Being the first day of the meteor shower, I crawled out of bed early to get a glimpse. i had heard that the pre-dawn hours would give the best show. Unfortunately, there was simply too much light pollution and clouds to see a thing. Since I was up early, though, I had time to dress up a little for my first day at the green summit-Sustainable Cleveland 2019: Building an Economic Engine to Empower a Green City on a Blue Lake. I have been looking forward to this for weeks and was glad to be included in it.
First off, it is being held in the Cleveland Convention Center. I have been to an event there before, and I know that it really does not work for conventions. The building is in dire need of updating and refurbishing, and then would still not work very well for the modern conventions that Cleveland hopes to attract. That being said, this was the first time I had seen the inside of the main auditorium and it is beautiful; a little tatty, perhaps, but beautiful all the same. I want a new convention center, but I hate to see this gem destroyed the way that Playhouse Square was nearly torn down, and the way the Cleveland Hippodrome actually was. Once it is gone, it is gone forever and we will never get it back. While there is so much open property around Cleveland’s downtown, why should we be tearing down old world craftsmanship. Why not start over and use a lovely piece of property that is currently a surface lot. Better yet, why not use the stalled Flats project land that is already bull-dozed and ready for use? Anyhow, I digress…
The day started with a little coffee and a chance to say hello to all the hardest working “greenies” in the city. Andrew Watterson got us all seated. With a group of 500-700 people, Andrew and his team deserve a medal for getting this thing together. He introduced Mayor Jackson, who spoke about the need for this summit and why he had called on all of us to be there. We are at a critical time, and to really remake Cleveland, we need the community to come together and do its part. This isn’t just about government or non-profits, it is about big business, small business, educators, the media, youth, students, technical sectors and even the arts. I was glad to see all those groups (and more) represented in the room. Mayor Jackson’s remarks were followed by Barbara Snyder, the president of Case Western Reserve University.
The most inspiring 15 minutes of the morning came from Van Jones, from the White House Office of Environmental Quality. Some of the things he said blew me away, and reminded me why i voted for Barak Obama. This kind of thinking could not have come from the previous administration. He talked about his 1 year old son. If over the previous year, their son had a fever of 1 degree, he and his wife would be concerned. Two degrees and they would be anxious. Three and they would be on the phone to call the doctor. After all, this child of theirs is a finely designed system. It takes care of itself. If something goes wrong, something needs to be done before it is too late. Like a child, our planet is a finely tuned system that will take care of itself. But something is wrong, and as the temperature goes up, we should be truly concerned. Of course, he was eloquent and thoughtful, and I cannot quote him word for word. Since some people say we cannot worry about the environment, while we are concentrating on the economy, Mr Jones explained why we cannot afford not to act to save the environment. If we continue on this path, we are likely to see water levels on Lake Erie drop. That would mean a loss of over $1 billion in commerce on the lake. We could potentially lose $5 billion in farming and agriculture; another $5 billion in forestry; and untold billions in loss of revenue from tourism. He did praise our efforts so far: Ohio is in the top ten in the country for green jobs; we are #7 in patents for clean energy technology; and rank in the top 20 for venture capital in clean tech. We need to grow our green economy to create jobs because, “the best social program is a job. Nothing stops a bullet, like a job.” Truly inspiring.
Between speakers, we worked in groups during break out sessions and reported back to the crowd. We were treated to students who had won awards, who read us their prize winning essays on green subjects. Nothing gives you hope more than the next generation creating a buy-in! Other speakers included David Cooperrider of the Fowler Center and Weatherhead School of Management (who spoke about the return for investors of green businesses like GE, and Whole Foods was over 1000% while the S&P returns were only about 125%), Dr Peter Senge from MIT, and Marc Lautenbach GM of IBM. The day was finished off with an innovation panel with Miquela Craytor (Sustainable South Bronx), Lynette Young (City of Atlanta), Jeff Baldassari (of Bedford-based Taylor Companies), Catherine Gutowski (GE) and Ray Anderson (Interface). It was the perfect way to round out the day. I like hearing what other cities and companies are doing that is cool and exciting.
The one point that Dr. Senge spoke about really reflects my personal feelings about sustainability. We really need to think about whole systems when it comes to “green.” It is no longer about this product or that. Even Coke had missed that the sugar that they bought had its own carbon and water cost. It takes nearly a ton of extracted materials, per day, per person to maintain the lifestyle of the average American. It is devastating to think of all the natural resources we use, and how much we simply waste. Europe is ahead of us. Did you know that in most European countries, when a car reaches the end of it’s life, it must be recycled by the company that manufactured it. It changes the whole equation when a company has to deal with its own product when it is dead. It is this shift in thinking that we need to adopt if there is to be real and lasting change to the way that we do business.
All this and it is only Day1!