Saturday, December 16, 2017

A market where everything is free

Imagine Freecycle as a place, a swap meet where everything is free. It’s going on in Independence, Virginia.

This approach saves people money and may build community. I wonder if it affects charitable thrift shops.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Reducing food waste saves money

London encouraged their residents to reduce food waste. The process was simple; all they did was to educate people about the issue and how to reduce waste through actions like proper food storage. What was the result?

For every $1.34 the boroughs spent on the initiative, they saved $10.71 in avoided waste management costs, and households saved $112.43 on food they otherwise would have purchased and eventually thrown away. 
The municipality presumably saved money through their franchise hauling costs and management of the municipal landfill. In locations that don’t have franchise hauling (where the municipality negotiates a hauler contract for a geographic area; households don’t choose their hauler) or where the landfill is privately held, this savings would only go to customers if they have the option of having smaller bins or fewer pick-ups.

Dear global mayors: Solving food waste is money in the bank -

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Circular Economy, Chinese style

In nature, the waste of one organism is food for another. Waste = Food. Decades ago, the concept of Industrial Ecology emerged, where industrial parks were designed such that the waste from one factory was input to another. 

Now China is adopting this form of industrial symbiosis. Here's an example:

A fertilizer factory is fed with vinasse, a byproduct of sugar, from a nearby beer brewery. A paper and pulp plant receives scrap wood from a nearby wood factory as input, while providing sludge for fertilizer, green mud for building materials, white sludge for a citric acid factory and a cement plant, wood chips for a charcoal factory, fly ash for a cement plant, and waste hot water for an aquaculture mill.
At the Sustainability Alliance, we believe there are missed opportunities here to develop small businesses that take our hard-to-recycle waste streams and make value-added products. Imagine a business, for example, that cuts wine and beer bottles to make glasses so that visitors can buy as a memento of their favorite local brew. Imagine engaging residents at senior centers to make sturdy and colorful shopping bags out of dog food bags, birdseed bags, and horse feed bags. We offer a Sustainable Entrepreneurship Microloan for Schools to encourage kids to experiment with potential business models. Talk to us if you have an idea.

What we can learn from bats to unsnarl traffic jams

Increasingly scientists are looking to nature for inspiration about how to solve our human problems. Bats need to get a bazillion creatures through a small opening in a hurry to overwhelm potential predators. Similarly when there’s an accident on I-whatever, we need to move a bunch of vehicles through a bottleneck before someone gets ticked off and shoots someone else in road rage, causing yet another accident.

As it turns out, bats are better at this evolutionary necessity than we. How do they do it? They pay attention to where all their fellow travelers are and keep an equal distance between them. In driving terms, this means you should pay as much attention to the car behind you as in front and keep an equal distance between them. Maybe soon adaptive cruise control and self-driving cars will help us be as smart as bats.

Math Says You're Driving Wrong and It's Slowing Us All Down - WIRED

GOA says climate change is costing us too much and we should do something

In the classic holiday movie, Miracle on 34th Street, the Federal Government, in particular the Postal Service, is used to prove that Santa Claus is real because he gets mail.

So it may be another Christmas Miracle that the Government Accountability Office says climate change is real and it’s costing the US a fortune so we should take action:

As an initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage climate risks, we recommended that the Executive Office of the President use information on economic effects to help identify significant climate risks and craft appropriate federal responses,” the GAO said.
Climate Inaction is Fiscally Irresponsible, says GAO - Triple Pundit

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

225 huge investors pressuring companies to address climate change

A flock of major investors representing over $26 trillion are going after the 100 companies most responsible for climate change, driving them to take these three actions:

  1. Implement a strong governance framework, which clearly articulates the board's accountability and oversight of climate change risk.
  2. Take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across their value chain, consistent with the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  3. Provide enhanced corporate disclosure in line with the final recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and sector-specific GIC Investor Expectations on Climate Change, when applicable, to enable investors to assess the robustness of companies' business plans against a range of climate scenarios, including "well below" 2C and improve investment decision-making.
The initiative is called Climate Action 100+.

DELL fights ocean plastic, commits to 100% sustainable packaging by 2020

Dell is joining other firms to create a supply chain of ocean plastics. The statistics about ocean plastic are horrifying, so much so that it’s galvanized international action. Dell has committed to having 100% sustainable packaging in about 2 years.

 In this time of year when gift packages are flying around the country, think about what’s in yours and how you ship it. Fast shipping has a harsher footprint.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Finding the right sustainability tool for you

I continue to be amazed by the rate at which the professional sustainability field is becoming more sophisticated and standardized. This is largely invisible to the general public but is a big deal especially for large corporations.

The downside of this work is a proliferation of tools to help you.

The Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan has just made it a lot easier to find the right tool. SHIFT TOOLS is focused on business but many of those practices also apply to municipalities; and they are working on having similar resources for cities/communities.

You can search for tools that help you:

  • Set targets and goals (see who's measuring what and what their targets are)
  • Develop a road map and see where your organization is in its maturity
  • Report on your performance
  • Develop a business case/find the return on investment for certain actions.

Check it out. You can search for tools by industry, issue (water, climate, etc.), free or fee, reviewer's stars, job function, etc.

