Blog: economy

July 26, 2013
Alliance News - economy, environmental affairs, environmental justice, green business, sustainable landscaping, water conservation, water efficiency, water energy - California Sustainability Alliance

On July 18, the water and environmental industries lost one of its leaders. The California Sustainability Alliance (Alliance) joins the many others mourning the loss of Lillian Kawasaki, who passed away on that day.

Ms. Kawasaki was a founding member of the Alliance’s Advisory Committee and offered invaluable advice on the organization’s start and early development. We will miss her wisdom and support, and will strive to keep her commitment to the environment and sustainability alive in the Alliance’s work.

Craig McDonald, Managing Director for Navigant Consulting and Project Director of the Alliance summed up Ms. Kawasaki’s influence: “Lillian’s insight, leadership, and vast knowledge of the water energy landscape was essential in shaping the Alliance’s great work in these fields.”

Highlights of Ms. Kawasaki career include launching the City of Los Angeles’ Environmental Affairs Department, heading the city Community Development Department and serving as assistant general manager of environmental affairs and economic development for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Additionally, she was a member of numerous state and federal water policy committees during the course of her career, serving on the board of the Water Replenishment District (WRD) of Southern California and such professional organizations as the Association of Women in Water, Energy and Environment.

For more on Ms. Kawasaki’s remarkable life and commitment to public service and the environment, see her obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

April 29, 2010
Corporate Sustainability - clean energy, economy, energy efficiency, green business - Joanna Gubman

In sunny Southern California, no discussion of sustainability would be complete without mention of solar power.  At the recent Los Angeles Business Council 2010 Sustainability Summit, which the Alliance attended as a Cooperating Organization, a full panel was devoted to renewable energy, both solar and wind.

The panel opened with a talk on feed-in tariffs (FiTs), which are guaranteed rates for excess on-site renewable power generation to be sold back to the grid (equivalent to allowing a utility customer’s electric meter to run negative and produce income for the customer). The presentation was given by J. R. DeShazo, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. As an author of Designing an Effective Feed-in Tariff for Greater Los Angeles, a study recently conducted in partnership with the LA Business Council, DeShazo was able to give an in-depth review of the FiT value proposition and of important variables impacting program success.

Los Angeles has aggressive renewable generation goals, aiming for 20% renewable power this year and 40% by 2020. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has also set a goal of eliminating coal from the generation mix by 2020. However, achieving these goals will be a challenge. Today, only 14% of the city’s generation mix is from renewable sources, falling significantly short of the 20% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) target. To help close the gap, DeShazo’s study recommends implementing a carefully designed FiT, focusing on large multifamily, commercial, and institutional buildings with plenty of roof space available for solar. The study found that such a program would contribute approximately 3% to the city’s RPS. Beyond this contribution, a well-designed feed-in tariff has several significant benefits :

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April 22, 2010
Corporate Sustainability - economy, green business - Joanna Gubman
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

The California Sustainability Alliance recently attended the Los Angeles Business Council 2010 Sustainability Summit as a cooperating organization – here’s part three in our series on what we learned there. The event was brimming with impressive speakers and panelists, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who expressed pride in his perfect attendance record at this 3rd annual event.

The mayor began by expressing his perspective on the sustainability value proposition, which he believes contributes not just to the environment but also to jobs and the overall economy. He then took a quick dive into the financial crisis currently facing the city of Los Angeles, which has tried to raise electricity rates in order to maintain solvency. He explained that he believes rates need to go up not just to keep the city solvent, but also to enable action on important policy goals. In particular, the city is heavily reliant on coal for its power generation. While this choice helps to keep rates down, Villaraigosa expressed his conviction that the city must change its generation mix to incorporate more low-carbon sources such as natural gas and renewables.

Villaraigosa spent the remainder of his keynote addressing one of his passions – improving public transit in Los Angeles. He focused on Measure R, which was approved by LA County voters in 2008 with an overwhelming two-thirds majority. The measure provides $40 billion in funding over the next 30 years for numerous transportation projects, including several related to sustainability, such as:

  • Doubling the size of the rail system in Los Angeles County
  • Building a “subway to the sea”
  • Establishing bikeways and pedestrian improvements
  • Maintaining low fares for public transit while expanding service
  • Carpool lanes

Measure R is an unprecedented investment in public transit; and to make it even more impressive, Villaraigosa has championed accelerating the timeline from thirty years to ten. While completing the numerous projects in Measure R will be a challenge – it requires cooperation amongst all 88 cities in Los Angeles County – the initiative will be a true game-changer, vastly improving both environmental sustainability and quality of life for Los Angelenos. Measure R is also expected to create 166,000 jobs and save 10 million gallons of gasoline annually, contributing to economic growth and energy independence. Emphasizing the diverse benefits of this project, Villaraigosa called on business, academia, and health professionals to work together in support the initiative, concluding, “The time to act is now.”

As a former Angeleno, I can’t wait to see my hometown finally build a more sustainable transit system. For those of you currently living in Los Angeles County, tell us – how is implementation of Measure R affecting your daily life? What do you think the County’s transit priorities ought to be?

April 20, 2010
Corporate Sustainability - economy, green business - Joanna Gubman

For part two of our series on the recent Los Angeles Business Council 2010 Sustainability Summit, we’ll be covering the first of the two morning keynotes. These speeches were given by California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. We’ll be reviewing Michael Peevey’s keynote here – but stay tuned for a discussion of Mayor Villaraigosa’s keynote later this week.

