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Cleveland Chief of Sustainability resigns, who will the city get to replace him?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/06/11 @ 2:01pm

Andrew Watterson yesterday resigned his post as Cleveland's Chief of Sustainability. Watterson was promoted by Mayor Jackson to his cabinet in September 2009 hot on the heels of his organizing the first 2019 Summit which has guided the city in its community engagement efforts on green economic development. Watterson and his staff continued to lead 'SC2019' (its shorthand) with a summit in 2010 and last month, organizing hundreds of volunteers around the city's rallying cry to develop green economies.

In his tenure as sustainability director and then Chief, Watterson ushered in some important initiatives-and some where the Mayor was criticized as moving too fast. Of the former, Watterson deserves credit for helping restart the city's curbside recycling program, for a pilot $200,000 LED streetlight program, for SC2019 projects in tandem with volunteer work groups like the new organization pushing for widespread energy retrofits, the Northeast Ohio Energy Alliance, and with the Sustainable Transportation Action Team (STAT), bike lanes on Abbey Avenue and a $6 million bike/ped improvement, including a multi-purpose path, on Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. Watterson and members of the bike community, including STAT, were instrumental in building support at City Hall and getting Complete and Green Streets legislation passed last month. He used his post to push the city's power company, CPP, to improve its energy efficiency and to set a goal and hold all city departments accountable for a 10% energy reduction.

Watterson and Jackson came under fire and eventually scuttled a no-bid contract with Chinese LED manufacturer, Sunpu-Opto Semiconductor Ltd. in 2010 to sell the city millions of dollars' worth of LEDs, including streetlights, for 10 years in exchange for the company locating its North American headquarters here and creating 350 jobs. The Sustainability Office's Waste-to-Energy plant proposal faced criticism from the environmental community about air quality, but the plant hasn't left the drawing board for lack of funding.

Those issues aside, Watterson has done a tremendous job organizing the community, picking the low hanging fruit of energy efficiency and setting the city on the path for examining its commitment to reducing carbon-based energy by spinning it as a green economic strategy. His successor will need to complete the much anticipated Cleveland Climate Action Plan and some funded programs like the Cleveland Energy Savers audits and energy retrofits of 100 homes.

In addition, Watterson's successor still has work to do catching the mayor's ear. Sustainability doesn't yet pervade every decision made at City Hall. In order to accelerate the impact of sustainability, it needs more than plans and slogans. All of the important decisions ? from Economic Development to Building to the city's commitment to retrofitting infrastructure like the West Shoreway, the Innerbelt and Opportunity Corridor ? need the mayor backing up statements like we're 'creating a green city on a blue lake' with the policies like Green and Complete Streets or (still needed) green building standards for all city buildings and the will to see it done. But the biggest job for the next Sustainability Chief is leaving no doubt in the mayor and the other chiefs' minds that sustainability is the best economic driver the city has, and by setting an aggressive agenda, it will produce much stronger outcomes.

The mayor reportedly stated he plans to fill the Chief of Sustainability post, and would like to do so by December, 2011. Who is the best candidate to continue the work and push for more change? No doubt, the mayor and his chief of staff will look for someone who fits with the mayor's low-key management style. They should, however, be aiming really high.

If they could get someone like Case Fowler Center Director Roger Saillant, a recognized authority in renewable energy and sustainability and a pioneer in fuel cells, energy policy, and holistic management techniques as CEO of Plug Power and a senior executive at Ford Motor Company would s/he be the right fit? Someone like Saillant has the private side experience and isn't afraid to ruffle some feathers by asking the tough questions. He might not be the type the mayor wants, but he could be who the city needs at this point to assume the authority necessary to get things done.

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