I just sat in on a webinar by Saman Baghestani, one of the developers, and he highlighted some specific tools he liked. So if you want a short list, look at some of these:

  • Pivot Goals shows what different companies are tracking and reporting, what their goals are
  • Embedding Project lets you create your own "casebook" of goals related to 12 thresholds
  • Future Fit lays out how to create long-term business value
  • Project Breakthrough has pitch decks that help you make the business case
  • Science Based Targets Initiative help you set climate related targets based on good science
  • Global Opportunity Explorer shows solutions and markets tied to the Sustainable Development Goals

  • B-Corp (certification)
  • CDP (climate, water)
  • RILA (retail)
  • Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability
  • Sustainability Scorecard

  • Reporting Exchange (part of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development)

  • Business Case for Sustainability (by International Finance Corp)
  • Business Case Calculator (downloadable spreadsheets to calculate payback, internal rate of return, etc.)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Survey results: What should sustainability priorities be in N. AZ/Verde Valley

By Darcy Hitchcock, co-founder of the Sustainability Alliance

In November, 2017, the Sustainability Alliance conducted a survey of our organizations’ members to see what they felt the sustainability priorities should be in northern Arizona/Verde Valley. This was not a general survey of the public; we wanted input from people who are knowledgeable about aspects of sustainability.

We based the primary question on internationally agreed-upon Sustainable Development Goals, a framework used around the world to measure progress toward a sustainable society. But depending where you live, some goals are more relevant than others. So we hoped this survey would help us understand what priorities might best be pursued here in this region. The results can indicate to our elected officials and non-profits what some of our members think should be goals to pursue as well as whether they are satisfied with current efforts or think more should be done.

While the poll is still open, there were 46 respondents at the time this article is written. Please note, this was not a scientific survey and the sample size small, so the results should be used only to inform, not to make decisions. That said, there were some intriguing findings. This article summarizes what we learned.

Are we doing enough?

We started by asking whether the respondents felt we were doing enough. The question was posed: “To what degree do you think the Verde Valley/Northern AZ should be pursuing sustainable practices? (Ex: recycling, living wage jobs, renewable energy, water conservation.)”  The vast majority of the respondents, over 90 percent, said “We should be doing quite a bit more.”


What should our priorities be?

The main question in the survey asked respondents to choose up to 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that we should set as local goals and then pursue. The SDGs are goals that are agreed to by virtually all nations, both developed and developing, so the issues and actions tend to differ based on where you are. For example, “Clean water and sanitation” in the developing world involves setting up toilets; in this region, it’s largely an issue of outstripping water resources with use and development. Communities and individual organizations can choose the SDGs most relevant to them and then have their efforts ‘roll up’ to international efforts. Just like rowing, you go farther faster when you synchronize your strokes.

The following chart organizes the SDGs into categories, Economic, Social and Environmental, with the most important goal in that category first after the average of that category. Of course, all these goals are interconnected (eg, an economic goal can have direct impacts on the other categories.) But it can still be helpful to clump goals into related categories to see relationships.

Among all categories, the SDG goals that got the most number of votes were, in declining order:
1.     Quality education
2.     Sustainable communities
3.     Clean water
4.     Climate action

Overall, social and environmental issues averaged somewhat higher votes than did the economic area. This might be because the social/environmental issues seemed more urgent and could  undermine our economy, or perhaps because of demographics, the respondents' perspective largely as retirees and some part-time residents.

Regarding social issues in the community, quality education, sustainable communities and good health/well-being topped the list. We would like to see more schools and life-long-learning centers embrace sustainability science and practices and teach it to their participants. Sustainable communities may have gotten a lot of attention because of  frustrations over transportation. We certainly hope that Sedona's current work on their Land Use Development Code and Building Codes will exemplify best practices in Smart Growth and green building.

Since hunger, poverty and decent work show up on the chart as economic but are also social issues, you can infer that these interconnected issues are seen by the respondents as the next tier to address, along with reducing inequalities/homelessness.

For the environment, climate action and clean energy, two interconnected goals, topped the list. We should assess our climate-related risks (most likely worse droughts, fires and floods) and plan for them. We could also be doing more to encourage the expansion of renewable energy and alternative transportation (better tourist-based transportation options, electric charging stations, neighborhood electric vehicles, etc.) Current efforts to reduce food waste also play an important role. (To see a list of well-researched climate-stabilizing strategies and their economic returns, go to Drawdown.)

On the economic front, responsible production and consumption got the largest votes by far.  We could start with more convenient recycling (tied to services like Sedona Recycles, which has one of the highest recovery rates in the region) and composting. We could also be encouraging entrepreneurs to come up with products they could make from our waste streams. Leading-edge concepts in this field include the Circular Economy (where everything used either goes back into another product or is composted/consumed, going back to nature) and Biomimicry (where we use nature as an inspiration for design of products and processes more efficiently and safely.) 

