I don’t like when people oversell the importance of cities for climate action. Federal, state, and provincial policies and programs — such as cleantech rebates and tax credits, zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates, renewable energy targets, fuel economy standards, and carbon pricing — are hugely important.
Nonetheless, it’s true that cities are where most of the world’s people live, and they can make the move to cleantech and away from burning up the planet go much, much — much — faster. In fact, some policies could be more powerful than critical levers like ZEV mandates or renewable energy standards, and if adopted broadly, make the ZEV and renewable energy transition happen faster than most of us think possible.
At a time when someone who has spent his career suing the EPA to allow more pollution and to not engage in climate action is being selected to head the EPA, we will rely on the work of cities more than ever before.
Following my “10 Top Cleantech Christmas Gifts” and “10 Best Electric Cars For The Money (Right Now)” articles, I’m stepping things up to the city level and listing 10 cleantech solutions to convince your city to implement.
First, though, here’s a push to make a push:
Civic-minded citizens involved in local politics have a hugely outsized impact on local policies. People pay little attention to and largely don’t vote for the president of the United States and members of Congress, but they pay even less attention to the people running the show on the local level. As an example, “average turnout in a New York City Council race hovers around 15%.”
Yikes! And that’s just about people voting!
If you want to change local policies and you work a bit on this on a regular basis, you can influence city/county/state staff, can make it easy for them to implement winning decisions, and can probably have much more impact than you ever thought possible.
To start, it may be useful to focus on one or two key priorities — specific policies you can promote to the local power players, the public, and the media. Below are 10 of my top picks for such ideas. Chime in with yours as well!
In coming months, we will spend time promoting more such ideas, and methods for getting them adopted. Needless to say, though, repetition and examples of other municipalities or countries implementing these are going to be critical to success in many cities.
1. Convince your city to work with Volkswagen MOIA, Tesla Transit, or others to pioneer self-driving electric minibuses.
Of course, these are private-sector initiatives, but I assume early implementations (at least) will coordinate with city agencies. And you know government agencies and elected officials love to toss around their leadership in “public–private partnerships!”
2. Convince your city to implement a car-free city center, like Madrid (Spain) is experimenting with for 9 days and may implement completely by 2020. Oslo (Norway) is also planning to do this within a few years.
Of course, plenty of smaller cities already have this in areas — like Wrocław (where I live), Groningen (where I lived), and Charlottesville (where I lived). Once you experience this, it’s hard to understand why any city would have it differently.
3. At the least, convince your city to make the city center free of polluting gas/diesel cars, like Poland is considering doing and several global cities (like Amsterdam, Paris, and London) are rumored to be considering as well.
Of course, banning diesel vehicles — like Mexico City, Athens, Madrid, and Paris are doing — is one step in that direction, but there’s no reason that gas/petrol vehicles can’t or shouldn’t be banned as well.
4. Convince your city to invest a ton of money into bicycling infrastructure (a mayor doubling his predecessor’s commitment is a good starting place). This is one of the best ways you can create jobs and boost the local economy anyway. And it vastly improves quality of life in the city.
5. Convince your city to streamline solar permitting so it’s an over-the-counter process rather than something that takes several months. Palo Alto cut the red tape massively to get its solar permitting down to something that can be done in 1–5 days. This should be the norm. Contact Gil Friend, Chief Sustainability Officer of Palo Alto, for some help inspiring and implementing this.
6. For that matter, convince your city to require that all new residential and commercial buildings include solar power — like Sebastopol & Santa Monica & San Francisco have done, and Lancaster has partially done (just residential buildings for now).
Yes, the leaders are so far in California, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Cities around the world should be mandating rooftop solar in order to clean up their air, create local jobs, protect the health of their residents, and take climate action.
7. Convince your city to stimulate/attract electric carsharing and ridesharing services, like a few Polish cities are doing. Point #1 at the top is in a similar vein to this, but those electric + autonomous electric minibus technologies are further away. In the meantime, electric carsharing and ridesharing systems can be stimulated by cities in various ways — they are complementary anyway.
Electric carsharing cuts local traffic, saves residents money, protects resident health, improves urban livability, creates more free space in the city by cutting parking, and just makes the city look cool.
The BlueIndy program in Indianapolis is an up-and-running program that you can highlight to inspire local council members, city staff, and the public to jump into the action.
As an aside, I remember when bikesharing programs were first popping up. I went to conferences where sessions about them were niche but enthusiastic. They were clearly an awesome solution and have predictably gotten extremely popular (by the way, if your city doesn’t have one, that’s a bonus idea). Even though there aren’t many electric carsharing programs right now, I think there will be in a decade. Lead the way!
As you may have seen, I’m launching an electric carsharing startup with a few other guys here in Poland — ELMO. Let us know if you want to jump into our founding party, or if you want us to come to your city! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
EV Charging in Palo Alto – Vetter Family Testimony from Vanessa Warheit on Vimeo.
8. At the very least, convince your city to require that all new buildings be EV ready. Again, this is something Palo Alto also did … 3 years ago! (Time flies.) It’s pretty simple — building codes should require that new buildings have wiring lined up to easily install EV charging spots.
As part of that — or related to it — as the video above highlights, a simple permitting procedure for curbside EV charging stations should also be in place.
Or, you can take it a step further — as Amsterdam has done — and the city can install on-street charging stations for any residents who request one.
Of course, simply installing EV charging stations around the city for people is also a great idea! It can even enable people without home charging to live comfortably with a 1st-generation EV!
I guess that was 4 ideas instead of one — well, 3 more bonus ideas.
9. Naturally, pushing for sustainable, walkable, bike-friendly, transit-oriented development patterns and policies is also an everlasting “duh.” This shouldn’t even be an agenda item any more, but it definitely still is.
This includes a concentrated core and/or nodes, good mass transit, transit-oriented development, satisfactory (not ridiculously fragmented and limited) bicycle infrastructure, human-scale streets, etc.
10. Convince your city to jump into EV procurement for some local agencies. EV procurement simply makes sense now. Total cost of ownership makes certain fully electric and plug-in hybrid electric models the best options for many applications — certainly for electric bus fleets, but vehicles like the Chevy Bolt, Nissan LEAF, Nissan e-NV200, Renault Zoe, and Chevy Volt are also great for many types of fleets.
David Dunn, Fleet and Facilities Management Division Manager at the city of Orlando, has great experience in this space, and I highly encourage you to reach out to him to get advice and inspiration: email@example.com
All of these actions can and should be promoted by Democrats and Republicans alike (as well as Greens, Independents, etc.). There’s absolutely no good reason why Democrats should have a monopoly on cleantech action — that’s just the way things turned out on the federal level. On the city level, there are and should be many proponents of cleantech action on both sides of the aisle.
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