Memo to Mayor McGinn: Seattle needs to craft a 'greenprint'

Other cities are getting their acts together, moving from grassroots upward, to create a regional green economy plan that builds on local strengths.
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Other cities are getting their acts together, moving from grassroots upward, to create a regional green economy plan that builds on local strengths.

What if everyone wanted to do the right thing but didn'ꀙt know how to work together to achieve a shared outcome? That pretty much sums up the challenge we face in realizing the potential of a green economy.

The Obama Administration has made it a high priority. Most states and localities recognize the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Many businesses now understand the savings from greater efficiency and profits that can be gained from investing in the renewal energy. Labor sees this as a source of jobs.

So what is holding back the growth of a green economy? As we debate national cap-and-trade legislation, our fragmented, stove-piped intergovernmental system is slowing down the implementation of over $40 billion in energy funding. Few states and regions have developed comprehensive energy strategies.

What can be done? It is important to look at this challenge from the bottom up. How can regions bring together all the key public and private players — local, state and federal — to focus on areas of greatest comparative advantage based on the best available, objective data? Good information on the emerging green economy can help states and regions develop more effective strategies.

The dimensions of the green economy are now becoming clearer after the release of the "Clean Energy Economy" report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, and "Green Economy State Profiles" by the National Governors Association. Building on a unique green-establishments data base methodology first developed by Collaborative Economics for the California Green Innovation Index for the nonprofit Next 10, we now have a better picture of the specializations across 15 different segments of the green economy in the 50 states. The good news is that each state has its own specializations and nationally green jobs have been growing faster than overall jobs. The next step is to bring this same information to metro level.

One tool for bring together key stakeholders to develop regional strategies based on this kind of diagnostic information is a negotiated investment strategy first tested in local experiments by the Kettering Foundation in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Teams of local, state, federal officials and private sector leaders negotiated federal, state and local governments'ꀙ urban investments, with the help of a mediator, to make sure they worked efficiently and supportively of each other.

More recently, the Climate Prosperity Project initiated by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has launched a series of regional pilots that are helping to bring together key stakeholders to develop strategies that address climate issues from an economic perspective, recognizing the immense benefits possible benefits for their regions — in savings, business opportunities and jobs.

For example, Joint Venture Silicon Valley convened business, government, academic, utility, and community leaders to negotiate a Climate Prosperity Greenprint that focuses on energy efficiency, renewable energy (especially solar) clean transportation and energy infrastructure. A Climate Prosperity Council has been created, co-chaired by the mayor of San Jose with members from major businesses including Google, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and solar companies. One of the first major projects involved a joint application to the Department of Energy for the development of smart grid and energy storage technology.

Similar climate prosperity greenprints are being developed in Portland, Denver, St. Louis, and the state of Delaware. While each region will develop its own strategies based on their unique comparative advantages, they will be developing their greenprints using a similar analytic framework and common information about green specializations. For example, the St. Louis region is now developing a green economic profile to guide the development of its greenprint. This metro level profile will identify the region's relative strengths in terms of green segments that build on its existing strengths in such areas as green building design and bioenergy.

What does the national Climate Prosperity Project bring to the equation? It offers an economic perspective on climate and energy issues, recognizing their central importance. Then it adds mediation to bring key government and private stakeholders together to think through and develop a green negotiated investment strategy.

By getting our act together at the regional level, there is much that can be done now to promote economic opportunity in the emerging green economy. There will be many different regional solutions rather than a single national solution to our climate and energy challenges. What'ꀙs vital is that we get to work, quickly, defining and implementing them.

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