Some respondents reported that they voted for some practices with the assumption that other practices would be embedded. For example, hunger is often a function of poverty, so they may have voted for Zero Poverty and used their other vote for something all together different. So this chart pairs goals that could be considered directly interconnected in a nested or cause-effect relationship. From this analysis, we end up with these being top four potential priorities:

  1. Sustainable communities + health/well-being (Logic: Sustainable communities typically have cleaner air, more opportunities to know your neighbors and also are more walkable. So sustainable communities lead to better physical and emotional health.)
  2. Climate action + clean/renewable energy (Logic: Renewable energy is a critical piece but not the only piece of climate action.)
  3. Quality education + reduced inequalities (Logic: It's widely assumed that access to quality education improves opportunities for the under-privileged should reduce inequality as long as jobs are available that meet their education levels.)
  4. Clean water+life below water (Logic: We are all affected by the quality of water—humans and non-humans; riparian zones and wetlands help clean our water. We are all affected by dropping river flows and aquifers.)
Note: We end up with over 100% when some respondents voted for both of the paired goals.

What needs to happen now?

Like many studies or surveys, this poll raises as many questions as it answers. More work would need to be done to refine the priorities. This survey is only a partial snapshot. Some of these goals can be nested into a hierarchy so respondents might have factored those relationships into their answers. (For example, renewable energy is a part of climate action, so voting for climate action might have been intended as a vote for both.) So it would be helpful to follow up this survey with focus groups or interviews to understand the thinking behind the choices.

If you read our Sustainability Assessment Report to Sedona or recent blog posts, you’ll know we are urging the municipalities in the region to set broad sustainability targets for several reasons:

DEFINITION: Sustainability targets and goals show an understanding of and commitment to sustainability. The targets should represent a fully sustainable state (often framed as zero ___ or 100% ___: zero waste, zero hunger, climate neutral, 100% living wage jobs, 100% renewable energy.) These may seem impossible to reach in the moment but are necessary for a fully sustainable society. They’re a way of declaring we don't intend to leave a depleted world to our kids.

Those targets should be paired with time-limited, interim goals. For example, over 50 cities in the US have set goals for reaching 100% renewable energy by a particular date. Those goals are in service of a target which might be expressed as ‘climate neutral’ or ‘stabilizing the climate’ which will also necessitate changes to transportation, buildings and diet as well as hardening our infrastructure against climate-related impacts.

CREDIBILITY: If we want to be known as a sustainable destination, we need something more concrete than vague references in the Community Plan and a defunct commission. Inspirational targets and progress toward goals are a key piece of public communication that we currently lack. (For a good example of another small, tourist-based community, look at Whistler’s sustainability goals.)

ALIGNMENT: Once we have sustainability targets, different groups can organize around making these goals happen. The municipality, non-profits, businesses and citizens all have to play a role. The long-term sustainability targets can also put individual programs into context. Take for example the franchise hauling debacle in Sedona last year. If it had been clear we wanted to move toward zero waste, then perhaps more options beyond franchise hauling would have been considered and the ultimate intent to the community could have been more clear.

We also need a process to engage other groups and individuals to have a larger conversation about how we would define our sustainability vision.

Hopefully Sedona and the Sedona/Verde Valley Tourism Council will soon follow up on the Global Sustainable Tourism Council assessment results done last year. Perhaps our recommended next steps can be part of their scope of work.

(For more on best practices regarding sustainability targets and goals, please see these two blog posts for our thoughts: “Measuring Sustainability: Making sense of all the terms” and “What Sedona must do to be credible as a sustainable destination.")

Who responded?

The vast majority of the respondents were from the Sedona/Village of Oak Creek area.
If any community is curious, we can filter the results for you, just showing what your residents answered.

The non-profit members of the Alliance sent out a link to the survey to their respective members. In the chart below, you can see which organizations’ members were represented. Of course, there is overlap; individuals are often involved with multiple organizations. Over 75 percent of the respondents were associated with Keep Sedona Beautiful, but members of Yavapai Food Council and Sedona Recycles were also particularly well represented.



How do they stay informed?

We were curious how the respondents liked to stay informed about sustainability-related efforts in the region. Electronic newsletters from the local non-profits are, by far, the preferred method, followed by websites and presentations, then word of mouth. Print materials were the least preferred—how sustainable!

Artificial wetlands can clean wastewater

The following information is courtesy of Ron Hubert in Flagstaff....

I did some work years ago promoting the sustainability of constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment, primarily for rural areas, although the approach can be used anywhere, eg, a constructed wetland treats all the waste water at Flagstaff’s Arboretum, and a large constructed wetland provides secondary treatment for a large city waste treatment plant in Phoenix.  I think the best book on the subject (by a friend of mine, now semi-retired) is Constructed Wetlands in the Sustainable Landscape by Craig Campbell and Michael Ogden, available on Amazon.  

I also designed / engineered a constructed wetland for a school in Lakeside, CA as a practicum project for my graduate studies in Conservation Ecology at NAU.  The EPA also recommends constructed wetlands as the preferred waste water treatment approach for rural cities and areas where the city wants to provide economical sewage treatment to homes widely and thinly disbursed.  The EPA has published a manual providing all the engineering and regulatory details.  One of the benefits of city wastewater treatment by constructed wetlands (besides lower costs) is that preliminary studies show good results in reducing endocrine disrupting compounds through the action of water plant root absorption and photo remediation from sunshine. (see some references below)  Also, several years ago a professor at NAU was doing some research on this issue.  I don’t know the current status of this research, but could follow up.

