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News & Views Curation

August 31, 2006

Re: Climate Change - A Note to the Undecided

Here's a clear statement appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle about the reality of climate change and a clarion call for acting now. Looks like California is listening. What about you? Read more.

August 29, 2006

Make Room for Green Work

Bamboo furniture. Countertops made from recycled glass. Cork floor tiles. Today, these items are considered cutting edge and are meeting the needs of New York’s green building designers. Adding to their environmental allure, some of these green products are produced right here in New York City. This not only boosts the local economy but cuts down on the transportation costs and emissions associated with bringing the materials to the construction site. Now more than ever, it is becoming both feasible and economical to construct green buildings that use less energy and fewer toxic chemicals partly because there are more green products hitting the market.

To effectively cultivate a green manufacturing sector in New York City, we must increase local demand for green products, assist companies in greening their operations and ensure there is quality, affordable production space where companies can grow. The time to act is now as much is at stake.

As green building construction increases in New York City, green manufacturing — the production of goods that are energy-efficient, non-toxic, made from recycled materials and/or are made locally — can provide real job opportunities for local residents. Today, 78% of the City’s production workforce is comprised of people of color and 64% are immigrant. Moreover, manufacturing jobs continue to provide career ladders for workers with limited formal education or English skills. For New York City, which continues to lose manufacturing jobs, identifying such competitive advantages for the 7,000 manufacturing firms that remain is imperative — after all the sector employs approximately 113,000 New Yorkers and pays decent wages that can support a family.

Last month, the New York Industrial Retention Network, in collaboration with the Industrial & Technology Assistance Corporation, released Manufacturing Green: Producing a Sustainable NYC. The report assessed the capacity of New York City’s manufacturing sector to meet the growing demand for green products, identified several ways the City could assist local firms in creating a green manufacturing sector and spotlighted the many challenges facing companies when they introduce new products. Based on this analysis, it spelled out three major recommendations:

First, the City should leverage its own tremendous purchasing power to stimulate markets for green products in the five boroughs. The laws of supply and demand hold true for the green product market: as demand increases, new products will surface. Local Law 86 of 2005, known as the “NYC Green Building Law,” mandates that most publicly financed buildings meet green building guidelines. Local Law 86 is expected to impact over $12 billion in construction through 2015. This in itself will generate significant demand for green building products. With sustained demand from the public sector, local manufacturing companies will have an incentive to begin investing in new, environmentally-friendly products. By actively reaching out to local firms about the products the City needs for these projects and by encouraging actors in the private market to purchase locally manufactured green building products, the City will help the market for green manufactured goods flourish.

Second, the City should team up with its many local academic institutions to help companies design and incubate new products. Deciding to work with unfamiliar materials and budgeting for staff time away from the factory floor is a difficult choice for New York’s small manufacturing companies. Collaborating with universities that have research labs, prototype machinery and other resources, namely federal funds to help commercialize new technologies, can help alleviate some of the costs for local firms.

Lastly, the City must maintain a viable amount of manufacturing-zoned land so there is affordable, quality space in which companies can create their products. Over the last 25 years, many of the City’s premier industrial neighborhoods have been converted to residential uses. This trend has major consequences for industry. Faced with rising rents, lost leases and an overall real estate squeeze, companies are having trouble finding space in New York, let alone the money or energy to develop new products. This space squeeze is ever-more-difficult to address in light of New York’s growing population and chronic housing crisis. Densely-developed cities across the country are grappling with how to balance the space needs for housing, especially affordable housing, and manufacturing. Despite declining numbers of manufacturing jobs, many cities, including New York, still maintain a critical industrial base and struggle to insulate industrial properties from a speculative real estate market that views manufacturing space as cheap to buy, easy to develop for housing, and very, very profitable.

In New York City, the Bloomberg Administration has taken important first steps by identifying Industrial Business Zones (IBZ), areas with concentrations of industrial jobs that it has committed to maintain for industrial uses. This policy, while a major step forward, could have a much bigger and longer lasting impact if the IBZs were codified in the zoning resolution in order to clarify their legal status and to spell out the City’s enforcement powers. Companies need long-term stability and predictability in order to invest in new equipment, add product lines and hire more people. It is essential, if the City is going to nurture a green manufacturing sector, that there are both discreet areas for manufacturing secured over the long-term and sustainable infrastructure for moving raw materials and finished products. Without the space to produce in the five boroughs and the means to transport materials and goods, there won’t be a local manufacturing sector to support.

