New Winners in the 2018 Blueprint for Fuctional Sustainability Competition!

Rob Slowinski

The 2018 Blueprint for Functional Sustainability's final event took place on Friday, June 1st at REDCAT's black box theater in downtown Los Angeles, below the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In front of an audience of about 100 of their peers, the 16 finalists continued to raise the bar for sustainable design and community architectural integration.

Best Practices: The Solarize Portland Community Initiative

Community action on resource efficiency is an essential element of achieving a low-carbon, sustainable human relationship with the planet. This November, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting on behalf of the California Sustainability Alliance at the Behavior, Energy & Climate Change (BECC) conference convened by Stanford University, the California Institute for Energy and Environment, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, where I received first-hand accounts of a wide range of exciting ideas and programs being implemented in communities across the United States.

One of these presentations was given by Sue Jamison, Residential Marketing Manager at Energy Trust of Oregon, a non-profit organization funded by Oregon energy consumers to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy across the state. Jamison’s presentation was on Solarize Portland, an innovative, community-driven program launched in 2009 to increase residential solar adoption in Southeast Portland.

Despite Portland’s deserved reputation as an environmentally-minded city, in 2008 the city was lagging in residential PV installations—just 38 were installed that year compared with 168 in San Francisco. In fact, Energy Trust had observed through its own programs that the perceived interest in residential solar did not match up with installations. Through non-profit marketing agency SmartPower, which conducted a study on market barriers in Oregon, Energy Trust found that the main issues for residential customers were upfront costs, the wide range of price quotes from contractors, and the buyer fatigue associated with a complicated, and often protracted, process of picking equipment and getting it installed.

Solarize Portland came into being as a partnership between Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition (SE Uplift) and Energy Trust, with the goal of getting more solar panels on Portland homes by addressing the key barriers identified by SmartPower. So how did this work? Several core elements created a simple, unique, and highly effective program:

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Exciting Opportunity for Cleantech Startups in California

The California Sustainability Alliance is pleased to share with you an exciting opportunity for cleantech startups, IBM’s SmartCamp Silicon Valley.

The event, to be held on September 8th and 9th, will bring together entrepreneurs, investors, and experienced mentors who want to build a Smarter Planet. Focused on helping society become more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent, SmartCamp will provide five selected startups with world-class mentorship and a direct route to seed and venture capital. The winner will receive a three month mentorship with IBM and an invitation to the international SmartCamp finals in Ireland on November 15th. Applications are due before August 8th, at

The Alliance will be participating in the event, and we can’t wait to hear all of your great ideas! In the meantime, tell us – what kind of technologies would you like to see to make our planet smarter? What cleantech startups are you most excited about?

New SEC guidelines may cause an outbreak of sustainability reporting.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has for the first time released guidelines for public companies that define the extent of the disclosures they should make relating to the issue of climate change. This is good news for investors, who rely on comprehensive and accurate information to make their investment decisions. Institutional investors, such as pension funds, have been active in lobbying the SEC to tighten the rules about what a company needs to report when it comes to the risks and opportunities relating to climate change. Groups active in the disclosure debate include the Environmental Defense Fund and CERES. In June 2009, the Investor Network on Climate Risk petitioned the SEC to issue guidance outlining climate-related 'material risks' - such as new regulations, physical impacts, new economic and business opportunities and other climate-related trends - that companies should be disclosing to investors. According to the SEC's news release, the interpretative guidance highlights four areas as examples of where climate change may trigger disclosure requirements:

  • Impact of Legislation and Regulation: When assessing potential disclosure obligations, a company should consider whether the impact of certain existing laws and regulations regarding climate change is material. In certain circumstances, a company should also evaluate the potential impact of pending legislation and regulation related to this topic.
  • Impact of International Accords: A company should consider, and disclose when material, the risks or effects on its business of international accords and treaties relating to climate change.
  • Indirect Consequences of Regulation or Business Trends: Legal, technological, political and scientific developments regarding climate change may create new opportunities or risks for companies. For instance, a company may face decreased demand for goods that produce significant greenhouse gas emissions or increased demand for goods that result in lower emissions than competing products. As such, a company should consider, for disclosure purposes, the actual or potential indirect consequences it may face due to climate change related regulatory or business trends.
  • Physical Impacts of Climate Change: Companies should also evaluate for disclosure purposes the actual and potential material impacts of environmental matters on their business.

As the New York Times reports, the new guidelines were welcomed by pension funds and other large institutional money managers:

“We’re glad the S.E.C. is stepping up to the plate to protect investors,” said Anne Stausboll, chief executive of the California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation’s largest public pension fund and one of the parties that petitioned for the guidance. “Ensuring that investors are getting timely, material information on climate-related impacts, including regulatory and physical impacts, is absolutely essential. Investors have a fundamental right to know which companies are well positioned for the future and which are not.”