One of the national luminaries in this area is John Todd, who passed away just this last August.  You can find lots of great system design ideas in his writings and projects.

Hemming, J.H., W.T. Waller, M. Chow, N. Denslow, and B. Venables. 2001. Assessment of the efficacy of a constructed wetland to reduce or remove wastewater effluent toxicity and estrogenicity using biomarkers in fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas Rafinesque, 1820). Environ Toxicol and Chem. 20(10):2268:2275

Quinonez-Diaz MJ, Karpiscak MM, Ellman ED, Gerba CP., (Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, University of Arizona), Removal of pathogenic and indicator microorganisms by a constructed wetland receiving untreated domestic wastewater.  J Environ Sci Health Part A Tox Hazard Subst Environ Eng. 2001;36(7):1311-20

Gray, James; Sedlak, David.  Fate of estrogenic hormones in a constructed wetland with dense plant growth.  Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 24th Annual Meeting, November 13, 2003.

Chapman, H. 2003:  Removal of endocrine disruptors by tertiary treatments and constructed wetlands in subtropical Australia.  Water Science Technology, 47(9): 151-156.

Kolodziej E.P., Gray J.L. and Sedlak D.L. (2003) Quantification of steroid hormones with pheromonal properties in municipal wastewater effluent.Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 22, 2622-2629.

Bad Bedding: Things to consider when buying and disposing of mattresses

Whether you're a hotelier or you're just wanting a better sleep, your choice of mattress matters.

  • Did you know there are certifications for "green mattresses" that aren't loaded with odd chemicals?
  • Did you know there are options for how to dispose of your old one? 
  • Did you know you may be able to recycle the mattress wrap at the grocery store (if they send their plastic bags to Trex or to a company making a similar product)?  
Here are some interesting resources:

What's special about green mattresses and related certifications:

How to donate or dispose of your mattress:

Over 50 cities sign Chicago Climate Charter

cities are taking climate matters into their own hands. At the North American Climate Summit, over 50 mayors representing tens of millions of people, have committed to this charter. It’s a simple document, a page of Whereas statements and a page with these commitments:

By signing the Chicago Climate Charter, cities are pledging to:
  • Achieve a percent reduction in carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement; 
  • Quantify, track and publicly report city emissions, consistent with standards
  • and best practices of measurement and transparency;
  • Advocate alongside other mayors for greater local authority and flexibility to develop policies and local laws that empower cities to take aggressive action on climate;
  • Recognize and include groups traditionally underrepresented in climate policy;
  • Incorporate the realities of climate change and its impacts into local infrastructure and emergency planning through strategies of adaptation and resilience;
  • Support strong regional, state and federal policies and partnerships, as well as private sector initiatives, that incentivize the transition to a new climate economy; and
  • Partner with experts, communities, businesses, environmental justice groups, advocates and other allies to develop holistic climate mitigation and resilience solutions.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Our plastics are about to come back to haunt us

Plastic. So handy, light, doesn’t break. We use it, toss it and the recyclers send it off to China. No more. China is closing its ports to foreign waste. Welcome to the land of “There Is No Away.” You can’t throw things “away.” You just throw them into someone else's backyard.

We rapidly need to find a solution or all your plastic recycling will end up in landfills. Options include:

  • Adding a deposit to all plastics that would cover the cost of recycling. (This would have the additional benefit of giving plastic trash value, encouraging its collection not only by the customers but also by poor people who can benefit from the extra income. States with bottle deposits might find this easy to implement.)
  • Come up with value-added products that can be made here from the plastic (eg, grinding it for 3-D printer filament.)
  • Burning the plastic in waste to energy plants (Unfortunately there are few W2E plants in the US but some people are exploring repurposing coal fired plants. You still have to transport the materials to the plants so you need these close to the collection sites or the fuel used to transport it--until we have electric trucks on the road--may offset the environmental benefits of processing them.)
  • Switching to bio-based plastics that truly will decompose in municipal composting operations. (Downside: Many places don't have large-scale composting.)
  • Switching to other packaging. (Unfortunately the options tend to be either heavier—like glass— or even harder to recycle—like tetrapaks.)
  • Put the plastic in segregated landfills so we can mine it later.
Got a better idea? The plastic is already backing up.

Precautionary Principle and Arctic Sea

Humans are well know for Ready-Fire-Aim behavior, blundering forward without considering consequences and impacts. The sustainability-related antidote to that is the Precautionary Principle which states:

When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm. Morally unacceptable harm refers to harm to humans or the environment that is
  • threatening to human life or health, or
  • serious and effectively irreversible, or
  • inequitable to present or future generations, or
  • imposed without adequate consideration of the human rights of those affected.

In a rare move, the international community decided to delay commercial fishing in the Arctic, for at least 16 years, for scientists to understand the ecosystem. Melting sea ice is opening the Arctic to fishing and transportation.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Farm in basement heats office tower

Imagine an office building with a verticle farm in the basement which uses LED lights. The heat off the lights heat the building, saving the building owner three times as much for electricity as he used to get for that space in rent. So the farmer gets the space for free and the occupants get fresh food upstairs. 

