Summit on EcoDistricts in Portland

By Steph Stoppenhagen, CH2M HILL Sustainability Strategist Lead and Client Service Manager

According to the Portland Sustainability Institute, an EcoDistrict is a “neighborhood or district with a broad commitment to accelerate neighborhood-scale sustainability. EcoDistricts commit to achieving ambitious sustainability performance goals, guiding district investments and community action, and tracking the results over time.” The idea is to look at the entire neighborhood system and put a plan together about how the community can implement sustainability measures. These measures include features such as: decentralized utilities, district-scale renewable energy production; green buildings; sustainable landscape design and green streets; smart grid; environmentally friendly transportation; urban habitat and roof gardens; food production; sustainable water and waste management; community health and connectivity; and citizen behavior—such as car and bike sharing, recycling or habitat conservation.

According to Rob Bennett, Executive Director of the Portland Sustainability Institute, as written in the Huffington Post article “From Green Building to Green Cities,” the EcoDistricts theory demonstrates “that the world’s greatest greening opportunity may not be saving trees, but rather making our cities self-reliant so they are less dependent on the natural order for resources.”

Progressive mayors, city administrators and developers are driving the creation of these green neighborhoods, and I don’t think they have a choice. In 2008, more people lived in cities than not for the first time in world history. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that by 2030 the numbers of those living in cities will swell to 5 billion, with urban growth concentrated in Africa and Asia. While mega-cities have captured most of the attention, most of the new growth will occur in smaller towns and cities that have fewer resources to adapt to the change. Neighborhoods are the building blocks of these cities and towns—semi-autonomous areas where people build their lives and root their identities. Neighborhoods are also the right scale to accelerate sustainability—small enough to innovate quickly and big enough to have a meaningful impact. This link between people and scale makes neighborhoods the most critical “intervention points” within cities to identify and develop sustainability strategies.

During the week of October 24, I had the privilege of presenting and serving as moderator for a session at the EcoDistricts Summit 2011 in Portland, Oregon, which is a premier annual event dedicated to this neighborhood-scale sustainability innovation. The Summit was well attended by approximately 400 people from around the world and showcased a number of projects globally that are exploring the many features of EcoDistrict. These projects create jobs, strengthen the clean technology and real estate development sectors, and provide on-going revenue and resources. I moderated the panel, “District-Scale Assessment and Decision Tools: Getting to the Right Project Investments,” which presented the inside scoop on assessment and decision tools used by the public and commercial sectors across multiple scales of decision making.

My own presentation featured the District of Columbia’s GreenUP website that CH2M HILL is about to help launch to the public. The District of Columbia wishes to lower the barriers to action and make it easy for property owners to gather the appropriate information to make informed decisions based on the characteristics of their particular property. GreenUP will specifically help promote the adoption of energy solutions and reduction of stormwater discharge in the District by helping property owners realize and understand their property’s energy usage and stormwater discharge. The District is hoping GreenUP will help spur a shift to climate-friendly behaviors and continue the city’s transformation to an EcoDistrict.

GreenUP is an interactive tool that allows citizens to see the impact of their climate-change related activities, which is important because citizens want to see the collective results of their individual actions. Seeing and understanding the connection between their activities and impacts also helps to motivate people and create competition among neighborhoods. Overall, the GreenUP website:

—Brings the issue of climate change home by providing information about carbon sources and environmental solutions on a local level.

—Conveys the message that “solutions are closer than you think” by offering easy access to resources that suggest effective options.

—Provides a decision-making platform for individuals to set explicit goals according to personal effort, cost savings, and environmental impact.

—Creates confidence that, by taking these small steps, individuals are contributing to the big solution by providing feedback on cumulative benefits/results.

—Provides the ability to inspire others property owners to take action.

Overall, I truly enjoyed the Summit and the emphasis it put on creating behavior change in the public. In order for EcoDistricts to be successful, all communities must be on board with the projects and aware of how individual behaviors affect collective results and change.  The work CH2M HILL is promoting, such as the District of Columbia’s GreenUP site, follows these principles and implements the methodologies to help achieve significant change… I love it and I am energized!

Steph Stoppenhagen is a Sustainability Strategist Lead and a Client Service Manager for CH2M HILL’s Water Business Group in Portland, Oregon. Steph helps lead the sustainability ‘think tank initiatives’ at CH2M HILL Global Sustainability. Steph was responsible for the development of the technical team of solar experts that have defined a patented methodology called SAFE ™ Method (Solar Automated Feature Extraction) which automates the process of examining the Photovoltaic (PV) potential of rooftops and reduces the time to analyze this potential by 75 percent. Steph now integrates SAFE™ with various City and utilities globally, to link with climate change requirements. Steph is focused on eco-innovation with the creation of urban services systems that connect communities with their carbon goals.

Read another blog by Steph on EcoDistricts, “Creating Sustainable Urban ‘EcoDistricts’.”

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