve prosperity and sustainability. More than a dozen top technology firms have formed the Smart Cities Council to provide cities with tools and best practices that can guide them in the right direction and save them time and money.

Greener Cities network

Operating under the theme “Livability, Workability, Sustainability,” the Council has gathered the world’s foremost firms in areas such as smart energy, water and transportation. These firms, which make up the Council’s Steering Committee, include Alstom, AT&T, Bechtel, Cisco, Electricite de France, General Electric, IBM, Itron, Microsoft, National Grid, Qualcomm, and S&C Electric.

In addition to lead partners, the Council’s associate partners include ABB, Alphinat, Grid2020, Invensys, MaxWest Environmental Systems, Opower, and Zipcar (a division of Avis).

According to Itron, the Smart Cities Council was formed to help address the unprecedented challenges facing the world’s cities, including accelerated population growth and constrained resources. The council aims to equip city leaders with fresh approaches to policy, governance, development and technology that enable long-term livability, workability and sustainability. Of course, resilience is an important part of the equation as well.

“People have built communities around energy and water for ages. Past generations have extracted more energy or more water to accommodate growing populations. This is simply not possible given the scale and urgency of today’s challenges. We must be more strategic, more resourceful and more innovative than ever before,” says Russ Vanos, Itron’s senior vice president of strategy and business development.

Mayors and city leaders can tap into this global hub to develop a comprehensive and collaborative road map for their city, to gain advice on the most effective ways to move forward, and to compare notes with like-minded leaders.

“All over the world, rapid urbanization is putting enormous stress on city resources and infrastructure,” explained founding Chairman Jesse Berst. “Cities are at a crossroads; many are nearing the point at which they could easily become overwhelmed by issues related to crime, congestion, and public health and safety. To prevent this, cities can use smart technologies to not just manage problems, but to usher in a new era of prosperity and sustainability.”

A “smart city” uses digital technology to deliver better, more efficient services to its citizens. It enables access to information via data collected from devices and sensors that are embedded in roadways, energy and water infrastructure, buildings and more. For example, smart power and water grids improve efficiency and reliability, as well as provide customers with detailed information to help them reduce their bills. For another example, a smart transportation network optimizes multi-modal travel throughout the city with real-time bus updates, taxi locations, and the ability to reserve parking spots.

Thousands of smart city projects are underway around the globe, but major hurdles remain. Cities have significant questions and challenges with regard to the four chief barriers of technology, financing, policy, and citizen engagement.

World’s first collaborative smart city guide

The Council was formed to lower these barriers to adoption through education, outreach, and tools for cities. One of the Smart Cities Council’s first initiatives is the development of the Readiness Guide, which will launch as a beta version at the 81st Annual United States Conference of Mayors next month.

The Readiness Guide will be the first collaborative and comprehensive vision of a smart city. It will provide city leaders with a conceptual technology roadmap to address growth strategies in an effective and systemic way, focusing on key issues such as energy, transportation, water, and public safety. The content of the Readiness Guide is greatly influenced by the expertise of the Council’s partners, as well as its Advisory Board, which is made up of independent experts from research, academia, and advocacy.

“Far too many cities are undertaking individual projects without an overall plan, and without considering the ways that different departments can share costs and data,” noted James Whittaker, Executive Director of the Smart Cities Council and a principal in Mercator XXI, a co-founder of the Council. “For the best results, it is essential to have a comprehensive, holistic vision — yet no such help exists today. The Readiness Guide is the first-ever collaborative, comprehensive resource.”

The Council also has initiatives underway to address financing, policy, and citizen engagement. To accomplish these important but challenging tasks, the Council has marshaled the world’s leading authorities. “It takes an ecosystem to build a smart city,” said Berst. “We salute our member organizations. They have demonstrated that they are not just leaders in innovation, but — equally important — in collaboration.”

About Smart Cities Council

The Smart Cities Council is comprised of the foremost experts and leading global companies in the smart technologies sector, who serve as advisors and resources. Its goal is to accelerate the growth of smart cities worldwide by providing city leaders with access to financial tools, policy frameworks, visibility campaigns, and advocacy. For more information, visit

National Policy Battles Impact Sustainable Business

Green Investments Blocked By Uncertainty

Voluntary corporate sustainability initiatives and environmental policy are essential, but not complete solutions by themselves. We also need laws, oversight and guidelines to set the entire competitive floor at a level that protects the environment and ensures a quality and quantity of jobs consistent with human dignity. Such a platform will unleash even more innovation, but in directions that are sustainable.

Greener Cities network

Responsible and sustainably-focused business owners can make a big difference in policy fights by countering what policymakers hear from some in the traditional business community.

Here are three pro-sustainable business policy items the American Sustainable Business Council is working on in conjunction with many other organizations.

Renewable energy standards under attack

Renewable Portfolio Standards are state mandates that require utilities to produce a certain amount of energy from renewable sources within a specific time frame, such as wind, solar and biofuel. The standards vary from state to state. North Carolina for example, mandates 12.5 percent clean energy production by 2021, while Colorado calls for 30 percent by 2020. Regardless of the specific targets, the value of an RPS is in providing a clear policy signal to investors, manufacturers and technology companies that the market for renewable energy will grow.

