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Jersey Strong means more than being ready for the next Sandy.

It’s about being ready to thrive in the coming years, no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.

It’s about taking Sustainability seriously. Going beyond the low-hanging fruit of energy savings and waste reduction. Real sustainability in the era of climate change will be about innovation, growth, and business opportunities.

A new NJDEP initiative aims to do just that.

Bob Marshall, Assistant Commissioner for DEP Sustainability and Green Energy, hosted a meeting today where he introduced a draft proposal for a NJ Sustainable Business Registry.

(The meeting was in Trenton but I attended by webinar. Well done NJDEP.)

The idea is sort of like how Sustainable Jersey offers municipalities a step-by-step action plan for being a greener, more economically successful, and generally nicer place to live.

But for businesses.

The draft being considered is based on the State of Maryland’s “Smart, Green, and Growing” program.

Here are the draft goals for a NJ program:

1. Promote sustainability planning and practices among New Jersey businesses to enhance economic success, environmental protection, and an improved quality of life.

2. Identify and share resources to educate and encourage the New Jersey business community on SROI (sustainable return on investment).

I was happy to hear that this program would be a partnership between NJDEP and the NJ Small Business Development Centers.

And that there was support in the room from Sustainable Jersey, NJ Green Association, the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise at Fairleigh Dickinson University and others.

While it’s still in the beginning planning stages, I feel it’s getting off on the right foot.

For more information, contact the NJDEP Office of Sustainability and Green Energy.

 

 

 

 

Who is making sure New Jersey is ready for the next Sandy?

That’s the question I brought to yesterday’s Climate Change Preparedness in New Jersey: Leading Practices and Policy Priorities conference at Rutgers University.

The conference delivered as promised. The morning and lunch panelists described where NJ and other states stand in preparing for coming climate change impacts on public health, land use, planning, business, and communities. (Answer: Just getting started.)

Experts from past disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Superstorm Sandy, shared their lessons learned.

The afternoon session I attended explained how an alliance of NJ-focused planning, development, and conservation groups are working together to create a climate change adaptation plan for New Jersey.

My takeaway for the day, from what was said and unsaid, is that the NJ Climate Change Adaptation Alliance has stepped up to fill the leadership and coordination role that I feel the Governor and the NJ DEP should be doing.

(Missing) Elephant in the Room: To the best of my knowledge, there was no one (among 250+ participants) from the NJ DEP or NJ state government.

Word Not Spoken—Mitigation: I asked the following question in my afternoon breakout session: “Why is today’s event focused only on adaptation? And not on mitigation as well or in addition to? Is it because the cow is out of the barn as far as climate change is concerned?”

The session moderator replied that the Climate Change Adaptation Alliance is focused specifically on, well, adaptation. While important, mitigation is outside the scope of this group’s work, she said.

One of the panelists, Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society, added that increased CO2 is already baked into the atmosphere. Given that, there’s no preventing the effects (temperature effects and sea level rise) that are already happening.

RGGI did not come up in any presentations I heard or in my conversations.

Who’s Not Playing on the Team: All five of the panelists at the afternoon session I attended mentioned the need for State leadership to coordinate and drive climate change adaptation preparedness. Left unsaid: this isn’t happening today.

Dillingham mentioned that New Jersey has the Global Warming Response Act on the books that isn’t being used. (If Matt Polsky hadn’t mentioned this Act recently, I wouldn’t have known what he was talking about. It was a quick aside, so I’m not sure how many people in the room got the reference.)

Presentations & Coverage: As of posting, here are links to the presentations and press coverage:

Agenda and Presentation Links

NJ Spotlight

Atlantic City Press

Notable Quotes and Points:

“Superstorm Sandy is a gamechanger in terms of a broader understanding of Climate Change in New Jersey.” — James H. Hughes, Dean, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy:

“[We formed] the Alliance one and a half years ago because we recognized NJ is a vulnerable place, with a long shore line and older cities. We saw a need to bring people and resources together to plan for the future. Not just respond but plan forward.” — Anne Hoskins, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs and Sustainability, PSEG

75% of NJ Residents Are Concerned About Climate Change: Bloustein School Professor Greenberg shared new survey results. Read the Atlantic City Press’ coverage.

