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News & Views Curation

October 31, 2007

Possible But Not Probable

The political scientist Tom Ferguson sees a significant shift in the US business position on climate legislation – from unified hostility to selective support - especially among those sectors of the US economy related to investment, insurance, and pensions. At a conference on the Economics of Global Warming held in October 2007, he stressed, as he always does, that economic clout is the driving force of national politics and that smart money was shifting its position on climate. As if to confirm Ferguson’s Golden Rule (University of Chicago), in a startling turn about, the New York Times reports that Republican presidential contenders are now debating how to address climate change, rather than how to ignore or deny it. Ferguson also insisted that as a general rule public opinion polls don’t predict policy developments. Based on these two premises, he concluded that Americans should expect passage of federal climate legislation, regardless of whether concern over climate change starts to top polling data.

Contrast Ferguson's position with an exhortation to dream and frame a positive message. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger (I’m going to call them “N&S” from now on) expand on their widely read “Death of Environmentalism” essay in their new book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (Houghton Mifflin).

Stripped to its core argument, the authors assert that progress on political solutions to climate change are stymied by business-as-usual environmentalists who rely on nightmare visions of a world transformed and degraded by rising temperatures and rising sea levels in order to leverage political change. For those who want to save the planet, the N&S message is: accentuate the positive, get hundreds of millions in public funding to support the research and development of clean technologies and stop worrying about legislating caps on carbon emissions or raising the automotive fuel efficiency standards. For N&S, caps and efficiency standards reek of negative thinking and that’s something Americans just don’t like. The impact of the oil, gas, electric power or auto industries in the federal climate legislative and policy arenas don’t rate a mention.

Let’s make sense of this just-accentuate-the-positive position by taking N&S at their word. They say they are writing to foster strategies for a “politics of possibility” that will pack a punch because of its mass appeal and be equipped to succeed at the ballot box. How do they go about this strategy-building task? N&S are deft polemicists who sample from scholarly writing and the daily news to create a shimmering piece of eco-sociology about political and social movements, and that’s a fine thing to do. The N&S recipe calls for something innovative – harnessing the commitment to the environmental goal of slashing our carbon footprint and blunting the impact of climate change to the muscle inherent in new economic and technical developments. If properly harnessed, we will have the tools we need to cure our carbon addiction by growing the economy and garnering irresistible public support. This is a clarion call that unites the Apollo Alliance and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. The Apollo Alliance calls for the large-scale creation of “green collar jobs” – good jobs for blue, white and pink collars alike - and so does Friedman. Friedman also links the development of new green technologies and industries to securing the international economic position of the US in a world where China and India could become major new markets. So far, so good.

While it is unlikely that the corporate members of the US Climate Action Coalition (USCAP), General Electric’s Ecomagination or Goldman Sachs’ Green Initiative would see eye to eye with the Apollo Alliance (and the devil, after all, is always in the details), they share a vision of combating climate change with a growing economy that is not carbon-dependent. Even more important, they all favor legislation that will change the way we manufacture and consume products and services with carbon content.

The big difference between N&S and USCAP is that the corporations advocate for a cap and trade scheme as the defining mechanism of federal climate change law. Caps would impose enforceable limits on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions; they would drive change because they’d require carbon emitters to take actions to cut emissions in some measurable way and by some measurable amount. Does this mean that cap and trade should be the sole province of corporate America? Hardly. In addition, although markets for trading carbon emissions are not the only possible price-setting mechanism, as carbon tax advocates forcefully argue, they are the mechanism favored by USCAP and some of the large national environmental organizations.

Contrast this to the heart of the N&S “breakthrough”. They call for passage of federal legislation that, “would invest $300 billion over ten years in the fastest-growing markets in the world: energy. Initial econometric analyses show that a portfolio of investments in wind, solar, biofuels, carbon sequestration, mass transit, hydrogen and other energy sources would attract an additional $200 billion in private capital and create roughly three million new jobs.”(N&S, 257). Sounds good, but how much would greenhouse gas emissions be reduced and by when? And why are they putting all their investment eggs in the clean technology basket?

Now we come to the crux of the matter: can we say that N&S have mapped out a coherent, credible “breakthrough” strategy for shrinking our carbon footprint while growing our economy and expanding opportunities for good jobs? Alas, the answer is no because their prescription is not rooted in a proper grasp of the history of 20th Century environmental policy in the US.

