Breath of Clarity

Sustainable Cities

The Fort Collins article portrayed the city as being impatient in terms of not waiting for outside programs to catalyze its sustainability initiatives. The array of local environmental entities assigned a large Net Present Value (NPV) to the opportunity for gain from investing now to reduce carbon emissions later on. Specifically, a 5% discount rate leads to $3 billion in 2050 while a 2.5% discount rate leads to $6 billion in 2050. The goal to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2030 is an ambition set to be completed 20 years sooner than other leading cities. I support the decision considering the Rocky Mountain Institute and Fort Collins Utilities did a cost-benefit analysis of the project. Further, since the city was able to gather a range of groups (community leaders, local businesses, citizen advisory groups, the utilities, and other partners including Rocky Mountain Institute and eLab), they are able to leverage both the monetary and strategic input all these players bring to the table. Therefore, they are able to generate the large initial investment enabling the city to conserve the future. I also agree with the city’s tactic of establishing the FortZed project before expanding past the initial district. Cultivating the partnerships, particularly with the major utility company, through the effort put them in a stellar position to grow their initiatives from there. Lastly, the city respected the economy being market-based by taking the project on just when prices for key technologies (solar PV, wind, electric transport) declined. Moreover, the recently developed new financing options increases accessibility of the products.

Fort Collins engaged so many entities to use the investment criteria. The Council’s vote brought to fruition a multi-year process that has engaged community leaders, local businesses, citizen advisory groups, the communities’ generation and distribution utilities and other partners, including Rocky Mountain Institute and eLab. There may be complications in terms of communication between so many groups. Also, the article says it’s “critical” for community members to be customers making investments for their homes and offices (Newcomb, Chan, and Mandel 2015). While the city may be comfortable financing these projects, each individual’s situation is unique and there may be many people who are not in the position to invest. Moreover, citizens may be less committed to the city’s well-being in the case they have less of a long-term mindset due to moving soon or simply worrying about paying existing bills on a monthly basis and not wanting to start any other projects. The debt-income ratio for community members is different from city entities. So, although citizens may want to support the initiatives, it may not be feasible. Additionally, the article mentioned, despite efficiency investments gains, home and office retrofits are challenging to scope and complete. Still, the utility company is doing phenomenal in combatting the potential issues by catalyzing energy efficiency adoption by making the approval process easier and as cheap as possible. Taking the weight out off the consumer is optimal to overcome potential difficulty.

Although I currently live in California, I decided to write about Boston, Massachusetts. I am a Red Sox fan and seafood enthusiast. The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA) is a collaboration of leading global cities aiming for the “80 by ’50” goal. The report (Links to an external site.) I found illustrates a strategy to develop carbon neutrality planning standards which entails standardizing measurement and verification methods for tracking progress and accordingly putting analysis tools into place. The CNCA also highlighted the importance of advocating for policy change as it identifies policies not controlled by the cities and engages other external stakeholders who are essential to the program’s success. Further, the CNCA “ Innovation Fund” fuels investment in projects holistically geared to develop, test, implement and amplify deep decarbonization strategies and practices. The alliance is staffed by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) in partnership with the Innovation Network for Communities (INC) and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and is supported by the Barr Foundation, Summit Foundation, Kresge Foundation, V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, MacArthur Foundation and Bullitt Foundation. The framework discusses ways Boston is looking to incentivize and require producer responsibility and sustain long-term financing endeavors. Long-term systems transformation requires out of the box strategizing about providing services, investing in infrastructure and engaging stakeholders. Boston has partnered with local philanthropic organizations that provide the funding for fellowships of a year’s length, which allows the city to bring on board technical experts at little cost. Moreover, BOSTON created a Green Ribbon Commission to advise the city on implementation of its climate action plan, advocate within key sectors to align strategies within the sector the climate plan goals, and highlight best practices within and across sectors. The Commission has 34 members, drawn from the key sectors in the city that are affected by mitigation and adaptation goals and actions, and is funded by a coalition of six foundations that make multi-year grants. Sectors represented on the Commission include higher education, health care, commercial real estate, hospitality, finance, insurance, construction, utilities, clean energy, philanthropy, state government, faith-based entities, and local and international NGOs. The first graphic below depicts benefits of the Green Ribbon Commission. Further, Boston’s Greenovate initiative uses citizen outreach, education, and engagement to help advance the city’s sustainability goals. Greenovate’s scorecard is provided in the second graphic below.

Comment by Jenna Morris:

I appreciate that you chose Boston because of your love for the Red Sox and seafood! After further investigating the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA), I saw that this is a worldwide foundation in which 22 cities are represented (Portland was in there, wahoo!). I think that foundation that are recognized worldwide have an upperhand on government alliances because there is greater innovation and collaboration. Each city will look different in how they approach it, but are unified in a common goal for the same results- carbon neutrality. Do you think that my above statement (global alliances have greater benefits than inner-country alliances) is correct? Why or why not?

Other thoughts I had while researching the CNCA more was that each city should take research money to have these reflectionary periods of where their own GHG emissions are coming from. For example, Boulder, CO has this easy to read, accessible graphic to help their own population understand where they need to work on GHG emissions.

My Reply:

The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA) report is a fascinating way to compare cities aiming to meet or exceed the 80 by 50 goal! I do agree it is advantageous for the cities to collaborate in innovation. Perhaps, worldwide collaboration facilitates exchange of ideas amongst renewable energy scientists and also widens funding avenues. I do agree unifying under a common goal strengthens government alliances. However, since the 80 by 50 goal has been adopted by many cities not necessarily in the CNCA group, I figure uniting under a more unique common goal would more heavily strengthen government alliances.

Reflecting on the source of GHG emissions is definitely important. I imagine the majority of cities, particularly the ones who put environmental economics high on the priority agenda, have created a graphic similar to the one above. However, I foresee the biggest problem being accuracy and gathering all the data in a central (virtual) location. Does anybody have ideas of how to find the most accurate depiction of a city, alternative to Boulder, showing its specific emission sources? What are the difficulties in measuring it accurately before even creating the final graphic?