New Rutgers Climate Institute Announced: Just before lunch, Dean Robert Goodman announced that, as of September 1, 2013, two Rutgers climate initiatives (Climate and Society, and Climate and Environmental Science), will merge into a united Rutgers Climate Institute. Creating, he said, a “single portal for all things climate at Rutgers.”

“There will be winners and losers in global climate change.” This idea came up in several presentations, meaning not every habitat or species or location can be saved. “Retreat” of property to higher ground as an adaptation strategy came up a few times. Goals need to be reexamined in light of scientific realities about the changes ahead. This is a concept that is easy to talk about but hard to do. At least it got mentioned even if only on a surface level.

“Find Common Ground & Adjust the Message to Meet Your Audience”: NOAA Director Margaret Davidson’s straightforward style reminded me of Hunter Lovins. She compared Climate Change conversations to golf: you have to play it where it lays. She said, “Senator Inhofe doesn’t get climate but he sure gets drought.” Whether or not people agree on the details, she said, “Something’s going on with the weather.”

“The Poor Always Pay More” I was pleased that the conference made room to address the needs of poor and vulnerable citizens. Two presentations were devoted to Public Health impacts (Michael A. McGeehin) and Environmental Justice issues (Beverly Wright). The “differential effects of weather disasters” means that poor and vulnerable people suffer more and more often. Adaptation plans have to put the needs of these people first.

“Talk About Nature’s Defenses Instead of Ecosystem Services” Another common theme was the wise advice to explain things simply. It makes more sense to talk about how “Nature protects people and property better than anything we can build out of concrete,” rather than “adaptation strategies” or “ecosystem services.”

Presentation Especially Worth Reading: State of New Jersey’s Climate — Professor Tony Broccoli, Rutgers University (Broccoli presentation)

If we aren’t going to get the leadership I feel we need from our State government officials, it’s good to know that the state’s scientists, business leaders, planning and public health experts, conservation advocates, social welfare organizers, and others are already tackling the job.

I’m encouraged that the NJ Climate Change Adaptation Alliance’s work will bring us to a robust and comprehensive state-wide plan. Every state surrounding NJ has one, and we should too.

We need to be ready when—not if—our next Sandy hits.

Here’s what I’ll be doing Wednesday.

WHAT: A day-long conference, “Climate Change Preparedness in New Jersey: Leading Practices and Policy Priorities,” focusing on climate change preparedness and resilience in New Jersey.

In addition, leading practices throughout the United States to enhance climate change adaptation capacity in New Jersey will be discussed.

Hosted by the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance.

It’s a really good line-up of speakers covering the gamut of the ways that a changing climate will impact how we live, work, play, and succeed in New Jersey.

Morning panels will feature nationally recognized experts who will discuss leading practices, innovations and trends for climate change preparedness and resilience for sectors of relevance to New Jersey, like agriculture, coastal communities, natural resources, public health, transportation, utilities and water resources.

Afternoon panelists will include in-state experts who will discuss climate adaptation practices underway in New Jersey. A complete agenda with panelists is available online.

But here’s the weird part.

How come there are no panelists from the NJDEP or the NJDEP SAGE (Sustainability and Green Energy) office?

Who is representing the role that our state government needs to play in helping support NJ Climate Change mitigation and adaptation strategies?

 

“Luck should never be part of your critical planning.”

After Sandy’s floodwaters receded, NYC’s subways were back up running in days. Six months out, NJ Transit is still not fully operational.

How come?

We now know, thanks to diligent reporting, that the NYC MTA had a fully vetted and tested climate change adaptation plan, and that NJ Transit did not.

