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Climate Change

Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (Photo: Living Cities)

The Green Boot Camp: City Leaders Roll Up their Sleeves

The Boot Camp helps U.S. cities save energy and create green jobs.


As stimulus money rolls out to cities and towns this summer, communities are recognizing this unprecedented opportunity to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while creating new jobs. But many city leaders need assistance in figuring out how to use this money most wisely for the largest impact.

Together with Living Cities, a consortium of 21 foundations and financial institutions, ISC organized a Green Boot Camp at Harvard’s Kennedy School—an intensive training and peer-learning program for senior climate, energy and economic development officials from 16 U.S. cities in early June 2009. The camp focused on promising practices for improving, accelerating, and scaling up integrated building energy retrofits and associated green job creation.

U.S. buildings, the bulk of which are in urban areas, use 70% of the total electricity load, and account for about 43% of total carbon dioxide emissions. “The good news is that urban building retrofitting is among the most cost-effective of all climate solutions,” says Steve Nicholas, ISC’s vice president for climate and environment, who led the ISC team. “And many cities have found creative ways to retrofit their buildings. We want to help them scale up these efforts to really impact global warming while jump-starting the green job sector for low-income people and saving money—a triple bottom line.”

Peer networking and learning were at the heart of the camp. Panels of experts and on-the-ground practitioners answered questions on everything from how to get buy-in from large numbers of building owners to how to leverage recovery dollars to create sustainable financing mechanisms. From the Seattle team, for example, Sue Taoka, executive vice president for ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia, discussed that city’s revolving loan model that is helping homeowners offset the initial investment of a retrofit, while Steve Morgan of Clean Energy Solutions outlined key elements of a successful large-scale retrofit effort gleaned from best practices from several cities.

Many city leaders commented on how unusual it is for city officials responsible for energy, workforce and economic development to have the opportunity to gather together and explore new ways of approaching important issues. But this kind of collaboration is critical if leaders want to move beyond working building by building to retrofitting on a citywide scale.

“This is just absolutely amazing to see you here, “ said Gil Sperling of the U.S. Department of Energy, who oversees the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, a key Recovery Act funding source. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am that all of you would take the time to do this, which is why I am taking the time away from the things that I do because this is really important.”

By the end of the camp, leaders from each city were reinvigorated and prepared to return to their cities to tackle the next steps. Some, for example, set specific targets to retrofit half their buildings in 10 years’ time. Others committed to creating a revolving loan program modeled on those already underway in several cities. Many said that they would continue to meet as a team to move their plans forward. The San Francisco team, whose members met for the first time at the airport, said they would work together to build a coordinated, systems-based approach.

The boot camp was part of ISC’s broader Climate Leadership Academy program, which provides training and peer-learning services to local climate practitioners in four areas: building energy efficiency, climate-friendly transportation and land use, green job creation, and climate adaptation.

Next up, in conjunction with the Urban Sustainability Directors' Network meeting on September 21-23, 2009 in Chicago, ISC held a second Climate Leadership Academy on reducing carbon emissions through smart transportation and smart growth management strategies. Future programs will focus on climate adaptation and other topics. Find out more about the Academy or download the Green Boot Camp Resource Guide.