This isn’t a dream. It’s in Stockholm.

Monday, December 4, 2017

1/3 customers prefer sustainable brands

According to a study by Unilever in 5 countries, one-third of customers are preferring to buy from companies that they perceive as working on social or environmental causes. This study also tracked buying behavior to make sure it wasn’t just talk. Interestingly this trend was even stronger in emerging economies.

Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer says: “This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, it has become an imperative. To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability. Instead, they must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.”

How Mars and Walmart illustrate the future of sustainability -

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Restaurant designed for maximum benefit

This NYC restaurant is a great example of sustainable entrepreneurship because they’re designed for maximum benefit. They serve a plant-based diet which is good for human health and also the environment. They donate all their profits. And they employ ex-cons in transitional housing which helps them reintegrate into society. So if you’re in New York City, I hope you’ll go eat there.

Friday, December 1, 2017

What Sedona must do to be credible as a sustainable destination

In our recent assessment of Sedona's sustainability practices, we uncovered that there is little public evidence for Sedona's commitment to sustainability, despite the fact that a) sustainability is a foundational principle in the community plan, b) they have done supportive actions and c) are hoping to brand this region as a sustainable destination.

Courtesy Stuart Miles,
For example, if you google "sustainability" and "Sedona, AZ" you get nothing official. I got, in order, a local interior designer, a page I wrote for the Chamber and our website at the Sustainability Alliance. Do a similar search of Santa Fe (a comparable community that we like to benchmark against) and you get several .gov sites. And many of their plans/reg's have sustainability in their title (eg, Santa Fe's Sustainable Land Use Development Code). If you go on City of Sedona's own site and search for sustainability, you get the long-defunct committee. Nothing else. Any commitment to sustainability is invisible.

Low key is good if you have nothing to show, but we're starting to fall behind the rest of the world and that's not good for our reputation. Just a month ago, I saw a visitor was standing by a timeshare dumpster with a paper bag of food scraps, looking bewildered. "Don't they compost here?" she asked. I had to apologize that we did not. I told this story to a friend who lives here part time, Seattle the rest of the year, and she said not having composting, "Makes me crazy." Residents and visitors are starting to wonder if we're all we claim to be. Are we smoke and mirrors or are we truly enlightened, focused on health and well-being, with a reverence for nature and culture?

We need at a minimum to keep up with everyone else. If we become a true leader, the opportunity is to send our millions of visitors home with insights they can implement in their communities.

In my previous consulting practice, I used to tell clients not to go public with their intent to pursue sustainability until they have 4 things in place:
  1. A clear business case for pursuing sustainability; why it was important, why it made smart business sense such that they have enduring top management commitment.
  2. Sustainable targets, interim goals, metrics and a plan in place to get there.
  3. Measurable progress toward those goals (to show it's not just words on paper).
  4. Good performance in some areas as compared to competitors. Saying, "Oh, we finally recycle too," isn't impressive. Saying you're a leader when you're not is green-washing. Saying that our recycling rates put us in the top 10 small US towns (if this were true) would be noteworthy.
So where is Sedona in these 4 steps?

1. Sedona's Business Case

In at least one way, Sedona has addressed the first requirement. Data gathered by the Chamber and the Sedona/Verde Valley Tourism Council indicates that sustainable tourism (aka eco-tourism, responsible tourism, etc.) is a growing expectation. Last year, Sedona had an assessment done against the National Geographic Sustainable Destination certification so it's not just talk. It's also explicitly mentioned (although not well defined) in the Community Plan voted on by the community.

In terms of leadership's commitment, my sense is that the City Manager, one or two of the Council members and the Chamber are on board. If the other council members are willing to keep an open mind, understand that this is about meeting expectations to maintain our tourist-based economy, and be comforted by a process where all projects would be subjected to normal need/cost/benefit analysis, then I think the City can move forward to the next step.

2. Targets, Goals, Metrics and a Plan 

The Community Plan exists, but what is missing is a clear set of targets that define sustainability for our community, along with interim goals and a plan to move in that direction.

Deciding what the targets should be is not that hard if you use a reputable sustainability framework that goes to full sustainability. We use The Natural Step's 4 principles a lot because they're systemic, high-level and based on accepted scientific principles (like the Laws of Thermodynamics). When you overlay those principles to issues and industries in our area, you easily end up with a short list of focus areas and indicators. You have to temporarily suspend concerns about how this might get done or what it would cost with existing technologies. That will work itself out in time. But you have to define what fully sustainable is. Otherwise you're just working on being "less bad," slowing the rate at which we destroy our children's future.

Off the top of my head, here are 4 focus areas (tied to the 4 principles) and some suggested targets.

Stabilize the climate: These targets are often framed as being climate neutral, an 80% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050 or 100% renewable energy. Each of those choices presents different opportunities and constraints. My advice would be to choose the first or second of those options because they are most inclusive of sources of climate disrupting gases and allow the greatest flexibility for how to get to the target.

