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Catch The Economist article called The New Green Wave. I appreciate that CSR’s future includes license to operate in a changed world http://t.co/SFOnzjpNmD

RSVP: Sept. 18 NJ Sustainability Summit. Focus on small biz success & leadership http://t.co/VbELob2eXj

+1 for Hamilton Nolan’s response to sky-fell-oh-well WSJ carbon tax op-ed. Count me in for climate action hope http://t.co/iKkYDAL3g5

Good read: How sustainability leaders hold steady over the long haul http://t.co/HDcvdwW1CN

NJ sits on sidelines while our neighbors fight for our health & safety in EPA lawsuits http://t.co/PnCgRBvry3

GREAT explainer: Stop Trying to Kill EPA’s Carbon Rule http://t.co/PnCgRBvry3

US Resilience Project offering a “How-To” biz resilience workshop 9/16 at NJIT http://t.co/nY3n5VjfE4

Breath of fresh air for CSR: no-smokes leadership–here’s to better health. Kudos CVS Health http://t.co/n3qudMwljT

Glad NYT is adding a climate editor. We need more biz sustainability reporting. http://t.co/Wk7V9tDjP0

Dave Roberts is back! http://t.co/aF7pgcAvuT

Big idea for a big problem but how real? Via FastCompany: Secaucus testing solar-power commuter pods http://t.co/4baYnwgoPI

Rising tide lifts all boats so paddle hard RT @chrisleewilson The key to success is to focus on the needs of others.

What’s next for “responsible business”…my susty convo w/ Christine Bader for Earth People Media http://t.co/KaVMMB9Cnb

New Jersey PACE’s Sept. 4 press event & plan to power AC’s economic recovery w/ clean energy http://t.co/QuQILDpIo3

Listen in: @ASBCouncil & @GinaEPA Sep. 4 to discuss #climate policy & #smallbiz http://t.co/e1yNMRd3dU

This guest post is by my friend and colleague Matt Polsky.

Matt Polsky is a sustainability change agent, a Montclair State University professor and a Senior Fellow at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise.

What I find immensely valuable about this post is Matt’s list of sustainable development successes and failures in our state.

The initiatives that are going well deserve our support.

The failures deserve our attention because most of them were great programs that failed because they weren’t in the right place at the right time–politically, economically, or because of a lack of vision.

I believe that all the hard work that brought them into being once can be re-vitalized once we’re in greener political, economic, and social pastures.

One specific example is the report Matt mentions that offers guidance and recommendations for a sustainable business-oriented economy.

It got shelved. And it can be un-shelved.

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And we won’t be starting from scratch.

* * * * * *

A Look at Sustainable Development in New Jersey: How Have We Done & What Are the Opportunities–If We Want Them?

Part 1

By: Matt Polsky

“Achieving sustainable development is the overriding challenge of the 21st century,” according to the United Nations General Assembly President, Vuk  Jeremic, although to this day most have never heard of it or know little about it.  Here in New Jersey, we have had a blotchy past with it, with some success stories, but with many I’d have to say blown opportunities.

This may be due to a widely shared and thoroughly bi-partisan attitude: “There’s nothing new under the sun.”  This mindset precludes curiosity among policy-makers to learn about emerging global threats, as well as new ways to address them, such as green economic development.

It could be that the stream of always-ready-to-take-the-stage, attention-absorbing controversies such as “Bridge-gate;” the perceived need for continual updates to changing political horseraces; as well as some serious events like 9/11, the financial melt-down, and Sandy–by their nature, drown out more subtle and nuanced topics.

Or it could be that the growing number of citizens actually interested in and involved with sustainability have just given up on government and public policy as a means to get there, and prefer to work things out in quieter corners.

I offer this three-parter hoping we (government included) have it within ourselves to be able to break through the “we don’t know what we don’t know” mental trap,  are willing to tackle some serious longer term global and other difficult issues (and some no longer so long term) to which we’re not as immune as we might like to think, and take advantage of some of the beneficial properties offered by sustainability.

If we could at least suspend those cynical outlooks, find a little time to be reflective, and are willing to remember that most of us probably once enjoyed learning new things and being challenged, we just might find some useful directions for the future.

Benefits of a Sustainability Approach
Sustainability offers insights from newer fields with which we might not be familiar, including hybrids of traditional fields we tend to miss, such as social entrepreneurship; and the deepening convergence between the economic and environmental sides of what might seem the oxymoronic sustainable business sector.  We could take better advantage of promising ideas from around the world, and certainly could be more creative in encouraging and looking for new approaches in places where we might not think to find them.  But these are only available to us if we are willing to go outside our collective comfort zones.

This Series
Most of the rest of this piece describes the often one-step forward-one-step backwards pattern of our state’s historical involvement with sustainable development.

