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Cleveland Sustainability Chief McGowan talks about the city's Climate Action Plan

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/10/13 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Transform

With the release this week of the draft Cleveland Climate Action Plan, we sat down with Cleveland Sustainability Chief Jenita McGowan and director of the Office of Sustainability Matt Gray to talk about how the CAP will guide the city and its residents in its sustainability initiatives.

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First off, congratulations on the release of the draft Cleveland Climate Action Plan (CAP), and on setting an ambitious goal of reducing the city’s carbon emissions 50% by 2030.

What message does Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan send? How does it frame the issue of sustainability specifically for Cleveland?

JM: I think the CAP builds off the work of Sustainable Cleveland 2019. It drills down in to specific ways we can take action with climate in line with the city’s goal of building a sustainable economy that builds equity for all. It helps people make sustainable choices, creates jobs, healthy water and air and reduces carbon emission and gets to the co-benefits that are in the 2019 Action and Resources Guide.

MG: We’ve been thinking ‘bold yet achievable’ all along, and the 34 actions in the plan are in line with that. It gets to that triple bottom line (focus on environment, economy and social equity).

What are the most important things that will be created or improved with a reduction of 50% of carbon emissions?

JM: First, I’d say, it’s a comprehensive approach. The actions are spread across six categories. What we’ll see and experience when the plan is implemented is a built environment that favors density and transit, and that is using best practices for clean water. So, you might see more greening, more tree canopy cover. As individuals, we’ll experience healthier, more comfortable buildings and improved air quality. And we hope we’ll have a more engaged public as we take action for climate.

MG: Most of these actions will create local jobs. Energy efficiency is good for the bottom line of households and businesses, and they’re jobs that can’t be outsourced.

Ok, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here for a moment and ask, Why is it important to have the actions within the plan—with industry, transportation, and new homes and buildings getting more efficient, aren’t larger forces like green building and lean manufacturing taking care of most of this?

JM: I think the point is to accelerate those things here in Cleveland. Frankly, there’s more development now than there has ever been, but we can’t rely on new development. We have to look at retrofits of existing buildings. We have a legacy infrastructure. We also need a sense of urgency in dealing with greenhouse gas reductions that this plan acknowledges.

MG: If you believe in the climate science, then we really have to accelerate a lot of these things. Most are being done, maybe by someone else, at the bleeding edge, but for us it’s about how to get it to a lot of homes and business. The city has a big role, to lay that out, acknowledge that these things are happening, accelerate where things are happening already. It’s about replication and scaling up.

What about the plan do you hope will spur something new or transformative in Cleveland?

JM: I would say all are new. All 34 steps. None are things we are doing today. We cannot predict what innovations will come along. My assumption is that new partnerships will come out of that.

How has or will it prioritize the actions the city will take?

JM: The recent energy aggregation program that the city did (offering 100% renewable energy to FirstEnergy customers) is one of the actions under advanced and renewable energy (#9). We spelled it out in the CAP as part of larger suite of strategies. It touches 60,000 customers, with an annual reduction of 3% of Cleveland’s total carbon.

We also got a grant from World Wildlife Fund and Enterprise to bring (the CAP) to neighborhoods. We’re developing a toolkit for community development corporations to make this real, to identify projects that link up to the city plan.

What actions in municipal operations make the most sense and why?

JM: To put this in to context, we have a plan for the community and the city as well. We have a Sustainable Cleveland action plan that has 26 steps with material conservation and water conservation. We have a specific action plan for city in phase one of the CAP. We did two plans because we wanted to make sure we were clear on our specific municipal role, so for example, it has actions that CPP might do. Our Cleveland municipal action plan drills down in to that.

Let’s talk about one specific action step—Step Two in the Energy Efficiency and Green Building category is “Support programs and policies to retrofit commercial and industrial buildings”—that would take on a significant share—24%—of the city’s carbon emissions from buildings. What models of success or existing resources are out there that you’d like to see explored further here?

MG: Existing programs are working well, and we could look at expanding on the residential side the EnergySaver program which has done 150 retrofits out of 300 audits. That’s a 50% success rate, and something we can build on. The weatherization program. These things work, and they’re cost effective. And we’re open to exploring new programs. We’re encouraging anti-idling and improving transit.

It seems like a lot of carbon reductions could happen with a frank conversation with industry. How can the city partner best with the community—both residents and business, particularly industry, to grow and change in a lower carbon way?

JM: I think a lot of industry is already on that path. It’s good for their bottom line. If you look in the community engagement section of the plan you can see the steps being taken already. Our hope between this draft is to have a better understanding of their pathway forward and how we as a community can be involved in that. On page 3 (the advisory committee) you see a lot of energy companies and businesses are in because of their commitment to carbon reduction. Where do they need our help to tell their story?

MG: We’re acting as a convener, where we see a role in the city to fill these gaps is in partnering with them.

How can the city simultaneously manage its issues like abandonment, and promote growth in a low carbon, low consumption way?

JM: This reinforces a lot of things the city’s already doing. Infill development near transit, and green infrastructure. And it’s emphasizing sustainable mobility and community engagement and shoring up the housing stock.

The CAP mentions the city’s green team—what policy within, for example, zoning and building codes and transportation investments has the green team identified as an effective strategy in reducing current and future carbon emissions?

JM: We’re having some beginning conversations around solar permitting and documents that help people through that process. That would be a policy change under Action 8 advanced and renewable energy...

MG: It’s dealing with net metering and interconnection. Most of the cost of installing solar panels are soft costs—the processes that homeowners have to go through. If we streamline those practices, could we increase solar without taking on financing.

Some cities are accelerating energy efficiency by requiring building owners to disclose their energy consumption, do you see a role for the city working perhaps with the Cleveland 2030 District to do something like this?

JM: We’re already working with the Cleveland 2030 District. All of the downtown buildings in the 2030 District will disclose their energy use. We’re on the advisory committee, and committed to help them. Disclosure (in Cleveland 2030) is voluntary. Without it being mandated it opens (more) doors. It’s why you’ve seen (developers) like Geis has signed on.

Have you settled on a suite of metrics that is appropriate for a city with heavy industry?

JM: One reason to have a climate action plan is we do have a unifying metric—greenhouse gas reductions. There are many other metrics within this that are important and I think you see them in there. A lot of businesses do an energy intensity metric (measuring energy versus output), but when you’re doing it for a whole city it gets very complex. Carbon emissions per capita, do you track commuters or per GDP? How about if your economy switches from industry to service? Things get complex fast when talking about a whole city. Having some discussions to know if it’s worth it to track intensity, and whether it’s worth it to track no growth, low or high growth scenarios? Or, if we separate industry.

MG: On our 2019 site, we have an indicators dashboard. We’re looking at metrics like sustainable mobility, and asking, what is the key one here? Reducing single occupancy mode share it captures a lot of submetrics.

How would you like people to give you feedback on the plan?

We would love them to go to this link to the Cleveland Climate Action Plan. Click on it, look at the plan, and fill in the comments.

Generally, we want to make sure what people do at home or at work is captured here.

We’re accepting comments now through July 31. We hope to have the final plan out prior to the 2019 Summit on Oct. 3-4

At the summit will have break out groups by topic and will be breaking out by topics of CAP to keep momentum going. We plan to play a role around facilitation and tracking of the plan. It’s about shared leadership and accountability. We have a role to play. The (CAP) advisory committee will continue to convene, and in terms of implementation we’ll have a lot to chew on.

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Albert Porter
4 years ago

How does the Opportunity Corridor six-lane freeway fit into the city's sustainability plan?

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