Via WNYC.org:

How NJ Transit Failed Sandy’s Test

But the fate of NJ Transit’s trains – over a quarter of the agency’s fleet – didn’t just hang on one set of wrong inputs. It followed years of missed warnings, failures to plan, and lack of coordination under Governor Chris Christie, who has expressed ambivalence about preparing for climate change while repeatedly warning New Jerseyans not to underestimate the dangers of severe storms.

The silver lining is my hope that this reporting will help fuel productive conversations about my state’s preparations for dealing with climate change-related events. So that New Jersey is better prepared next time.

Join me at the May 22 New Jersey Climate Adaptation Conference: Climate Change Preparedness in New Jersey: Leading Practices & Policy Priorities.

 

 

 

Measuring wellbeing, like happiness, is complicated.

But in the spirit of Alex Steffan’s “dark grey paint,” the people who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of people who are doing it.

The Australian government stepped up and announced the first nationwide benchmarking Sustainability report on May 9. The report canvasses trends in environment, society, economy and collective wellbeing.

What I like about it is that the authors don’t shy away from measuring the hard stuff. They shine light on ideas that usually go unreported in balance sheets and State of the Union addresses. Ideas like wellbeing and the health of natural ecosystems often slip through the cracks of conveniently concrete numbers and census choices.

And can I tell you how much I love that Australia has a Sustainability Minister? His whole job is to make sure the country thrives today while planning for future generations to have the same chance.

Via Theaustralian.com.au:

Sustainability Council’s First Report Out

Sustainability Minister Tony Burke said the 264-page tome offered a comprehensive set of indicators that could give “a sense of how we were doing, generation to generation”.

The government-funded report does not make specific recommendations but examines trends in Australia’s environment, society, economy and collective wellbeing.

Mr Burke said he hoped the biannual report would come to be treated much like job growth or GDP figures.

“One of the things we were determined to make sure of was that we would eventually get to the point where people would follow sustainability indicators as closely as they would follow economic indicators,” he told the launch.

When you start to find ways to measure more things that matter, the result is a richer, more nuanced picture of what you have in front of you. From there, you can make it better.

 

They turned off the lights when they left the room.

And shut off computers and unplugged things.

That’s how the staff at a New Jersey elementary school cut their energy use by 52 percent and won the EPA’s 2012 Energy Star Battle of the Buildings challenge.

But that’s not the real story. Nobody really cares about the award. Sure, it’s nice. But nice doesn’t pay the bills.

I’ll tell you what this award means. One of my running partners is a fifth grade math teacher at the winning school, Demarest Elementary, in Bloomfield, NJ. I remember when she mentioned the program to me last year.

She didn’t talk about green, or energy, or sustainability. Rather, she said:

“We’re turning off lights when we leave the room and it’s going to save one of our jobs.”

The money saved on energy bills totaled up to about one staff position that wouldn’t need to get cut in annual budget negotiations.

One more teacher in the classroom, helping New Jersey kids get a good education.

This success didn’t happen in a brand-new facility with fancy solar panels, by the way. It’s a standard-issue 1950s multi-story school with large windows and cacophonous hallways. One of thousands just like it around the country.

If it can happen in Bloomfield, NJ, it can happen anywhere. And it will.

Read the full Energy Star Battle of the Buildings report.

Time to stand up for the S-word.

Sustainability.

Most people I talk to still don’t know what this word means.  I have to say, “Like green. But bigger. Everything a company or community does to stop messing up the planet.”

That generally makes the light bulb go on. In my experience, there is still a pretty low awareness of Sustainability as a profitable business approach.

So we know there’s a gap in understanding. That’s why there is real, honest debate about the S-Word in the corporate and environmental communities.

Like this: Joel  Makower’s Why Sustainability Execs Should Shun the S-Word

And this:  Matt Polsky’s Do We Still Need the S-Word?

