Catching up on my sustainability efforts for Gay Games 9

cleveland gay games skyline
cleveland gay games skyline

Cleveland’s skyline was lit up in rainbow lights to commemorate the Gay Games 9 Opening Ceremony on August 9.

Now that Gay Games 9 has ended and I’m not averaging 14-15 hour work days, I finally have some time to work on the site again. I am beginning to pull together some information on our sustainability initiatives for a sustainability report – more on that in the coming weeks – but, in the mean time, The Guardian posted a piece last week that discusses our sustainability plan in the context of environmentalism in the LGBT community. It doesn’t quote me or mention me by name, but that’s fine with me. Here’s a snippet:

“You don’t have to be gay, you don’t have to be good, you just have to be 18,” is the unofficial slogan of the 2014 Gay Games. Perhaps what goes without saying is that it’s best to be eco-friendly as well. Personal commitment to environmentalism is more pronounced in the US LGBTQ community than in the heterosexual population, according to a 2010 Harris poll.

The 2014 Gay Games, taking place this week in Ohio, are working hard to represent this core value of environmental sustainability among the LGBTQ community. Expected to host between 20,000 to 30,000 participants and spectators, the games have a sustainability plan (pdf) that includes everything from water refill stations and bike-sharing, to the greening of internal operations. So what is it that makes the LGBTQ crowd so environmentally friendly in the first place?

Read the rest here. Stay tuned to this space for more.

Bringing Natural Resources to the Table: ELI, UNEP Launch New Environmental Peacebuilding Platform

sierra leone artisinal mining
sierra leone artisinal mining

Artisinal mining provides livelihoods for roughly 150,000-200,000 people in Sierra Leone (courtesy of UNEP).

I have a guest post up at the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat on environmental peacebuilding and the work that the UN Environment Programme and the Environmental Law Institute are doing in this area. [Full disclosure, I interned at ELI working on this program from late 2011-early 2013].

Here’s a snippet:

Moreover, UNEP found in 2009 that, although natural resources played a role in roughly 40 percent of all civil conflicts since 1960, new natural resource management schemes have been included in just one-quarter of peace agreements.

The evidence clearly indicates that if we hope to end violent conflict around the world, the environment must be a part of the process. As UNEP noted in its landmark report, From Conflict to Peacebuilding, “integrating environmental management and natural resources into peacebuilding…is no longer an option – it is a security imperative.”

Go read the rest and check out the rest of the great content housed on the blog.

Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan marks a good first step, but it can get better

Downtown Cleveland, as seen from the Ohio City Farm (courtesy of the Sustainable City Network).

Downtown Cleveland, as seen from the Ohio City Farm (courtesy of the Sustainable City Network).

On Wednesday and just in time for the Independence Day long weekend, the City of Cleveland Office of Sustainability released its long-awaited (by me, anyways) draft Climate Action Plan. As one would expect with a draft report, the city is welcoming public comments, so I went through the document with a fine-toothed comb yesterday. Here are my major takeaways/comments:

  • Methodology: The report really calls out for a detailed methodology section. Part of sustainability is transparency, and failing to provide a clear picture of how you have reached your conclusions undercuts this goal. This methodology could take many forms, such as a complete section at the start of the report or a shorter section at the beginning with a detailed technical appendix at the end. However it is done, this piece is an essential component. It’s important for people reading and tracking the Climate Action Plan to know what emissions scenario was used, where the temperature and precipitation projections are coming from, and whether a sensitivity analysis was completed. I understand the desire to make this easily approachable to the general public, and I laud that. Perhaps the technical annex would be the better alternative.
  • Methodology Part 2: On page 12 of the draft, the report discusses the costs and benefits of the proposed action plan. However, once again, it demands a methodology for how this cost-benefit analysis was completed (provided one actually was). What were the assumptions and parameters that went into this calculation? What was the discount rate (for a good primer on discount rates, read David Roberts’ piece) used? Did it include a sensitivity analysis?
  • Business As Usual Projections: On page 20, the report describes future projections and how its authors put together the Business As Usual (BAU) baseline that was used. Clearly, as with all medium- to long-term climate plans, these projections carry a high level of uncertainty. The report discusses this issue by saying:

Due to the high level of uncertainty associated with this type of forecasting exercise, a flat line BAU forecast was assumed for now. However, this assumption of no growth or decline in emissions can be adjusted in the future to account for changing conditions.

I have to question the decision to approach uncertainty in this manner, however. It seems to me that the best practice for approaching uncertainty is to internalize that uncertainty and attempt to manage the associated risk. Accordingly, I would prefer to see the flat line forecast used as just one of a few different BAU models. It could constitute a mid-range analysis to be supplemented by low-range (conditions improve significantly in the region) and high-range (conditions significantly deteriorate in the region) analyses.

  • Parking Minimums: In Focus Area 3, Sustainable Mobility, the report notes the City’s desire to “reduce single occupancy vehicle mode share from 69% to 62% by 2020, 55% by 2030.” Logically, one action step noted to address this goal is to “review parking space requirements and prioritize advanced parking strategies.” Unfortunately, the report never directly mentions the issue of minimum parking standards. As Matt Yglesias from Slate has discussed on many occasions, minimum parking standards are a major urban planning boondoggle that waste valuable public space, lower economic production, and reduce tax revenues. Cleveland is considerably overbuilt currently, and our abundance of parking is not something we should be proud of. The city was recently included as one of 16 cities in Streetsblog’s “Parking Madness” competition. We should be lamenting the fact that the Warehouse District has undergone this transformation since the 1970s:
Animated GIF showing the transformation of Cleveland's Warehouse District from a vibrant downtown are in the 1970s to a black hole of surface parking lots currently (courtesy of Streetsblog and Rust Wire).

