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Cleveland Sustainability Summit day two: Creating a big vision

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/13/09 @ 10:16am

Day two of the Cleveland Sustainability summit moved from standard speaker and networking into working sessions that consisted of brainstorming, drawing, creative ideation like sketch comedy (one group imagined a future not of Goodtime boat tours but 'Best' time with passengers dipping their cups and swigging from an imaginary Cuyahoga River capped by a theme song to sustainability). In the end, the 600 participants broke into small groups along topic area like Water, Renewable Energy, Vacant Land and Transportation to brainstorm and vote on exciting ideas and then move them into a deep dive session that includes a rapid prototype exercise with the goal of laying real groundwork for sustainability projects that advance Cleveland's social, ecological and economic bottom line.

The day started with an inspiring address from Ray Anderson, founder of Interface, a carpet company that, after 13 years is halfway toward its zero waste goal. Anderson is a real sustainable business guru. He dispels the myth that sustainability costs more, saying, his company's sales boomed after embracing zero ecological footprint and pioneering a petrochemical-free process of making carpet.

Anderson explains that humans interact with two essential spheres: The technosphere, which includes using tools to produce goods, and the biosphere, which includes the 'free' function of nature producing clean air and water. He defines sustainability as a state where the technosphere will not take more from the biosphere without which the biosphere can rapidly replace with nothing more than energy of the sun. How? Anderson found biomimicry or copying natures best design solutions, works. "The lowest impact technology should grow. The abusive tech should shrink and disappear. Applied brainpower should grow applied brute force should shrink."

That will mean transforming the traditional manufacturing mindset of "take, make, waste" into one that views resources as cyclical and renewable. An example of this thinking was mentioned in day one of the summit by MIT professor Peter Senge who spoke of the European model of car manufacturing. The law states if you make it, you own it for life. Essentially, the EU agreed that manufacturers must recycle or reuse all of the parts from their cars to make new ones. It means they also have an extensive inventory of what goes into the cars and have started to eliminate toxins like mercury and lead.

The focus is on how do we build prototypes around systems of sustainable thought. How do we design a system to become an economic engine without ecological impact? The following are the Action areas identified at the summit, and suggested points of conversation

  • Local food-Can we act we ramp up local food to be a larger percentage of the 1.1 billion food purchases that the Northeast Ohio region makes per year? Do we need an urban agriculture institute? A garden for every school?
  • Vacant land use and green space ? How will vacant land be restored to help the city improve health and prosperity? Do we need a business incubator or an urban greening institute that encompasses healthy food, restoring ecological function to vacant land
  • Strategic partnerships -- are there other cities in the world, other think tanks we want to collaborate with?
  • Advanced energy research in Cleveland -- to develop advanced research on bleeding edge technologies
  • Waste to profit ? eliminating waste, setting goals such as becoming a zero waste city taking into account lifecycle of products and the economic opportunity of deconstruction.
  • World class sustainability education ? mandating sustainability in public schools, increasing Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) schools, and developing workforce opportunities for green jobs and intergenerational learning.
  • Advanced manufacturing and materials
  • Water ? themes that came up at the summit include improving access to the lake, use of vacant land for stormwater remediation, a W. 6th Street beach, eliminating stormwater runoff, a drinkable, fishable, swimmable Lake Erie
  • Green building ? how do we redesign buildings so that they produce more energy than they use?
  • Health ? How can we improve air quality, public health, reduce asthma and spread safe routes to school. Also, what is the future of wellness and green hospitals?
  • A public compact - Committments at corporate and government level.
  • A manifesto for sustainability in Cleveland -- do we have principles of sustainability or a constitution like document of purposes and principles that companies can sign onto.
  • Creating a communications campaign and branding
  • How to maintain post summit momentum? Do we meet how frequently? What structures in place to insure what we do today and tomorrow isn't an end.
  • How we might develop metrics of success i.e. a carbon price tag for items. The new tools around measurement i.e. formula around lifecycle analysis are getting profound
  • Sustainable business innovation ? ecoindustrial parks research centers urban ag institute green infrastructure academy
  • Sustainable urban mobility bike paths lanes bike stations
  • Social entrepreneurship in urban core ? eradicating poverty creating workforce dev opps green collar jobs for ex-cons
  • How might we work to foster social capital networks -- Green Infrastructure Academy. Urban Barn Raisers. What do we do to engage more people? Sustainability happening at home i.e. personal sustainability planning tools.

We'll report back on what the actual group discussion was about. Speaking with a number of participants and the summit, the general feeling is key will be follow through and integration of all of these sustainability practice areas or action groups.

Read more GCBL coverage of the summit:

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