And even the “let’s come up with something better”: Kathrin Winkler’s An idea for 2013: Crowdsourcing Sustainability

For myself, I land on the S-word side. Sustainability is a perfectly good word.

Imperfect, perhaps, in explaining the full spectrum of doing right the right things for people, profits and the planet. But generally positive and moving in the right direction.

Which is why it makes me nuts when a political group grabs hold and twists it into something else.

Get this. The major of Provo, Utah, John Curtis, has acquiesced to Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists’ concerns and said he won’t use the S-word anymore.

Provo Mayor Accused Of Participating In Agenda 21

(KUTV) Tonight the mayor of a Utah County city is editing his words after accusations that Provo might be under the control of a sinister plan by the United Nations to take over the world.

Mayor John Curtis wrote a blog, mostly tongue in cheek, saying he will no longer use the word “sustainable” when talking about the city’s budget

When Curtis says sustainable budget he says it means not spending more money than the city has. But there is a world out there, lead primarily by glen beck who says sustainability is just a code word for a United Nations environmental scheme to take over the world by eliminating property rights. The program is known as Agenda 21.

Curtis was perplexed by accusations of Agenda 21 agents infiltrating Provo and he says many residents have told the mayor to watch his back.

Curtis began researching Agenda 21 and he stumbled upon a list of 100 words to watch for to see if your city council is under UN control and at the top of the list is sustainability.  The list contains many other words city governments use all the time.

Curtis says Provo leaders are only influenced by Provo voters but sometimes he says getting some people to believe him isn’t always sustainable.

“The moment you tell them you don’t have to worry about Agenda 21,” Curtis says, “they worry about agenda 21.”

Mayor Curtis seems to have his sense of humor intact and his priorities straight. In essence, he’s saying: Fine. You don’t like me using a certain word because for you it has connections to a conspiracy theory? Then I won’t use it. Problem solved. Now on to the People’s Business.

He says as much on his blog.

Via provomayor.blogspot.com:

Sustainability is Officially Out in Provo

Merriam-Websterdefines sustainability as “using a resource so that the resource is not depleted.” For three years we have been using the word sustainable in reference to our budget. The intent is that we want a budget that is based on principles that endure. In other words, if our budget is sustainable  we are not spending more than our revenue. I know what your thinking – government never worries about how it spends its money. Right?I’ve sadly learned coming into elected office that too often elected officials spend money they don’t have. It’s the easy thing to do to kick the can down the road and let the next group of elected officials deal with problems. One of the aspects I admire most about our City Council members is that they get it. They are willing to make the hard decisions today to protect the fiscal future of our City.None of that has changed but I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to have a better name. I could live with the fact that some thought of the green movement when they heard us use the term “sustainability” but now something called Agenda 21 is convincing people that the word is evil and that anyone who uses it is working with the United Nations to overthrow civilization as we know it! (cue the Darth Vader music) If this is the case, they’re really good because no UN official has EVER contacted me – very stealth!So if you hear I’m in league with the United Nations to destroy Provo because I use the term “sustainability” you’ll likely first scratch your head and then understand why I think I need to find a better word to describe our efforts.

Mayor Curtis is quite rightly (in my book) using Sustainable to mean governing sensibly for the City’s fiscal future.

So the problem here isn’t with the word. The problem is with the people who are twisting it.

I suspect that Mayor Curtis is doing a bit of face-saving here. I admire and respect Mayor Curtis’ attempt to thread the needle. If it makes people happy that he won’t use “that word,” and it means he can get on with running the city, that seems fair enough.

But when we appease bullies, they keep pushing. Don’t be surprised if they come back and tell you there’s another word you can’t use. I’m not worried at all about Mayor Curtis. He seems more than up for the challenge.

President Obama promised Climate Change action.

Thank you, Mr. President.

We’re behind you.