New York always prides itself as being the center of the fashion, finance and media worlds. With some encouragement and assistance, we can add green manufacturing to that list. For the City, this means good-job growth opportunities to be realized. For local companies, in the wake of global climate change, rising fuel prices and diminishing natural resources, green manufacturing will continue to make sound business sense. High design + earth friendly markets = the future of New York City’s manufacturing sector. Let’s make room for it.

Jenifer Becker is the Director of Research and Policy at the New York Industrial Retention Network. She is the co-author of Manufacturing Green: Producing a Sustainable NYC available at She manages the citywide Zoning For Jobs Coalition

Risky Business

No - not Tom Cruise - the insurance business. While the industry is starting to create new products aimed at a world with a changing climate, according to a report by the Boston-based CERES investor coalition, it needs to do much more by developing services to minimize losses and make the most of business opportunities related to climate-related risks. Read more.

August 24, 2006

News or Views - Environmental Journalists at Work

What do journalists on the environmental beat think they're doing? Here's what some of the best have to say. Click here.

Are We There Yet?

"We're not on a course of sustainable development. We're not even close.", is the tough assessment of Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Columbia University Earth Institute in a report on the State of the Planet 2006 conference co-sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences. Read all about it.

August 21, 2006

In the Mad Dash for Oil Poorer Nations Pay More

The majority of nations, rich and poor alike, are net importers of oil, but the harsh impact of rising costs on poorer countries is greater. What is the answer?

Energy Guru Sez Answers Won't Come Cheap

According to energy guru and Snapshot writer Chalres Komanoff, "We need to recognize that energy does not cost too much; in fact, it doesn't cost nearly enough." What's that about?

August 18, 2006

California on the Brink

Democrats and Republicans in California may be about to agree on a major campaign against global warming. This could be the start of something big. Read on.

August 16, 2006

Measuring Up to Lord Kelvin

As Lord Kelvin taught us, to measure is to know. Today, in a time of deepening concern with climate change and the rising costs and global politics of energy, this aphorism matters more than ever. Now, too, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg is on record as seeking to tame the City’s ravenous consumption of electric power through energy efficiency and demand reduction programs. His 2004 Energy Policy Report and annual status reports commit his administration to “leading by example”. So, it seems like a good idea to look at the record to see what the administration measures and what is known about reducing our energy appetite.

The Mayor's press release issued in June 2006, when the latest annual energy policy update was released, trumpets the “City’s capability to meet its energy needs and stave off the need for new resources until at least 2012.” Under the headline “leading by example”, the press release highlighted the energy saving potential of the City’s new green building law, as well as “working with private developers to include green building strategies in their designs”. All good, but where are some measures of “leading by example”? Since press releases are constrained by the need for brevity, a review of other public documents is in order to learn more about how to measure what local government doing.

Let’s look at the fine print of the 2006 status report. Nine sets of recommendations fall under the category “NYC–Leading by Example”. At first glance, a lot seems to be happening. The City is entering into new contracts for energy efficiency and is developing an educational program to promote energy efficiency best practices by government facility managers. The City even has a new law that requires private developers who get tax breaks to purchase energy efficient Energy Star appliances. But a closer inspection of the report raises more questions than it answers. The status report’s three “Strategic Energy Planning” recommendations for leading by example don’t look much like strategic plans. They don’t lay out goals or provide measurements of projects already underway. There’s no data here about the City’s own electricity consumption and utility bills that would provide a baseline for understanding just how well the City is “leading by example”in reducing energy use. Reporting that the City has surveyed “the 200 largest energy consuming facilities” is a plus, but the cryptic description, “survey results show at least 30 percent of non-process facilities have had partial or full energy upgrades in the past decade” fails to deliver the informational goods.