The era of modern American environmental policy is defined by passage of landmark federal legislation including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Superfund. What all these laws have in common is the operating principle that pollution is reduced by permitting systems, thereby regulating and reducing it. All these laws provided the impetus for vast new areas of scientific and engineering expertise and the appearance of new industries. Although, the 21st Century has not been returned to an environmental Eden, the success of these landmark laws is indisputable. Laws that permitted and constrained pollution produced great technical and economic growth. Such growth would be inconceivable without the mandates and restrictions imposed by law.

The N&S prescription for positive thinking and investment to address 21st Century climate change also lacks a sure sense of the actual role of national leadership on climate in the Bush era, especially where enormous economic forces are in play, not to mention the high-stakes arena of international energy competition. And let’s not forget, if Tom Ferguson is right, even if he’s not 100% right, understanding policy making as well as political outcomes cannot be reduced to polling and “popularity”.

It’s worth noting that N&S are silent, for example about investing in innovations or updating building codes that make buildings much more energy efficient in order to shrink our carbon footprint. Well-insulated buildings and low e-value windows don’t seem like requirements that would send voters running in the other direction. It’s N&S who are running in the other direction by pouring some of their greatest rhetorical scorn on environmentalists unsuccessful campaign to win legislation that would increase CAFE standards while saying nothing about the role of the auto industry in fighting new standards or cutting CO2 emissions, both in Congress and the courts.

Don’t be fooled by recent green advertising by Detroit automakers. Contrary to their image-makers, investment in the research and development in cutting carbon emissions from their products is driven first, by European and Japanese carbon emissions standards. If domestic companies sold cars and trucks only in the US, would there be similar investment in carbon emissions research? Draw your own conclusion and decide whether it’s in keeping with the N&S “breakthrough”.

While making the case for the alternate energy investment strategy, N&S take time to write off legislation that sets carbon limits, “The problem with regulation-centered approaches from Kyoto to a carbon cap-and-trade system, is not just that they are ecologically inadequate, but also that they are economically insufficient for accelerating the transition to clean energy.” (N&S, 258). At the same time, they call legislation that would cap the nation’s carbon emissions a “small, incremental” policy! While incentives and “carrots” certainly can be powerful change agents, there is no evidence that meaningful levels of carbon reduction will occur without the stick of enforceable mandates. Why? Simply put, because the individual benefit of inaction or investing in something that’s climate damaging in the short term can outweigh the collective benefit in the long term. That’s why combating global warming requires the enforcement power of the collective action known as law.

A close parallel to the N&S investment-only recommendation is President Clinton’s reluctant embrace of and President Bush’s enthusiasm for climate volunteerism. Here, things look even worse for achieving significant carbon emissions reductions. In Reality Check (Resources for the Future), Billy Pizer, reviewed recent studies of voluntary programs to cut carbon, in the US and abroad. He found that, "Notwithstanding the many potential benefits of voluntary approaches, the absence of deliberate price or regulatory signals to encourage fundamental changes in corporate or consumer actions or stimulate demand for cleaner technologies, is a clear limitation." (Pizer, 9)

Getting even more specific, research on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Climate Challenge Program, which focused on 50 large electric power utilities, found, “that adoption of the program seems to have no effect on emissions. In fact, those firms predicted to volunteer higher reduction levels were found to reduce their CO2 emissions less.” (Pizer, 13)

Of course, the political relevance of the implacable opposition to setting higher fuel efficiency standards and limits on the carbon dioxide emissions on the part of still-powerful US auto makers and what remains of their organized labor force, in combination with an American public that is allergic to tax increases and deeply suspicious of government policies that lead to higher prices, should not be underestimated when handicapping federal legislation that caps or prices carbon emissions. Unfortunately, N&S fail on this political relevance score. They overvalue voluntary climate change strategies that fund new jobs and new technologies but don’t mandate carbon limits or carbon costs. Comparing "Voluntary versus Mandatory Approaches To Climate Mitigation", Thomas P. Lyon found: economic analysis shows that voluntary programs cannot achieve the same level of environmental
protection as mandatory programs. Hence, government sponsored voluntary programs are best
understood as weak instruments adopted when political resistance blocks the implementation of more powerful mandatory controls. (Lyon, 2)

The Lyon study used an Organization for Economic Co-operation three-part classification system of voluntary environmental programs: unilateral initiatives by industry, negotiated agreements between industry and government, and public voluntary agreements, (“PVAs”) – a particularly US phenomenon and therefore, the focus of this comparison of voluntary and mandatory cap and trade programs. US firms are further categorized as Dinosaurs, Survivors and Leaders. Lyon found:

"PVAs typically involve government provision of technical assistance, access to specialized software, publicity for firms that adopt abatement technology, and sponsorship of technical conferences at which participating firms can exchange information about cost-effective means of pollution control. These benefits can be thought of as a small positive inducement to encourage firms to adopt the abatement technology—an in-kind subsidy, if you will, or an economic carrot to reward good behavior.