Before the conversation speeds up any more, here are some links that I didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle:

*Why did climate change cap-and-trade legislation fail in 2010? Harvard Professor Theda Skocpol dishes out buckets of blame in this much-Tweeted Washington Post interview.

*On this same topic, Professor Skocpol’s 140-page report on this issue is a lengthy and worthwhile read.

*The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication offers thoughts on why a pro-climate position might offer political benefits.

*350.org, Sierra Club and the Hip Hop Caucus are organizing the Feb. 17 Forward on Climate rally in Washington, DC and other U.S. cities.

As President Obama said:

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

 

Hotter. Colder. Wetter. Drier.

Wilder.

Right now.

That pretty much sums up the draft Climate Assessment Report released Jan. 11 by the U.S. Federal Advisory Committee that keeps an eye on climate change.

The report opens with a Letter to the American People.

The news isn’t good.

Via ncadac.globalchange.gov:

Climate Change and the American People

Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.

This report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee concludes that the evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last National Climate Assessment report, written in 2009. Many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience. So, too, have coastal planners from Florida to Maine, water managers in the arid Southwest and parts of the Southeast, and Native Americans on tribal lands across the nation.

Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of 12 extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between.

Read the report.

Make a comment (that’s what the draft’s for).

Share with your friends.

Call your legislators. Let them know you’ll support them when climate change, renewable energy, clean energy, and Sustainability issues come up for a vote.

And while we’re at it, you’ll probable need this: How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic

 

 

What a great, memorable, accessible concept.

Think Bright. Not Brown.

“Brownfields into Brightfields” means means transforming unproductive industrial spaces into energy-producing solar power installations.

As a NJ native, I grew up on the concept of brownfields. These are spaces that have already been used for commercial or industrial use. They are “brown” in that they are usually cemented over.  They aren’t green, haven’t been for a long time and they won’t ever be again.

No trees. No shade. Cracked cement. High chainlink fences.

Often contaminated, making them unsuitable for many purposes.

Usually close to densely populated areas, but not in the middle of things.

Which makes them perfect sites for energy-producing, job-creating, renewable energy projects.

The EPA has been on this idea for years.

Via epa.gov:

Brightfields Initiatives

Brightfields is a revolutionary concept that addresses three of the nation’s biggest challenges — urban revitalization, toxic waste cleanup, and climate change — by bringing pollution-free solar energy and high-tech solar manufacturing jobs to brownfields.

The Brightfields approach offers a range of opportunities to link solar energy to brownfields redevelopment and thereby transform community hazards and eyesores into productive, green ventures.

This unprecedented campaign will help our nation put its hundreds of thousands of brownfields back into productive use and at the same time create high-tech jobs in blighted urban neighborhoods, improve air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With thanks to National Geographic writer Christina Nunez, I learned about about a Brightfield project in Hackensack, NJ.

Via theenergycollective.com:

Turning Brownfields Into Brightfields With Solar Energy

Thousands of contaminated tracts of land labeled brownfields by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may eventually provide the valuable real estate needed for renewable energy projects, and New Jersey is at the forefront of using such sites to bolster its status as a leader in solar energy.

The utility PSE&G is installing 4,000 solar panels on a six-acre site in Hackensack, N.J., that was once the home of a gas plant and then gas storage facilities. For this site and many others, cleaning up the land for traditional development is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

This is another one of these private-public-industry partnerships that have the power to actually work.

I wrote about a similar project back in May 2012.

Green Government: NJ Dump Gets New Life as Solar Farm

New Jersey’s newest solar farm is located on a 13-acre closed landfill in Kearny. From fallow to flourishing, the site is expected to power 500 homes.

A key success here in my mind–and hopefully a model for future development–is that this project required a lot of people with their own agendas and motivations to work together. It could not have been easy to coordinate this first-in-class project between a state-regulated public utility (PSE&G), a joint government/business  commission, private industry, and state government officials.

Brownfields seemed like places beyond repair. Turns out they are part of a brighter future.