Part 2 will describe the emerging sustainable business field, a major part of and development within sustainability, with an increasing number of companies now ready to hear more than the constrained message: “I’m willing to do something sustainable but only if it saves me money.”  This supports this field’s larger potential, which could be taken advantage of and made the theme of our overall state economic development strategy.  But, as things stand, it won’t be.

The series will end in Part 3 with a discussion of the soon-to-to be publicly launched NJDEP Sustainable Business Initiative.  This Initiative, while improved from its early conception through stakeholder participation and a considerable willingness of agency staffers to listen, could be expanded further and made the centerpiece upon which to build this integrated environmental/economic strategy.

The Checkered New Jersey Past
A history lesson shows both the successes and self-inflicted failures of sustainability efforts in New Jersey.

The failures list is, unfortunately, more heavily weighted, and shows the sheer number of opportunities and initiatives we simply gave away.

At the risk of appearing negative, as I could get hit by a bus tomorrow it is important to generate this historical record for those becoming interested in sustainability, and possibly as a way to capture “lessons learned,” in order to accelerate the learning curves of any future do-overs.

For instance, I was recently asked by a Rutgers student for the lessons from a failed eco-industrial park project in Trenton several years ago. This is the idea, pioneered in Denmark, of a near-Zero pollution-generating cluster of co-located businesses, that link each participant’s waste with another’s raw material needs, in order to save at both ends.  While it was a little bitter to reflect on a “failure,” I was happy to be able to inform students how they might avoid some unanticipated and annoying problems should they wish to try again.  Perhaps even historical “failures” don’t have to stay that way.

Sustainability Successes
Probably the largest sustainability success story in New Jersey has been the involvement now of 410 municipalities in becoming certified by Sustainable Jersey, including emerging and now emerged stars such as Montclair, Woodbridge, Highland Park, and Morristown.

I was initially more skeptic than proponent, but they won me over by:

*their development of an increasing range of activities from which towns could choose in their pursuit of certification;

*the use of tiers to distinguish a minimum level of sustainability actions from the strivers;

*its unarguable immense popularity; and

*their reach-out to teach and learn from another country, Taiwan, demonstrating the feasibility of overcoming a common limitation of a sustainable communities mindset that only the local municipality is relevant to sustainability.

More recently, they displayed a willingness to go into the unknown and try to figure out what “Gold-level” certification would mean in practice.  That is, what would a truly sustainable municipality look like-a very difficult if necessary stretch if we truly take sustainability seriously.

There certainly have been some other successes, such as:

*the Dodge Foundation’s support of Sustainable Jersey;

*the longevity of, and green buildings manuals produced by, the New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability, and some of its member college’s relatively new educational offerings;

*the cutting edge lectures on sustainable business ideas at my institution, Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise (ISE), and the occasional conferences by Ramapo College;

*the more localized efforts, such as Transition Jersey’s lectures in Newton;

*the growing number of farmer’s markets throughout the state;

*the interfaith group, GreenFaith’s, efforts to bring sustainability to houses of worship;

*the re-missioning of  Duke Gardens to become a showcase of sustainable practice;

*the efforts of some K-12 educators, architects and planners and their organizations to add their orientations to the field; and

*the better-known overall solar power performance of the state.

Sustainability Failures
The self-inflicted tragedies include:

*The demise of the pioneering Office of Sustainable Business within state government, which had begun to help very green businesses and develop policies to support them.

*A past NJDEP Administrative Order, and then a Governor’s Executive Order to make the agency’s, and then the State’s policies, consistent with sustainability.

*These led to a series of recommendations generated by staff and some outside stakeholders, and subsequently accepted by senior management, first within NJDEP, and then by all state agencies, for new or revised sustainability policies and actions.  These were published, but subsequently ignored by succeeding NJDEP Commissioners and Governors, respectively.  The press missed the story, and neither the Legislature or the environmental community showed any interest in their traditional roles of ensuring government accountability.

*The establishment of a Sustainable State Institute at Rutgers to guide state-wide sustainability thinking and issue updates of the state’s performance on a range of sustainability indicators, which Rutgers, for some reason, ended a few years later

*A White Paper and Report by ISE for state government which provided guidance and recommendations for a sustainable business-oriented economy, which have been ignored.

*My own Institute’s discontinuance of a new graduate Certificate program for managing sustainably lauded by the pioneering (as well as final) class.

*The near-ending of thinking about how New Jersey could be both a model for, as well as learn from worthy international sustainability actions, such as Netherlands-style covenants between government and businesses, which involved long term very ambitious environmental goal-setting, to which both  would mutually commit.

*Environmental/business partnerships, such as the Green and Gold Task Force, to try to cooperatively address some regulatory issues.

*State actions to mitigate climate change, itself with a looping start-stop-start-now stop historic pattern.