Despite widespread public support, renewable energy standards are under attack in numerous states, often at the behest of oil-industry-funded interest groups. Recently, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group supported by ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers, among others, introduced the “Electricity Freedom Act.” This piece of so-called “model legislation” would repeal a state’s RPS, meaning utilities no longer would need to include renewable energy in their mix and those energy sources would lose a significant market foothold. That would kill jobs and weaken these states’ economies.

The legislation has been introduced in 11 states this year. In Kansas, efforts to repeal the state’s RPS have failed. Despite an earlier win in a North Carolina House committee, which failed to pass an anti-RPS bill, the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard still isn’t safe in this legislative session. In Ohio, efforts are underway to repeal the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard.

Last year, ALEC-backed efforts to weaken or repeal an RPS were introduced in 19 states, and passed in Ohio, New Hampshire and Virginia.

First enacted in 1916, the farm bill is typically reauthorized every five years. It represents billions of dollars in government expenditures that set the farm, food and rural policy goals and priorities for the country. The 2008 farm bill cost more than $288 billion over a five-year period.

After the 2012 farm bill failed to pass, action on the new 2013 farm bill has begun to heat up. The House and the Senate have both issued drafts of their farm bills; this legislation will profoundly shape our nation’s food and farm system for the next five years.

On May 14, the 2013 farm bill quickly cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee. Late the following night, the House Agriculture Committee approved its version of a $940 billion farm bill. The current farm bill expires September 30, so lawmakers in both houses need to approve their respective bills before the August recess.

What’s at stake?

Without funding for many vital programs, small and mid-sized farmers will find it more difficult to stay in business. These programs are designed to bring jobs to rural markets, create greater access to healthy foods and provide microloans for emerging agri-business.

Sustainable agriculture champions in Congress have introduced several amendments that support family farms, build strong communities, protect natural resources, invest in future farmers and ensure real reform of commodity payments. Some content included in these amendments came from the following bills:

The Growing Opportunities in Agriculture and Responding to Markets, GO FARM Act of 2013 (S.678)
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 (H.R.1727 and S.837)
The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (H.R.1414 and S.679)

These amendments are important for the future of sustainable agriculture and it is vital that they make it into the final version of the farm bill. For this to happen, the voices of those who believe in the importance of sustainable agriculture need to be heard.

Reliable, long-term financing has been one of the greatest obstacles to moving the nation toward a clean energy future. Clean Energy Victory Bonds can be a big part of the solution. The Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2013 would create an investment vehicle with government backing, but no tax dollars.

Green America and the American Sustainable Business Council are working on the reintroduction of the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act, meeting with House offices on both sides of the aisle as well as with federal agencies. The bond will support renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, strengthen our domestic clean energy industries and create an estimated 1.7 million jobs. Discussions are also underway on the creation of state-level CEVBs. The House bill is expected to be reintroduced soon, followed by a Senate version.

What’s at stake?

The United States once was the leading innovator and exporter of renewable sources of energy and technologies. Currently, however, it lags behind the likes of Germany, China, Italy, Canada, Spain and Brazil in clean energy investments as a percentage of GDP. In 2010 alone, China made $48 billion in renewable energy investments compared to just $25 billion by the United States.

From coal to nuclear to oil, no new energy source was developed without significant government funding. Today, the alternative, environmentally sustainable, clean energy path should be the focus.


Portland Hosts Conference On EcoDistricts and Cities

Sustainable City Network

Representatives from eight cities gathered at Portland’s Ecotrust building Tuesday for the start of a workshop designed to train municipal leaders on the art of neighborhood revitalization.


The group EcoDistricts, formerly known as the Portland Sustainability Institute, is hosting urban planners and community leaders hoping to learn a bit about sustainable city tenets. The three-day EcoDistricts Incubator event includes representatives from Bend, Burlington, Vt., Cambridge, Mass., Charleston, S.C., Denver, Oakland, Orlando, Fla. and San Diego. The event also hosted several federal government representatives from throughout the country.

The EcoDistricts Incubator will help each of the cities tackle a different EcoDistrict project. For instance, in Bend, city planners want a major couplet that connects the established downtown with the city’s historic residential neighborhoods and erstwhile industrial lands.

Several local leaders are playing leading roles at the event. For instance, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Portland Democrat, told attendees that notions of urban sustainability are in many ways a throwback to how cities operated in the past. Blumenauer, an avid cyclist, added that Portland has boosted its biking levels — its 180 miles of bike lanes and 79 miles of off-street bike paths helped it top Bicycling Magazine’s list of top cycling cities — organically.

“We have not framed it as a choice,” Blumenauer said. “We made it convenient, attractive and hip. We never actually declared war on the automobile, but this is a community that decided not to surrender to it.”