How does a PVA affect the three groups of firms we are considering? Dinosaurs are unaffected by the subsidy; even with government assistance, these plants cannot afford to adopt leading-edge abatement technology, but neither are they forced to exit the industry. Similarly, Survivors are not affected by the PVA; they, too, cannot afford to adopt new abatement technology, nor are they required to purchase permits. Only the Leaders change their behavior. At least some of these firms will find the government assistance enough to induce them to adopt new abatement technologies. The need to raise (costly) government funds to finance the PVA program, however, means that the assistance will not be enough to achieve all desirable environmental improvements. Fewer firms will adopt new abatement technologies under the PVA than under a tradable permit system, which does not rely on public funds to create carrots rewarding good behavior." (Lyon, 8-9)

This conclusion throws into sharp relief the sheer improbability of N&S’s expectation for what Americans can expect from a $300 million tax-payer supported energy program that has no carbon caps. Instead, Ferguson might find support here for his theorem about the link between economic clout and political outcomes.

Finally, as to who would get access to or benefits most from the complex of climate legislation, funding, implementation and enforcement, that could emerge from the convergence of corporate, environmental and popular interests, well that’s for another day. For now, at least one thing is clear; legislation imposing mandatory cuts on greenhouse gas emissions is a necessity. For reasons of economic growth, equity and political viability, these mandatory cuts should be firmly coupled with a “green collar solution” that consists of smart public and private sector investment in green, clean industries and jobs. But investments in green innovations, products and jobs without the compulsion of meeting compulsory greenhouse gas emissions cuts within a specified time period are doomed to failure if our goal is saving the planet from unbearable warming.

What New Yorkers Need to Know

Focusing on energy generation and consumption, NYSERDA maps out its five year research agenda. Find it here[2.9MB]

EU Energy Funding Too Low

Portugal charges that $3 billion for EU energy R&D is not enough; won't help to green buildings. Read more

October 30, 2007

Climate Q/A

Bill McKibben answers climate change questions. NYRB

Through the Grist Mill 7

Unlike some Presidential hopefuls, Rudy Giuliani wasn't interviewed by Grist, so Grist took its own look Rudy's record. Click


NY and NJ, both RGGI states, have joined ICAP, a partnership of European nations, New Zealand, Canadian provinces, and American states. It will be a meeting place of cap and trade jurisdictions to share ideas and compare experiences. Link up

More Travel Less Carbon?

According to a UK government report, expanding roads and airports won't lead to greater CO2 emissions. Surely not

Asia-The Sky's The Limit

With soaring Asian energy demand, big renewable energy investment sare on the way. Stay tuned

Toyota Lightens Up

By using carbon fiber and aluminum, Toyota's next generation of hybrid cars will get 92 MPG. How efficient!

Kyoto-Same-O? O-No!

Thinking about what to do after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012? Here's a call for something different. Look into it

October 29, 2007

High Performance In Miami

Plans are underway for building green affordable housing and growing a greener building materials supply chain in Miami. WSJ
[Subscribers only]

Global Giant Goes Greener

Global consumer products firm P&G sets sustainability strategy and sales goals. Suds!

Rx For Autos

Car ads in the EU might carry warnings about emissions impacts. Drive safer

Plug It In

Forget "fill 'er up", here come investor in a car battery-charging station network. Look ahead

October 26, 2007

What's Your Green Grade?

Here's a report card on US and Canadian campus green grades. Pass/Fail

France For Carbon Tax?

President Sarkozy proposes both carbon taxes and EU import duties on goods from non-Kyoto countries. Stay tuned

Cementing The Problem

Cement making is a worldwide source of CO2 emissions. The EU ETS may be adding to the problem by investments outside the ETS zone. Read about it

EU Steel Makers Split On Carbon Disclosure

Steel makers who are part of the EU ETS are uncertain about public disclosure of their CO2 emissions data and links to emissions allocations. Learn more

To Market, To Market

Distribution, packaging and transportation are often overlooked in making sustainable product choices. Consider these

October 25, 2007

Hot Stuff, High Stakes

The Lieberman-Warner climate change bill is being hotly debated within the US environmental movement. Listen up

Earth: Experiemental Subject

Geo-engineering has its fans-and its detractors. Join in

Spain: Carbon Poor But It's Got Choices

Spurred by unreliable foreign oil and gas supplies as well as government investments in alternative energy, the wind and solar industries are booming in Spain. Silver linings

UK Falling Short On Renewables

Meeting the EU renewable power target of 20% by 2020 will be a stretch for the UK; government might abandon it. What's the alternative?