Eliminate toxic emissions to air, water or soil: We have legacy toxins from mining operations. We throw things in the dump or down the drain that end up in nature. Fossil fuels are a significant source of air pollutants.  If we put more toxins into the environment faster than nature can break them down, then they will build up. So we need to move away from doing this.

Targets here might include zero waste (nothing goes to landfill, everything is either reused, recycled or composted/consumed). We should also get our water (drinking and riparian) and air quality to meet safe standards.

Protect nature and the services it provides: Nature provides a host of services for free that either we can't do ourselves or would be extraordinarily expensive: it pollinates our crops, cleans our water and air, builds soil, provides renewable resources like trees, etc. Nature's like a game of pick-up-sticks: you can't be sure which stick will bring the structure down. So we need to keep all the pieces

Targets here might include river and aquifer levels returning to historic levels (or at least arresting the draw-down), biodiversity (no additional endangered species, maintaining or increasing acres of high-quality habitat.) Rural areas outside of Sedona might also want to measure depth of topsoil on agricultural lands.

Provide a high quality of life: Social and economic issues are also an important part of sustainability. These targets are more open to debate because we set expectations, not nature. We might set workforce housing goals (eg, 75% of the people who work here can live here). Zero hunger and homelessness. Predictable and acceptable transportation times between VOC and West Sedona. 100% living wage jobs. Engagement with high-quality life-long learning to adapt to our rapidly changing society.
Note: We recently conducted a survey of our members, people who are knowledgeable about aspects of sustainability, to determine what they thought our priorities and targets should be. I'll share those results in another post. 

Once we have targets, we can set reasonable goals over time to get there and start identifying projects to help us make progress. It's perfectly legitimate to postpone working on one area or another, waiting for technologies to mature. Some of the goals might be tied to outcomes (if we need to have an 80% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050, where should we be by 2020 and 2035?) Other goals might be tied to projects and processes (like access to household hazardous waste drop off events.) But knowing what we need to shoot for is a critical next step.

As Alice in Wonderland famously said, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." We need to have agreement for where we're going, and I hope that is toward a sustainable society where we provide a high quality of life off the 'interest' of nature, no longer drawing down the 'principle.' To strive for anything less is selfishly stealing from our kids.

What are other communities measuring?

Whistler is probably one of the best examples. They're a small tourist based mountain/ski community in British Columbia that used The Natural Step principles early on to inform their sustainability work in the community. Their community indicators are a well-designed website. Take a look at what they measure and report on.

According to VVREO (Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization), Santa Fe is one community we like to benchmark ourselves against. Here’s a 2015 report on their community indicators. It’s a good first generation report but over time, think it could be improved by showing more trend data and also having clear sustainable targets (instead of comparing themselves just to other communities as in the case of water usage.)

What about in Arizona? Here's a one-off sustainability report for Coconino County/Flagstaff. this report talks a lot about sustainability but it's not clear what framework they are using and it represents a snapshot in time. There's no effort that I know of to update it.  

Tucson is large enough to be assessed against the U.N. Sustainability Goals (which we have used for our Dashboard of Community Indicators). This article shows how they rate. We aren’t large enough, probably, to use this method but the indicators are still largely applicable.


Is your city naughty or nice (re renewable energy)

Here’s a list of cities committed to 100% renewable energy and the ones already there. Is your city on this list yet?

100% Commitments in Cities, Counties, & States | Sierra Club -

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How we fund a sustainable future

The Sustainable Development Goals are targets set by the international community to get to a sustainable society. They include things like zero hunger, and clean energy. But the nations of the world that agreed to these goals have underfunded them. How do we fill the gap?

According to this article, we need smart government policies and a growth in new funding mechanisms like green bonds and green banks.

Cities and states: Ignore climate change and pay more for bonds

Moody's is factoring in climate-related risks into their bond ratings for communities. If communities that are at great risk for sea level rise or weather disasters do nothing, they will start having to pay a lot more interest on municipal bonds.

How to get to a clean energy future fast enough to matter

The International Energy Agency has just released different roadmaps to get to a clean energy future while also solving air pollution and lack of access to electricity in developing countries. One of the scenarios involves going carbon negative (rather than simply reducing rates of emissions).

We can no longer claim we don’t know how to do this. We just have to want to.

Here’s a road map for solving 3 of the world’s biggest problems - Vox

Monday, November 27, 2017

What to do with coal fired power plants that aren't due for shutdown?

Sweden's answer to this question is to convert them to waste-to-energy plants. See the link below.

When I went on a study tour to Sweden and Denmark, I was fascinated to see how they were using waste-to-energy not only to deal with waste that couldn't be recycled but also to create heat for nearby households as well as using this thermal system as a way to store excess energy from wind power at night. These are amazingly clean plants, not like the horrid incinerators the US built decades ago. 

It helps that they didn't build these plants in the middle of no-where so they can get the heat where it's needed. In Copenhagen there's a powerplant that doubles as a ski slope! But in the US we could at least keep coal-fired power-station jobs and reduce landfill waste while the waste heat can keep the plant going.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Creative housing solutions

Perhaps you’ve noticed we don’t live like the old TV show, Leave It to Beaver, anymore. Our society has changed but not so much our housing. Baby Boomers are living longer but their kids can’t afford a home. Workforce housing, especially for those on the low end of the salary scale, if it exists at all is miles away from work, necessitating cars or long bus commutes. The trend toward bigger spaces is now being challenged by interest in tiny homes. And then we have communities destroyed by climate-fueled weather disasters.