In the commercial real estate world, the SEC ruling may provide the impetus for public real estate companies to take seriously the measurement and reporting of energy efficiency and other measures of the sustainability of their real estate holdings. Pension funds are likely to lead the way in pushing for such disclosures from real estate companies with which they undertake joint ventures, as well as from the REITs whose shares they own. Is it only a matter of time before the issuance of a “Sustainability Report” is as commonplace for real estate companies as the annual financial report is today?

From Toronto to Copenhagen: A Precautionary Tale

Copenhagen, December 13, 2009 - I am writing this early Sunday morning as my flight arches across the North Sea and begins a slow descent over the Danish Archipelago. It is clear day and the sun is catching the graceful rotations of hundreds if not thousands of windmills that dot the Danish countryside. I am headed to Copenhagen to attend the climate meetings there this week, and as the plane begins its final approach I am thinking about how my journey from Toronto to Copenhagen really began over twenty years ago.

Climate change first burst on the international agenda in the sweltering summer of 1988. Throughout the 1980’s there had been a growing sense of concern among climatologists (scientists who study the physical and chemical processes in that thin layer of life-giving gas that surrounds our planet) that human activities were altering the atmosphere in potentially dangerous ways. In June of 1988 Canada hosted the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere which brought together climate scientists, energy experts, policy makers and others from around the world to address the problem. I had been working on energy and environment issues for over ten years by then, and the Canadian government asked me if I would organize the energy workshop for the Toronto conference.

Already by 1988 the case for human-induced climate change was strong. The greenhouse effect itself had been understood since the 19th century and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere was clearly on the rise. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion were double the level that the ecosphere could absorb, and the surplus was accumulating in the atmosphere. This in turn was enhancing the natural greenhouse effect, and the result would be an increase in the average global temperature. The theory was sound and well established, but in 1988 the signal – the actual increase in global average temperature – was difficult to detect amidst the natural temperature variations.

If the consequence of climate disruption were not so serious, a “wait and see” attitude might have been justified in 1988, but therein lies one of the central dilemmas of this issue. Increases in greenhouses gases today continue to affect climate for decades and even centuries into the future. Every day we continue to emit greenhouse gas emissions at current rates or higher, we lock into place the long term consequences of those emissions. And the consequences of upsetting the global climate system go far beyond simple warming. It’s not unlike the fever we get when suffering from the ‘flu; the average global temperature increase is a symptom of deeper problems. By the time the global atmosphere is running a fever of even one or two degrees Celsius, it represents a significant destabilization of the planetary climate system and anything that is connected to it. And everything is connected to it, including us.

This is where the “precautionary principle” comes into the picture.

An Eventful Week for Climate Change in the U.S.

This has been a busy week for climate change activity in the U.S. Here are three stories that struck me as particularly interesting:

Debate Commences on Senate Climate Legislation. The Kerry Boxer bill enters the ring, weighing in at over 800 pages (much of taken from the earlier Waxman Markey bill that passed the House in June), this is the bill that will define America’s response to climate change. Climate policy advocates swarmed the bill as soon as it was released and positions and alliances were already starting to form this week. The emission reduction target has been increased from 17% to 20% below 2005 levels by 2020, the provision for the use of international offsets has been cut back, and a ceiling on carbon price has been proposed. Interestingly, there appears to be relatively strong support in the business community for this bill, but there will be a difficult path to passage. The world community convenes in Copenhagen in December to address the increasingly worrisome warnings that dangerous climate change is closer than had been hoped. Virtually nobody expects the bill to pass before the Copenhagen meeting, but the tenor of the US debate between now and then will go a long way to determining the outcome. Watch for more on this story, much more, in the weeks ahead.

Coming to a Post Office Near You! Perhaps realizing that in the absence of a climate law the administration will have to demonstrate its commitment to greenhouse gas reduction in other ways, President Obama issued an Executive Order this week calling for a 20% reduction in GHG emissions from government operations, and federal agencies have just 90 days to show how they will do it. This is a sleeper. The federal government owns 500,000 buildings and is a significant purchaser of just about everything that uses energy. If the government delivers on these targets it will cause a significant shot in the arm to the US efficiency, renewable energy and recycling industries, and it will have wide ranging repercussions for supply chains everywhere.

PG&E Quits U.S. Chamber of Commerce in protest over its position on climate change. The PG&E blog entry announcing the move, entitled “Irreconcilable Differences”, makes for interesting reading. This is a sign of the times if there ever was one. Those of you who were around in the early days of the climate change policy debate will remember how rare it was to find any business support for action on global warming. That has changed in the last few years as the inevitability of an energy transformation has become apparent, and as astute members of the business community begin to appreciate the upside to climate change policy. American business is waking up to the enormity of the clean energy opportunity, and not a moment too soon.