Nevertheless, the 2006 update includes some enticing evidence of future strategic energy planning, including a broad-based energy management plan to be completed in late 2006 and a study under the auspices of the City’s Economic Development Corporation that will analyze the administration’s current economic development incentives intended to encourage developments in energy efficiency. We look forward to reading the 2007 Status Report to see how this strategic plan is advancing and hope that Lord Kelvin’s aphorism will guide it.

Looking back, Torchlight #5, which searched for evidence of sustainable government energy policy and found that the City lacks one. But I noted that issuing the Energy Report and enacting the green building law demonstrated that the City was making credible strides in the direction of taming its spiraling energy appetite. Only a few months later, there is scant evidence that New York City's spiraling energy demand has been tamed in any way. According to the Mayor's Office of Energy Conservation figures,the City planned to spend more than $614 million on electricity, gas and steam in Fiscal Year 2006, more than 18% higher than the previous year’s figure (get DCAS cite). Would the projected 2006 number have been even higher if the City had no conservation programs? Based on available evidence, no one can say. Time to dig deeper.

The webpage for the Office of Energy Conservation also states only, “OEC encourages energy conservation at City agencies through a variety of direct and indirect channels. Through monthly usage reports and periodic outreach meetings, it provides information that agency representatives at both the facility and budget levels can use to identify savings opportunities. It participates in intra-City task forces in establishing conservation goals... Finally, it has the contractual authority to implement facility upgrades that conserve energy and have other environmental benefits.” What OEC doesn’t say is whether it set goals to be met and if it's established measurements of the impact of its work. This is not a trivial silence. At bottom, based upon this public information, we cannot say which agencies and facilities are now saving energy and we cannot even say whether the City knows the answers.

The City is already on notice about the need to establish clear and measurable goals for its energy conservation efforts. In June 2005, the NYC Comptroller’s Office issued an audit, FR04-089A, that found the City’s Office of Energy Conservation has neither “developed effective overall strategies for managing energy conservation” nor “established or attempted to promulgate energy reduction goals for City agencies.” This is pretty strong stuff. Is it justified? Is it fair? Is it simply outdated? It sounds so different than the Mayor’s own account of “leading by example”.

Turning finally to the Preminary Fiscal 2006 Mayor’s Management Report as the City’s most authoritative annual overview of its operations, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the agency that includes OEC, lists procuring energy on behalf of City agencies and promoting energy conservation as a “critical goal”. Yet, on the performance report page the only measurements related to meeting this critical goal are the City’s energy and total electricity from Fiscal Year 03—05. In Fiscal Year 03, the City purchased 4.02 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and in Fiscal year 05 it purchased 4.06 billion kilowatt hours. Lord Kelvin surely would be disappointed with this information because it is impossible to measure the impact of OEC’s effort in the absence of program goals or benchmarks to measure its achievements. The rest of us would have to be disappointed because energy use went up, not down. That’s why the findings of the Comptroller’s audit are so important.

But let us not end on a down note. Let us look forward, instead, to the delivery on the promises of the Mayor’s 2006 status report – that the City will soon have a broad-based energy management plan and will hammer out effective links between its economic development incentives and energy conservation. To really deliver on these promises also means that the City must design strategies and programs that build in the ability to measure what it wants to achieve and what it is achieving. How else can we know if the City is “leading by example” and how else can we know where we are going? We can be certain that climate change and the spiraling costs and risky global politics of energy are the baseline against which everything will be measured.

August 11, 2006

Top Thinkers Think That Energy Efficiency's a Money Maker

Investing in energy efficiency now can lead to big profits by changing the world's power supply and demand equation. Think about that.

August 09, 2006

Follow the Smart Money

Business Week reports that 2005 was a hot year for investors to pour money into clean energy "and anything that might tap into the green craze." What took investors so long? Is this more than a craze?
Follow this story.

August 04, 2006

Blowin' in the South African WInd

Cape Town South Africa, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean and there's plenty of wind, will take a giant step toward sustainable energy — but at a premium price. Go to BBC.

August 02, 2006

More Elbow Room at Microsoft

Why can't Microsoft's approach to employee transportation be as smart as its software development? Read this nifty proposal.