This short video series shows some creative responses including multi-generational housing in Los Angeles and half-houses in Chile where poor people can over time build the other half and increase their wealth. This link will take you to the first video. At the bottom are links to the others in the series.

One roof, three homes: America catches on to multigenerational living – video | Cities | The Guardian -

Measuring sustainability: Making sense of terms

The old maxim, "What gets measured gets managed," tends to be true for sustainability as well. But there is common confusion about 'goals,' 'metrics,' etc. Public figures or CEOs may be reluctant to set sustainability goals that get to full sustainability because it may look unrealistic or like they're not making much progress. Here's a hierarchy of terms that may help you develop a system to measure progress toward sustainability in your organization or community.

Sustainable Target should represent the sustainable end-point, what we are shooting for, what state we need to achieve to be sustainable. If you don’t describe a fully sustainable state, claims of intentions to be a sustainable community or company aren’t credible. These are often expressed as zero ___ or 100% ___: zero hunger, climate neutral, 100% renewable energy, zero waste, etc. These targets should be based on credible sustainability frameworks that define full sustainability like The Natural Step principles or the UN Sustainability Goals. These targets are critical because they clarify what we're shooting for and open up alternative paths to get there. (For example, while energy efficiency is important toward reducing greenhouse gases, you can't just keep chasing that goal to zero. We will always need some energy. What matters is where we get it and what else is disrupting the climate.)

Indicators are those things we will look at to see if we are making progress toward the targets: people below the poverty line, climate change, river flows, Endangered Species.

Metrics are the precise way we will measure the indicators. Eg, SNAP (food stamps) as a percent of households, community greenhouse gas emissions per capita and also the absolute/total per year.

Goals for those metrics can describe something less than full sustainable performance bounded by time. Eg, By 2025 the community will get 25% of its power from renewable energy. Near-term goals should be realistic, based on what can be done and available technologies. Longer-term goals will also be driven by Nature’s needs, science and the sustainable target. If scientists say we need to have 80% reduction of GHGs by 2050, we best not have only a goal of a 10% reduction by 2045! Logically, the goal that far out better be closer to 75%.

ISIS uses climate change as recruiting tool

New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman was the first I saw to connect climate change to conflict in the Middle East:

climate change—>drought—>social upheaval—>ham-handed government response = Syrian war.

But now evidence is building that ISIS is deliberately using climate change and droughts as a recruiting tool.

Climate Change and Water Woes Drove ISIS Recruiting in Iraq - National Geographic

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Car charging stations that generate their own power

This is a slick system for charging cars because it could be plunked down anywhere, even where there is no power. It doesn’t even require concrete. It can go up in minutes.

Changing how we talk about climate

How climate change advocates communicate climate change can be part of the problem. This TEDTalk illuminates the mental barriers that prevent people from acting and provides 5 strategies for being more effective.

Image: screen capture from TEDTalk, Espen Stoknes

How to transform apocalypse fatigue into action on global warming

Friday, November 24, 2017

Sustainability and the long view

In part because we move around a lot in our society, we are all affected by “ecological amnesia.” When we move to a new place, we assume what we see is the baseline, that it was always like that, and then get huffy when we see things change (like a new housing development.) But we tend to be blind to how that ecosystem has already been disrupted. For example, before I interviewed Forest Service employees, I didn’t realize that the Verde Valley used to have far more grasslands and that the rivers spread over a much larger territory. But grazing led to more trees (that the cattle couldn’t eat) and rivers have gotten channelized through development and erosion.

So it can be helpful at times to look back in time and see how things have changed. This scientific paper was just updated after 25 years. We try to avoid doom and gloom in this blog because it tends to drive people to despair. But we don’t believe in putting our heads in the sand either. Periodically we need to take a clear-eyed look at where we are.

Fortunately on page three, column one, this article also lists things we can do to turn things around, things like:

  • Creating protected reserves
  • Restoring native plants
  • Eating a plant-based diet and reducing food waste
  • Increasing nature-based education
  • Making family planning services available to all

You can make a difference in your own personal life for all these actions. You can donate to organizations that are establishing reserves or offering family planning, you can plant native plants in your yard, you can eat your fruits and veggies, you can take kids into nature. You are not a helpless witness to humanity’s mistakes. You are a part of the solution.

NASA: watch the earth breathe and climate change

You can now watch life expand and contract with the seasons and see long-term changes over time. Watch this short video. Mesmerizing!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Why science says we need to get out in nature

Biophilia is the term for humans’ need for nature. In this article, I learned that we react differently to forests than parks or green space. But in any case, after your Thanksgiving meal, get outside and thank Nature for all she brings us.

Here's even more evidence that you need to spend time enjoying nature - Popular Science

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Just in time for Black Friday: Giving gifts that give back

I don’t know about you, but I detest how our culture elevates consumption during the holidays. The media hypes it as if they’re town criers: Buy! Buy! Get the greatest deals! Limited supply!

