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25 Cities Show How Major Climate Wins Are Possible

Claudia Baldwin

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Despite the numerous environmental obstacles thrown up by the previous administration, many U.S. cities have not only persevered in their efforts to combat climate change but they have made major strides forward, thanks to Bloomberg Philanthropies and its groundbreaking American Cities Climate Challenge program.

Created in 2018, the Climate Challenge, in partnership with NRDC, provided 25 cities with powerful resources to boost their efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Cities account for an overwhelmingly large percentage of global carbon emissions, primarily through transportation and buildings — sectors where mayors can enact real change.

Empowered by the Climate Challenge, these 25 cities implemented 54 major transportation, buildings and energy policies and 71 bold climate programs and initiatives — even in the midst of a global pandemic — resulting in substantial gains over just 2.5 years.

In a report that crunched the numbers, here’s what these impressive gains mean in cold, hard data: Collectively, the work of the Climate Challenge across these cities will reduce CO2 emissions by 74 million metric tons (MT) from 2020 through 2030, compared to a business-as-usual scenario. When we took this a step further and evaluated their combined achievements, including action taken outside of the Climate Challenge, we found the cities are on track to collectively reduce emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, which will beat the 2025 Paris Agreement goal of a 26 to 28 percent reduction.

Transforming transportation

Since transportation generates a significant share of emissions in the United States at 29 percent, Climate Challenge cities made cutting these emissions a priority. To date, they’ve approved 31 policies and launched 41 programs that have incentivized low-carbon transit, increased vehicle electrification and changed the face of their streets — with 510 miles of new or improved bike lanes and 75 miles of pedestrian-friendly walkways.

To reduce traffic congestion and the emissions that it produces, multiple cities raised new revenue for mass transit to help residents move around without getting into their cars. San Antonio’s innovative Proposition A reallocates one-eighth of every cent of an already existing sales tax to fund nearly $40 million toward cleaner, more efficient public transit. Hamilton County voters in Cincinnati passed Issue 7 to add eight new bus routes and provide 24-hour service in seven major corridors. Overall, Climate Challenge cities added or enhanced 37 miles of bus lanes, among other transit projects. And half a dozen cities launched affordable car-sharing initiatives as an alternative to car ownership.

Nearly half of the cities were able to obtain clean energy sources to power their buildings, with more than 800 megawatts of renewable energy under contract or pending.

Moreover, it’s clear that the future of transportation is electric, so with that in mind, several cities implemented electric vehicle (EV) readiness ordinances, accelerated electrification in municipal fleets for a total of 1,136 new EV buses and cars, and installed 14,143 new EV chargers. Many cities plan to convert to fully EV fleets in the coming years.

Boosting energy efficiency

Commercial and residential buildings, together with the electricity generated from fossil fuel sources, account for a whopping 38 percent of CO2 emissions in the United States. Climate Challenge cities tackled these interconnected sectors by focusing on increasing energy efficiency and sourcing renewable energy. In total, the cities passed 23 policies and launched 30 programs in the buildings and energy sectors.

More than 37,000 energy audits were conducted to assess current usage and efficiency in buildings. Several cities instituted benchmarking policies — covering nearly 400 million square feet of real estate — in concert with building performance standards that set targets for increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions progressively, over time.

Nearly half of the cities were able to obtain clean energy sources to power their buildings, with more than 800 megawatts of renewable energy under contract or pending. In New Mexico, the partnership between a soon-to-be-built solar farm on the Jicarilla Apache Nation reservation and the city of Albuquerque will raise the city’s renewable energy usage to an estimated 65 percent. To ensure sustainability into the future, three cities passed reach codes (standards for energy savings beyond current state requirements) that incorporate EV charging, solar and other renewable energy readiness into new-construction buildings.

Trane employees Christopher Pistolis (left) and Earnell Newman carry their tools as they make their way to a HVAC unit. Pistolis and Newman are just one example of city workforce-development programs. Image courtesy of NRDC/Logan Cyrus

Centering equity

A citywide climate plan can’t be comprehensive without also addressing the needs of underserved communities, which often bear the brunt of polluting industry and have less access to public transit and clean energy options.

Multiple Climate Challenge cities expanded or added bus routes to better serve these vulnerable communities. Some cities with car-sharing programs made sure to install EV charging stations in underserved neighborhoods and/or offer pricing incentives for seniors and low-income residents to access car-sharing options.

Cincinnati’s WarmUp Cincy program assisted low-income tenants with in-unit energy equipment upgrades to reduce emissions in rental buildings. And in partnership with the Climate Challenge and the city of Orlando, Florida, the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF) empowers underserved homeowners to afford solar and other energy-efficient home improvements to amplify the city’s overall resilience against climate change.

To help build more robust, equitable economies, a handful of Climate Challenge cities and their partners introduced green workforce-development programs as part of their clean energy requirements. More than 800 residents so far have been trained or upskilled to work in high-road clean energy jobs. And, if approved by Congress, President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda will further bolster these efforts toward an equitable economic recovery for the country.

Looking forward

As the Climate Challenge has demonstrated, cities can have an outsize impact on climate change and improve people’s lives in a substantive way. With a new administration that’s committed to combating the crisis, federal and state governments can draw on the leading-edge policies and programs that have been test-driven at the local level. And the 25 pioneering cities that embarked on the Climate Challenge will continue to demonstrate how cities can be leaders and drive momentum at all levels of climate action.

This post originally appeared on NRDC’s Expert Blog.

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Environment

Episode 327: Meet Carbontech Startup Air Company

Claudia Baldwin

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This week’s run time is 29:34.