Both keynotes (and many of the panelists as well) centered around the idea that it’s time to move from talk about sustainability to action on sustainability. Peevey illustrated the magnitude of the challenge ahead by outlining the requirements of AB 32. Today, he explained, California emits 13 tons of carbon per person per day. To meet AB 32 goals, these emissions will have to drop to 10.5 tons per person per day by 2020, and to 1.5 tons by 2050. For comparison, 1.5 tons of carbon per person per day is roughly equal to India’s carbon intensity today.

To meet such aggressive goals, Peevey emphasized, radical changes will be necessary. In particular, Peevey expressed a belief that realignment of market forces, while preferred by many major corporations such as Safeway (as we discussed previously in our review of the first panel), will be insufficient to meet the goals and deadlines set by AB 32. As with many of the speakers at the conference, Peevey was unafraid of controversy, stating that while AB 32 has many “command and control” requirements, he believes such strong mandates are necessary to achieve the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.

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April 16, 2010
Corporate Sustainability - economy, green business - Joanna Gubman
Getty Center facilities, certified LEED-EB Silver

Building a Green Economy: Connecting Sustainability to Business and Job Creation-The Los Angeles Business Council’s annual sustainability summit was held on April 6th at the Getty Center, a museum overlooking the city that is impressive not only for its extensive art collection, but also for its beautiful, LEED-EB Silver facilities.

The day’s events featured three panel discussions and keynote speeches, with participants representing major public and private organizations such as Safeway, Jones Lang LaSalle, the California Air Resources Board, LA Unified School District, Southern California Edison, the LA City Council, Kyocera Solar, Arden Realty, and others. Notable panel participants and keynote speakers included Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, LA City Controller Wendy Greuel, and Michael Peevey, President of the California PUC.

The summit featured a terrific collection of speakers and panelists, and we were thrilled to be in attendance as a cooperating organization. We’ll be sharing what we heard with all of you in this short blog series, beginning with this report on the first panel of the day, Discussion of Best Practices among Sustainable Industry Pioneers.
This was a dynamic panel full of sustainability leaders who aren’t afraid to speak out on controversial topics. Focusing primarily on the drivers for sustainability and on how an organization can get started, all of the panelists emphasized the need to be proactive, innovative, and persistent. As in the recent SVLG Corporate Sustainability Symposium, Sustainability Showcase Award winner Jones Lang LaSalle was again represented, this time by Lauralee Martin, Executive Vice President and Global Chief Operating and Financial Officer. She stated that the hardest part of initiating a corporate sustainability program is getting past stakeholders’ confusion on the subject of sustainability: Why is sustainability important to business? What should be measured? What goals and commitments should be adopted? Getting past this confusion, Martin said, requires passion and persistence.

Echoing this theme, when asked how he was able to help revitalize Oakland as mayor, Jerry Brown (now the California Attorney General) immediately boomed, “force of will”; he quickly added that a receptive and change-oriented public is also essential to get past inertia and regulation. Brown’s heartfelt outburst was easily the most memorable moment of the day.

Kevin Ratner, President of Forest City Residential West, also commented on the need to have internal and external stakeholders be educated on and receptive to the benefits of sustainability. Internally, staff members need to stop viewing green as a cost, and instead recognize it as a savings opportunity. Vendors and contractors also require a similar culture change. Residents of Forest City’s multifamily developments also require education in the behavioral aspects of sustainability, in order to ensure that their buildings are operated in a green manner.

Joseph Pettus, Senior VP of Fuel and Energy at Safeway, agreed that it is essential for a corporation to understand that “green is a profit center”. All of Safeway’s environmental initiatives, including reducing GHG emissions by 10% in 2006, the first year of their corporate GHG reduction program, either earn or save money. Pettus stressed that none of Safeway’s actions have been undertaken out of fear of legislation or any other “stick” approach. Rather, Safeway has been “going for the carrot”, pursuing the financial and other benefits that come with adopting sustainability. As the top commercial electricity consumer in the state, Safeway’s business practices can have a significant impact on California, so we were happy to hear their unambiguous recognition of the sustainability value proposition.

Venturing into more political territory, Pettus added that Safeway wants a map, not directions. In other words, Safeway supports government establishment of market frameworks (it publicly supports cap and trade, for example), but does not support mandates for specific actions. The company prefers that the path to achieving policy goals be determined by the private sector, in the context of a market designed to support those policy goals. Pettus also emphasized the need to maintain flexibility, stating that he thinks California is not yet ready for auctioning of carbon credits, given today’s economy.

While agreeing that flexibility is essential, Attorney General Jerry Brown seemed somewhat concerned by Pettus’ comments, stating that it’s important to first take bold steps, and then adjust. While policymakers taking this approach may not have a lot of support, he feels it is necessary to take risks and innovate – and that business has an important role to play in pursuing innovation. Stating his belief that we now live in an “era of limits”, Brown summed up his perception of the central challenge of sustainability, which is whether we can “visualize long term problems and avoid them efficiently by acting now”.

Despite the difficulties both corporations and government agencies face in taking a long term perspective, all of the panelists seemed to feel that sustainability is slowly but surely moving into the mainstream. In fact, Lauralee Martin of Jones Lang LaSalle has found that commercial property owners express even greater interest in sustainability today than they did before the economic downturn, as owners recognize the potential to save money and be more attractive to potential tenants by reducing energy costs and increasing sustainability. Expressing her confidence in the sustainability value proposition, Martin stated that in the future, sustainability will be inseparable from the rest of business. Here at the California Sustainability Alliance, we could not agree more.