10 Things That Make A Green City

Sustainable, Resilient Cities

sustainable cities network

Plentiful Parks: Parks are the “lungs of the city,” architect Frederic Law Olmsted famously said about New York’s Central Park. From the 500-year-old Giardino della Guastalla in Milan to downtown Houston’s new Discovery Green, parks provide both a place for harried city residents to take a deep breath, relax, and connect with nature, and a cooling counter to the heat-island effect created by all that asphalt. (Not to mention a buffer against flooding.) Green space has even been shown to improve an your physical and mental health.

Efficient Public Transportation: While commuters in Beijing, Dubai, and Lausanne, Switzerland, have shiny new metro systems to ride to work, transit authorities in Mexico City, Istanbul, and Los Angeles have cleared the way for buses by simply putting them in their own lanes. But whether they’re high-tech or humble, transit solutions that allow people to get around quickly and easily without a car are a key element to a green city.

Quality Public Space: Amid all the skyscrapers and busy roadways, a good green city has places that are built (or renovated) to human scale, places where people can safely walk and happily gather. Whether it’s New York’s High Line, a old railway bed converted into an aerial walkway, or a popular pedestrian-only street in Curitiba, Brazil, such places not only encourage getting around on foot, but reduce the need for large private dwellings by creating communal space for people to enjoy.


Bike Lanes: While the density of cities makes them great in theory for getting around by bike, heavy traffic (and angry drivers) can make cycling unpleasant and even dangerous without designated lanes. The most bike-friendly cities create separated bike paths, provide parking (and even solar-powered showers!), institute bike-sharing programs, and allow cyclists to bring their bikes on buses for longer trips.

Green City

High-Profile Green Buildings: Showcase developments that seek to be the biggest, tallest, fill-in-the-blank-iest green building may get flak for their aesthetics or be seen simply as “window dressing” for governments and corporations seeking some green cred. But as long as they’re not all a city’s doing, a prominent, striking eco-friendly structure such as the San Francisco Federal Building or the green roof on Chicago’s city hall provides a very visible symbol of green intentions and draws attention to the latest technologies.

Comprehensive Recycling and Composting Programs: Yes, recycling is the classic individual environmental act, but it’s not much good without someone to provide conveniently placed bins and reliable collection. The greenest city initiatives are going further than gathering cans and bottles, by adding electronics and food waste to the list of items recycled and composted, and by instituting larger-scale programs to recycle water for industrial use.

Eco amenities can help attract tenants and shoppers.
Mixed-use and Infill Development: Good planning is key to a green city. While other metropolises sprawl further and further out, Hamburg, Germany, is renovating its obsolete harbor into a walkable mixed-use neighborhood with office, retail, and residential space, while Sacramento, California, is giving new life to old alleyways. Such projects “recycle” existing space that’s already woven into the urban fabric, making them easy to get to and get around.

BeFunky_green citypeople.jpg

Green Leadership: Not every city official is going to be a “knight on a shining bicycle” like London Mayor Boris Johnson, who stopped an assault as he was cycling by. But government officials such as Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, former Austin Mayor Will Wynn, and the city council of Marburg, Germany, are heroes in their own right for cleaning up their cities’ sewer systems, promoting wind power and biodiesel, and making solar installations mandatory on new and renovated buildings. An active citizenry provides leadership from the ground up to prod or encourage politicians in the right direction.


Smart Energy Policies: Buying renewable energy and mandating efficiency measures are two ways a city can use its economic clout to help build a market for greener products while lowering its own environmental impact (and, often, operating costs). Phoenix, Arizona, for example, is boosting the amount of power it draws from renewable sources and constructing new city buildings to LEED standards, while San Francisco is building a big new solar array, Austin, Texas, is mandating home energy audits, and New York City is looking into offshore wind farms.


Good Green Fun: Going green shouldn’t be all work and no play, and the best green cities celebrate their eco-friendly lifestyles with farmers’ markets full of tasty (and unusual) treats, bars and restaurants serving the best organic fare, intriguing exhibits by ecologically minded artists, and music festivals that offer bike valet parking and solar-powered stages.

wastewater treatment and disease

Sewage Management: If you consider yourself a homeland defender, demand that the EPA and environmental protection agencies around the world update the risk assessments on the land application of sewage sludge, also known as biosolids. The EPA’s fraudulent sludge rule is outdated and fails to account for radioactive waste, carcinogens, pharmaceuticals and more, not to mention a deadly and unstoppable form of protein known as a prion, which is shed from people with neurodegenerative disease via blood, saliva, urine, feces, mucus and other bodily fluids. Wastewater reclamation is an even bigger threat than biosolids/sludge.

The largest prion pathway in the world is human sewage and the dumping of it on farms, ranches, forests, playgrounds, golf courses, parks, forests, and beyond. This illegal dumping of infectious waste is reckless and it’s contributing to a public health disaster. Neurodegenerative disease is the fastest-growing cause of death in the world. Sewage isn’t fuel, fertilizer or a safe source of drinking water. Unfortunately, it’s the source of deadly and unstoppable disease. It’s time to manage it responsibly.


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Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs.  It’s also promoting sustainable, resilient and livable cities. Please contact Gary Chandler at to join our network.