*Repeated efforts over the years to alert Legislators of both parties, including some of the environmental leading lights, succeeding Governors’ Offices and NJDEP Commissioners of the possibilities have been ignored-to this day. Most have not even responded.

*This lack of interest is unfortunately shared by the media (with very few exceptions, such as the “GrassRoots” section of The Daily Record), possibly not seeing any of this as newsworthy.

*Even the environmental community has not been overly interested in integrating green economy ideas into their work, or perhaps continues to see it as impossible. They have not, by and large, undertook the ambitious partnerships with businesses seen elsewhere, including working with companies to understand and value the latter’s economic dependence on healthy ecosystems, thus missing out on opening an entirely new front in protecting the environment.

I’m surely missing some in both the successes and failures columns.

In the next Part I will look at “something new under the sun” possibilities for a green economy, and discuss some opportunities that could still be seized-if that’s what someday we choose to do.

Regaining real leadership won’t be easy, will require rare vision, and won’t be feasible at all with fleeting attention spans.

Check out this new two-page fact sheet on NJ and climate change: Understanding New Jersey’s Vulnerability to Climate Change.

It puts all the most important scientific facts in one easy-to-read piece about the three biggest climate change threats facing our state.

This useful tool was developed by the Rutgers Climate Institute and the Georgetown Climate Center. You can share it with your local town council, environmental commission, and school science teams. Use it to write letters to your local papers, or to back up a discussion with a friend.

It’s important to remember that Global Climate change doesn’t cause any single, specific weather event like a hurricane or heat wave. But it does make weather events more likely to happen and more likely to be extreme when they do.

A simple way to think about it is that climate is your personality—who you are a person. And weather is your mood—how you feel on any particular day. If your personality changes, so do your moods.

In the case of our planet, the greenhouse gases that we’re dumping into the atmosphere are raising the earth’s temperature. In other words, we’re changing the earth’s personality. These changes from the generally consistent climate patterns we had for billions of years affect where, when and how weather happens. Those are the earth’s moods.

So here’s the deal: Climate change is making NJ stormier, floodier, and hotter.

1. Threats from Extreme Storms

“Power interruptions due to extreme weather, such as hurricanes, thunderstorms, and ice storms, are 10 times worse in New Jersey today than 20 years ago.”

“Heavy precipitation events in the Northeast have increased dramatically in the past two decades, occurring more than twice as often in recent year than during the past century.”

2. Threats from Rising Seas

“Scientists consider New Jersey a hotspot for sea-level rise, as waters along New Jersey’s coast are rising faster than the global average. Best estimates for sea-level rise along New Jersey’s coast show an increase of 10 inches by 2030 and by 1.5 feet by 2050.”

“Scientists are highly confident that future storms will have greater impacts because of rising sea levels. Storm surge combined with higher water levels will make severe coastal flooding more frequent in the future.”

3. Threats from Extreme Heat

“By mid-century, about 70 percent of summers in New Jersey will be warmer than the state’s warmest summer on record.”

“This extremely hot weather will increase health risks for the elderly and young children, stress rail lines and major roadways, and pose threats to agriculture.”

So now that we know—what are we going to do about it? That’s exactly what lots of people around the state are working on.

This accessible guide gives citizens, planners and policy makers another tool to make better decisions about how our state should spend money and resources.

We don’t have time to waste debating about whether climate science is 100% for-sure or merely 97% sure. It’s time to take action on the family, local, county and state levels.

As a coastal state, New Jersey is going to feel the impacts of climate change sooner than a lot of other places. This is especially true when it comes to sea level rise and flooding. (Both links highly recommended.)

Even though our Governor doesn’t talk much about how climate change will impact New Jersey, a lot of other people are. (Including the DEP: Read the June 2013 climate change impacts report.)

With that in mind, I wanted to share five really great NJ climate change resources that are under the radar, but shouldn’t be.

There are people all over our state who are working hard so that New Jersey will be stronger than the next storm. (And everything that climate change is going to dish up in coming decades.)

1. World-Class Scientists: The Rutgers Climate Institute

 

2. Support for Sustainable Businesses: NJDEP’s Sustainable Business Initiative (SBI) and FDU’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise (ISE)

  • —The SBI’s next meeting is Feb. 4 from 1-3:30pm in Trenton.It will feature Jeana Wirtenberg, author of the new book Building a Culture for Sustainability-People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy.  She’ll discuss lessons learned from nine successful NJ-based global companies.Contact Athena Sarafides at athena.sarafides@dep.state.nj.us to RSVP and more information.
  • —Don’t miss ISE’s March 4 breakfast seminar features sustainability heavyweight John Ehrenfeld, author of Flourishing. RSVP and more information.

 

3. Strong Legislation: NJ’s 2007 Global Warming Response Act

A lot of people don’t know that NJ has a strong climate change law with GHG emissions targets already on the books. Well, we do.