WEEK IN REVIEW (3:45)
FEATURES
Turning carbon into value (18:55)

Gregory Constantine, co-founder and CEO of Air Company, talks growth plans for his startup — a leading carbon use company specializing in consumer goods such as vodka and fragrance made from air.

*Music in this episode: Lee Rosevere: “And So Then,” “4th Ave. Walkup,” “I’m Going for a Coffee” and “Let That Sink In.”

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To make sure you don’t miss the newest episode of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes or Spotify. Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at [email protected].

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The Sustainability Scorecard, Reviewed

Claudia Baldwin

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A version of this article originally appeared in our Circularity Weekly newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here.

I was invited to read a new book and interview one of the authors. As someone who has long enjoyed reading books about sustainability, it was very flattering to be sent a copy of a new book, “The Sustainability Scorecard,” by Paul Anastas and Urvashi Bhatnagar, and asked to provide my thoughts in a review.

Many of our Circularity Weekly readers are probably familiar with Paul Anastas. A hero of mine since graduate school, Anastas is a deep thinker, a brilliant chemist and an engaging speaker. I was far less familiar with Urvashi Bhatnagar. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to chat with Bhatnagar over the phone about her book and immediately became a fan. A healthcare executive and population health expert with a keen eye toward sustainability, Bhatnagar brings a different perspective to “The Sustainability Scorecard” that pairs quite well with Anastas.

“The Sustainability Scorecard” provides a simple and straightforward method for identifying where a company currently is on its sustainability journey and a method to track progress. The book proves that sustainability makes economic as well as ecological sense and guides leaders in creating and scaling their own green supply-chain initiative. I’ve read a lot of sustainability books, and this one provides the most practical steps for corporate improvement. According to Goodreads, “Through repeatable, reliable processes that address operating model design and new key performance indicators to scaling, this book is a practical guide that leaders can rely on to make their existing systems more sustainable and profitable.”

What I learned No. 1: Entrenched systems are not so entrenched

To some degree, this takeaway from the book follows quite well on my piece from a couple Fridays ago. We often get the false sense that the status quo is the status quo is the status quo is the status quo (Wait, did I just type that a bunch of times? Whoops, leaving it in because it helps make the point). “Entrenched systems and globe-spanning companies may appear impossible to dislodge,” Bhatnagar and Anastas write, “but consider that none of the top-10 most valuable companies today were on that list in 1990. Many didn’t even exist in 1990. Big changes can happen within only a few decades.” Because of this, we need to overcome the learned behavior that we can’t make a difference because the behemoths in the economy will never change.

What I learned No. 2: The scorecard framework

Bhatnagar and Anastas have provided a straightforward and scalable model for firms to move directionally towards sustainability. The framework focuses on four areas:

Waste prevention
Maximizing efficiency and performance
Renewable inputs
Safe degradation of materials

While these endpoints are largely rooted in environmental sustainability, they also cross over into social wellbeing for workers, fence-line communities and product users — all very important considerations for any sustainability practice.

When I looked at the scorecard, I was struck by how it is simultaneously simple and in-depth. The four high-level goals manage to get to the heart of how to make more sustainable products and processes without overcomplicating things. The authors have developed a data-driven methodology that can be approached whether you are starting your sustainability work (Initiate phase), are down the path but still learning (Develop phase) or are an industry leader that’s been focused on sustainability for quite some time (Maturity phase). The key to this framework, and I think one of the key insights I pulled from the book, is that directionality is important. In other words, set a direction for your sustainability work that aligns with the best science available and start moving. Sure, the pace we are moving is important, but the direction is far more so.

What I learned No. 3: Perfection is unattainable

When I spoke with Bhatnagar about the book, she mentioned this was one of the sticking points in writing and publishing it. There is always a desire within any framework to define the perfect state, to show users how to grab the brass ring. Bhatnager and Anastas argue that sustainability doesn’t have a perfect state. Even if firms can achieve the best score in all areas of the sustainability scorecard (zeros for all categories in this case), there will always be work to do. The work could be remediating the issues the firm has created in the past or pushing upstream and downstream partners to improve their sustainability. In other words, firms should be reaching for perfection, but it should always be getting farther away as the science evolves and shows us what it means to be sustainable as an individual, a company, a nation and a global community.

Overall

When I look at this book and the Sustainability Scorecard as a whole, I am excited for the structure it can bring to corporate sustainability in all sectors of the economy. Having spent a considerable amount of time in the private sector trying to build sustainability programs, I can confidently say that these broadly applicable frameworks are always welcome as inputs to a sustainability strategy.

I’d encourage folks to pick up this book, give it a read and think about how you can apply the Sustainability Scorecard to your own work. If you set directional goals, track data and measure progress, you can ensure you are moving in the right direction. And remember, if you reach for the brass ring and fall, at least you tried.

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Source: greenbiz.com

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Environment

Episode 326: the Heat Index; a Historic Climate Policy Opp

Claudia Baldwin

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This week’s run time is 44:51.

WEEK IN REVIEW (3:30)
FEATURES
A sweltering European summer (21:05)

James Murray, editor-in-chief of BusinessGreen, chats about record-breaking heat waves in the U.K. and Europe are challenging infrastructure and economies, and reshaping the dialogue about climate risk.

Cognizant CSO reflects on climate change and employee well-being (30:20)

Sophia Mendelsohn, chief sustainability officer and global head of ESG at tech services firm Cognizant, addresses the company’s broad ESG strategy and why employee well-being needs to be considered in the context of climate change.

*Music in this episode: Lee Rosevere: “Keeping Stuff Together,” “Not My Problem,” “Snakes,” “Southside.”

STAY CONNECTED

To make sure you don’t miss the newest episode of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes or Spotify. Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at [email protected].

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