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Cleveland sustainability summit day one wrap up

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/13/09 @ 10:23am

Van Jones, President Obama's special advisor for green jobs in White House office of environmental quality, founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland and author of Green Collar Economy opened the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit yesterday by calling on Cleveland to help the nation build a green economy.

"People talk about the rust belt; I think we should talk about the green belt," Jones said. "You are already in the top ten in terms of patents and supply of green energy technology. Right here in Ohio, you have some of most skilled workers in world; the highest number of engineers in world. What you haven't had is the benefit of a full community effort to lift them up and get across finish line."

The only way to have the jobs of tomorrow is to produce the products of tomorrow in America, Jones added. Cleveland manufacturers can start by tapping $50 million in Recovery Act funds to retool their facilities and retrain their workers to build those products like advanced autos that rely on smart batteries can go 100 miles on gallon of gas, and green energy systems such as solar and wind turbines. For example, there's enough steel in a wind turbine to make 26 cars.

The key to the summit (and the aftermath) is to discover and share the dreams for the future of Cleveland. Following Van Jones, we had table conversations seeking visions of what Cleveland in 2019 will look like. I spoke to Gene Matthews, facilities manager at Case, whose dreams include starting up a Cleveland Electric Car Company where we tap into the Recovery Funds to buy one of the old Big Three auto plants to start an employee-owned car company in Cleveland building electric cars. Matthews was excited to share his stories of how his bringing sustainability into action at Case. He empowers his staff to think entrepreneurially about their jobs and to not fear failure. He shared an example where he 'cajoled' a building manager at Case to try an $1,800 pump and plastic pipe to recapture water from a giant condenser which has saved 1 million gallons of water. It has lead to more initiatives including changing lights (to LEDs) and changing attitudes, Matthews said.

Day one of the summit had an interesting mix of hundreds of one-on-one conversations like mine with Matthews, and speakers who are discussing the opportunities to push this Green City on a Blue Lake agenda.

Cleveland is the first city to embrace and combine the powerful tools of sustainability and the mayor is to be commended for the courage of looking at opportunities through the lens of sustainability, says Tom Morley, owner of LubeStop an $18 million company that has a strong sustainability mission in its EcoGuard process.

If Cleveland were to aspire to be a place of sustainable growth, how would we make that happen? Start by asking questions ? do we have a cluster of players, key enablers ? an educated workforce, research and development capability and capital? How do we help move that into position which will lead to pathways out of poverty for disadvantaged residents of the urban core and as an opportunity to design products to solve a problem and build social capital and improve environmental conditions? Ohio has a location advantage and advantage in existing capabilities in advanced manufacturing and advanced materials ? how do we turn some of the location advantages like water into an asset?

Van Jones and nationally recognized leaders in the new green business movement being in Cleveland and the collective dreaming of a sustainability Cleveland in 2019 from the 600 participants at the summit are significant. As Jones observed, "This is not happening in every city in America. This is a rare moment where a city with great past and great future has come together to dream big. This is no time for small dreams because your country needs you."

As David Cooperrider, the summit facilitator and director of the newly renamed Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case noted: "I've never seen anything move as quickly as the sustainability movement, this business as a force for economic innovation. There is a revolution happening. I like the term 'Firms of endearment'. We now have solid analysis around economic capacity of sustainable business and we seeing companies like Whole Foods, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters bringing in 1000% return on investment."

Read more GCBL coverage of the summit:

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