 

4. Robust Collaborations and Partnerships: New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance

The alliance was formed in 2011 by a diverse group of concerned stakeholders who want to make sure that NJ is prepared for coming climate change impacts.

 

5. World-Class Speakers: North Jersey Public Policy Network

Come to the Feb. 20 event with Geoffrey Feinberg from Yale University’s Project on Climate Change Communication and Climate Nexus.

It’s called America’s Future: Communicating with our Neighbors on Climate Change.  Don’t miss this chance to hear and ask questions of one of the country’s best-informed researchers on why climate change is so incredibly hard to talk about. RSVP today.

Growing up in central New Jersey, I’ve heard about radon but never gave it too much thought. The word is part of my background—like Superfund, Brownfield and asbestos—that comes with being a native of my beloved but environmentally beleaguered state.

While researching healthy home ideas, I discovered that January is National Radon Awareness Month and that a simple test can tell me whether my home has elevated radon levels. I was even happier to find out that the West Orange Health Department offers free testing kits and information to West Orange homeowners.

“There are health risks associated with radon, so it is beneficial to know if it’s in your home because there are things you can do,” said Theresa DeNova, West Orange Health Officer.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, which has always been a part of the bedrock under New Jersey, DeNova told me. The invisible and odorless gas moves up through soil and can enter homes through foundation cracks and openings around pipes and drains.

The NJ DEP website explains that radon in the home presents health risks associated with lung cancer. The tiny radioactive particles can be inhaled and become trapped in the lungs, increasing the risk of developing lung cancer.

The site also has a fact sheet about radon exposure health risks and deaths. It says that, in New Jersey, of the annual 4,700 lung cancer deaths, as many as 140-250 may be associated with radon exposure. The risks are greater for smokers than non-smokers but both are affected.

The free radon testing kits—including processing and mailing—are made possible through West Orange’s cooperation with the Radon Awareness Program (RAP). RAP is a joint initiative of the Essex County Cancer Coalition (ECCC), the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

I picked up my test kit at the health department office. The instructions told me to open the small round metal container and place it in the lowest livable area, which in my case means the basement. After two to four days, I’ll seal up the container and mail it for processing in the postage-paid envelope provided. (Update: The test results were normal.)

As well as occurring naturally, radon contamination can also come from industrial sites. DeNova told me that she has been involved with radon since 1984, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency remediated a former radium-processing site on the border between West Orange and Montclair.

West Orange is in the “moderate potential” range for elevated indoor radon levels, according to the EPA. Since The chance that any particular home has elevated levels of radon can be estimated, but the only way to know for sure is testing.

Radon is calculated in a measurement called a picoCurie per liter of air, abbreviated to pCi/L. The average U.S. indoor level is 1.3 pCi/L. Federal agencies recommend acting if a home’s radon level is greater than 4 pCi/L.

If  test results come back indicating a elevated radon levels, the issue can be taken care of with fixes like sealing foundation cracks or installing a fan.

For homeowners who do not wish to participate in the RAP program, the njradon.org offers website offers a list of state-certified companies that provide testing services and do-it-yourself kits as well as vendors who can help lower the amount of radon in your home.

We need a plan.

New Jersey doesn’t have a plan for keeping our people safe, our economy strong, and our businesses thriving when the next Sandy hits.

Every state around us does, or at least is far ahead of us.

There’s boatloads of good work going on in towns and counties, but nothing on the coordinated, resource-efficient State level.

Why not? I’d like to ask Governor Christie about the role that Climate Change plays in our hot summers, destructive storms, and rising sea levels. (I believe he’s a smart man and knows perfectly well the risks facing our state.)

Chris Sturm from New Jersey Future wrote this great Sept. 23 editorial for NJ Spotlight. She lays out what NJ is missing and what our neighbors are doing to plan for Climate Change in general, and sea-level rise in particular.

Via njspotlight:

Opinion: It’s time to connect the dots between rising sea levels and rebuilding

In contrast, neighboring state governments offer tools and guidance to their communities to help them protect constituents from sea level rise and other climate impacts. New York State’s Reconstruction Rising offers $25 million in grants and a toolkit for assessing sea-level rise out to the year 2100. Connecticut has released a Climate Preparedness Plan and is creating a climate resiliency research center to help coastal communities. To the south, Delaware has assessed its vulnerability to climate change and offers its communities free climate preparedness training, while Maryland’s initiatives include new sea level rise projections to help decisionmakers plan.

I wrote back in May 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.

This alliance of NJ-focused planning, development, and conservation groups are working together to create a climate change adaptation plan for New Jersey.

There’s lots of strong science, experienced planning and top-notch engineering happening that we can apply to our state’s needs.

I care about our state, and want our State Leaders to take the actions needed to prove they do too.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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?