It’s no wonder people get crushed rushing into the stores.

But if you do have people on your shopping list, you can reduce income inequality by simply shifting about 5% of your purchasing to poor neighborhoods. Try out a coffee shop, eat lunch at a hole-in-the-wall ethnic bistro, check out the arts and crafts place. Buy your groceries once in a while in that neighborhood.

Researchers were shocked to find that if as few as 5 percent of commercial transactions were changed—so that capital flowed from richer to poorer neighborhoods—income inequality in those cities was drastically reduced, up to 80 percent.

Want an alternative to the Holi-daze? Give charities. You’ll find a bunch of charities you never heard of if you start searching for ones tied to interests of your family members.

When my neice was a tweener, she was in love with snow leopards. So I adopted one in her name for a year. My godchild was an avid soccer player so I found a charity that gives soccer balls to kids in war-torn areas to give them a sense of normalcy. When my neice grew up, I once asked her about my practice of giving charities: did she think it was weird, a cop out or did she like it? She said it was really cool; she got to brag about adopting an animal, supporting it for a year. And what about my soccer godchild? When I gave him a graduation check, he decided to give half of it away to charity.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dying in childbirth: going up in US when it’s going down virtually everywhere else

Childbirth can be a scary time. It’s worse in the US because we have a higher rate of maternal mortality than many other countries and it’s getting worse, not better. And heaven help you if you’re African American. Those women die at 4 times the rate of White women. Some believe it’s the lack of access to health care. Others think it could be tied to obesity. Both are affected by income inequality.

Just in time: how to reduce Thanksgiving food waste

Whether you’re planning turkey or tofurkey, Thanksgiving tends to be a time we relish in gluttony. But it’s not just our waistlines we should worry about. Often some of that excess food also ends up in the trash. Here are some practical tips for reducing food waste this holiday.

Your guide to a Thanksgiving dinner without food waste - Popular Science

Monday, November 20, 2017

What do you get when you cross a bike with a treadmill?

Answer: a Lopifit. You walk on this contraption but can go 25 kilometers an hour (about 15 mph) versus a brisk walk at 3 mph. It has an electric motor. Looks like fun.

Why did these farmers voluntarily pay a lot more for water?

Agriculture uses about 70% of our water, but we gotta eat, right? These Colorado farmers realized that their aquifer was rapidly depleting, so they decided they should pay more for water, a lot more, 3-4 times as much.

What happened? They reduced their water use by about 30% and are still thriving as businesses. The aquifer is recharging. There’s a lesson here for the West.

As for farmer Messick, he says the payoff is worth the added costs.
"It seems stupid to actually tax yourselves and cost yourself more money," Messick says. "But the big picture is you stay in business, you keep your community whole and everybody gives a little."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What would happen if everyone went vegan in the US

Agriculture greats a lot of greenhouse gases, uses a lot of water, and most uses a lot of synthetic pesticides and fertilizer. So what would the effects be if all Americans became vegan. This scientific study indicates it might be somewhat less than previously thought.

According to a new study, a nation of 320 million vegans would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by some 28%, far less than the amount now produced by the livestock industry. The authors claim the switch could also lead to deficiencies in key nutrients—including calcium and several vitamins.

That said, 28% reduction in greenhouse gases would still be something to savor. Take a look at their assumptions to see if you agree with their findings.

Going out in eco-style

Even your last act can make a difference to your family and the earth. Instead of paying a fortune to the funeral industry, more and more people are exploring greener, cheaper alternatives.

When I was on a volunteer vacation to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, I was shocked to find that the cemetary and the lake below was a polluted ‘brownfield site,’ thanks to formaldehyde in the embalming fluid.

This method (of burial) also consumes a great deal of natural resources. Each year, we bury800,000 gallons of formaldehyde-based embalming fluid, 115 million tons of steel, 2.3 billion tons of concrete, and enough wood to build 4.6 million single-family homes.
I don’t want to lock the atoms I’ve borrowed at the time of my death in a hermetically sealed box. They aren’t my atoms anyway; you don’t die with the same atoms you were born with. Your body is constantly trading atoms with Nature.  I want my last atoms to go back into circulation. That’s my version of reincarnation. I’ll come back as a tree, a grub and maybe a butterfly.

What do you want?

If you’re curious about options, here’s a recent article.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Here’s a way coal country could participate in renewables

Of course the flattened mountains left by “mountain top removal” could sport solar panels. But Germany is looking into using the mines as a water-battery. Usually these “pumped storage hydropower” systems involve pumping water up to a lake during periods of excess power (eg, wind at night) and then flowing the water downhill through turbines when we need a bit more. But that requires pretty good hills and land for reservoirs.

But what about the mines? They are verticle storage too.
The upper reservoir was set to be built on existing infrastructure, while the lower reservoir would be located more than 500 meters deep in the rock.
I just hope the engineers create a closed system because any water that goes down in the mine will come back seriously polluted if it touches rock.

Here's why coal mines could be crucial cogs in the transition to renewables - CNBC