Animated GIF showing the transformation of Cleveland’s Warehouse District from a vibrant downtown area in the 1970s to a black hole of surface parking lots currently (courtesy of Streetsblog and Rust Wire).

  • Plastic Bags: Page 55 of the Climate Action Plan (part of Focus Area 4: Waste Reduction & Resource Conservation) alludes to the challenge of properly managing plastic bag waste:

An organized and coordinated approach to waste reduction and diversion across the Cleveland community, starting with policies that restrict certain materials, such as plastic bags, or divert others, such as organic waste, are important tools in encouraging waste reduction both at the residential and commercial level.

Interestingly, despite noting the issue, the plan never goes so far as to propose implementing a plastic bag tax. It stops short of this approach, calling instead for implementing an “approach that significantly reduces the use of disposable plastic bags, including a public education campaign.”

While I understand that you don’t want to promote a specific approach without studying alternatives, the Climate Action Plan could have at least suggested conducting a study of the extent of plastic bag waste in our watercourses and landfills. This was the first step Washington, DC took prior to implementing its bag tax. The District’s study found that plastic bags accounted for 21% and more than 40% of total waste in the Anacostia River and its tributaries, respectively. Within just the first five months of its program, which applies a $0.05 tax on bags, DC saw plastic bag waste fall by 60% and raised $2.5 million in revenues. Surely a similar program could help reduce Cleveland’s waste stream and improve its paltry 9.25% recycling rate.

Plastic bag pollution has formed an artificial dam in the Anacostia River.

Plastic bag pollution had formed an artificial dam in the Anacostia River in this 2001 photograph.

Overall, I’m pleased with the draft Climate Action Plan, and I think it represents a good first step in the right direction. The City assembled an impressive working group of diverse stakeholders and fielded input throughout the process. That said, I definitely think it can be better, and I hope they will consider my comments. I have also submitted a copy of marked-up version of the plan directly to the Office of Sustainability for their review.

To read the report yourself and submit your comments, visit the Climate Action Plan page at SustainableCleveland.org.

 

The benefits of going green for small businesses

The following is a post that I wrote as a guest blogger for greenmarketing.tv in July 2010.

Cross-posted from greenmarketing.tv:

For the majority of small businesses, the business case for sustainable and energy efficiency just isn’t strong enough to make any real investments. Most articles and analysis discuss how going green can help a business reduce its energy costs and improve its brand recognition and popularity. However, it can be difficult for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to sign off on projects that have projected payback periods of three years when they are concerned about having cash on hand three months now.

If one focuses entirely on these more obvious benefits of sustainability, it can make it difficult to believe that we will reach a tipping point on small business sustainability anytime soon. However, there are a number of added benefits to sustainability and energy efficiency that are often overlooked but that can help SMEs reap tangible, short-term dividends on their investments. These include improved productivity, a decrease in lost time to sick days, and being better equipped to recruit talented employees.

Several studies have shown that energy efficient upgrades and sustainable building practices can improve employee productivity significantly. According to a 2003 study from the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon, taking steps to improve indoor air quality and installing energy efficient lighting both have strong positive effects on productivity. Enabling workers to control air temperature at their workstations increased their productivity anywhere from 3.5-36.6%. By installing high-efficiency lighting fixtures, businesses can experience a 3-13.2% increase in worker productivity. Taking advantage of natural light also has its benefits. The report notes that utilizing daylighting can improve productivity 3-18% and even increase sales by as much as 40%. Taken together, these numbers can represent a considerable advantage for any small business, especially considering that the EPA estimates that even a 1% increase in the productivity of office workers is enough to offset the costs of such upgrades.

A second major benefit of sustainability and energy efficiency comes from the added value of countering what is commonly known as Sick Building Syndrome.” Many businesses work in facilities that were not built in a sustainable manner. They have poor ventilation, lack access to natural light, and contain equipment and materials that release large amounts of volatile organic compound (VOCs). All of this can take a serious toll on the health and well being of employees, as indoor air quality leads to a number of health issues. Fortunately, green buildings go a long way towards mitigating these issues, providing businesses with considerable added value in the process. According to a 2009 article in the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate, green buildings produce an average financial benefit of $37-55 per square foot of facility space for businesses. This is due to the face that better indoor air quality improves productivity by 6-9% and reduces sick days by 2.88 days annually, per worker. The average value added to a business per worker is $6,432.

Third, sustainable businesses are better equipped to recruit the best employees. A recent study from Johnson Controls provides strong evidence that Generation Y is highly concerned about the environment and expects employers to become more sustainable. Ninety-six percent of Generation Y respondents said they want their employer to be environmentally friendly or at least environmentally aware, and large percentages — 47.4% and 47%, respectively — would like to see water saving features and solar panels on site. But it’s not just Gen Y workers who are increasing their commitment to sustainability in the workplace. The study noted that 98% of 26-35 year old respondents want their employers to be environmentally friendly or aware. This suggests that SMEs ignore sustainability at their own risk, particularly in this time of economic uncertainty.

I recognize that many SMEs still struggle to find a convincing argument to make the move towards sustainability. But going green is not some altruistic move that SMEs should make just because of personal beliefs or commitments — it is a smart business decision that will make them more competitive in the long run, one that they may not be able to afford to pass up.