Heat Death

Looking at the fossil record of the last 520 million years, scientists discover that biodiversity dips during hot times. Whew!

October 24, 2007

White House White Out

Congressional testimony by the Centers for Disease Control on the health impacts of climate change was heavily edited by the White House. Blank that

States Sue EPA To Regulate CO2 Emissions

Governor Schwarzenegger is going to court to compel the EPA to green light permission for states, led by California, to impose tighter standards on car and truck CO2 emissions. Read more

Hope Or Hype In Frankfurt?

At a major international auto show, European car makers are fast-tracking low CO2 emissions and climate protection. Accelerate here

Now More Than Ever

Since 2000, atmospheric CO2 has grown even faster than projected. Larger number of coal fired power plants and weaker "carbon sinks" are major culprits Now what?

October 23, 2007

Small Is Beautiful

Forbes Magazine ranks Vermont the greenest state in the US. NY makes it into the top-ten. Big isn't bad

Clean Tech Investments Boom

Global investments in clean technology outpace predictions; carbon prices add value. It adds up

Some Like It Solar

Government subsidies are still key to rising solar panel production, but that could change soon. Shine on

Needed: A Global One-Two Punch

A report commissioned by China and Brazil urges steep increases in energy research funding combined with setting firm prices on GHG emissions as the right way to fight global warming. How enlightening

Green Money Or Green Wash?

How much are big banks with green profiles investing in sustainable projects? It's interesting

October 22, 2007

PlaNYC 2030 Update

Read the first status report on Mayor Bloomberg's plan for a sustainable city. Click

Keeping Green Promises

NYC Mayor Bloomberg pledges $80 million to reduce GHG emissions linked to energy use from City owned buildings and operations. Log on to and click on Oct. 22, 2007 press release.

Chicago: L'eau And Behold

Chicago's Mayor announces a plan to put a 10-cent per bottle tax on the sale of bottled water. That could raise $21 million a year and get people to fill up at their taps with City water. How chic!

Bad News: Persistent Sunshine

Heat and drought are taking a toll on Turkey and other countries around the Mediterranean. Is this climate related? Look into it

Chinese Gymnastics

A Chinese steel maker will cut emissions just in time for the 2008 Olympics, if it gets government assistance. Then what?

October 20, 2007

Coal, Coal On the Range

Ranchers and farmers speak out against coal-fired power plants; they even meet with local environmentalists. Changin' times

October 19, 2007

Kansas Says No To Coal

Kansas officials deny a permit for a pair of new coal-fired power plants that would emit 11 million tons of CO2 annually. This is a first anywhere in the US.
Read on

New Climate Bill in Senate

Senators Lieberman and Warner introduce climate legislation that would cut GHG emissions from power plants and vehicles by 70%. Read on And on

Hunting For Energy Everywhere

Arctic Ocean? Antarctica? Worried yet?

Austin's Green Giant Steps

Austin Texas is an urban climate leader. Learn more

October 18, 2007

Fly Or Drive?

Staying awake nights wondering whether to fly or drive to keep that carbon footprint down? Ask Umbra

Invest $500M, Save $500M

$500M will be invested in energy efficiency upgrades at 100 Washington metro-area buildings. The investment will be repaid from energy savings. Smart money

"Goodness Had Nothing To Do WIth It"

When it comes to improving corporate environmental actions, Mae West has a lot in common with business--self-interest. Wise up

October 17, 2007

From Dead to Green

An abandoned 1960's bank is now home to a net zero carbon engineering firm. That's got interest!

Slow Eater

Now there's a snail logo "seal of approval" for the NYC slow food movement. Check it out

Poisoned Apple?

An environmental group threatens to sue Apple over toxic components used in iPhones. Hear ye!

Caspian Carbon Conflict?

Conflict and politics in the oil and gas rich Caspian region heat up. Look into it

Greening Gotham

The Gotham Gazette

Nancy Anderson, in a Gotham Gazette feature on PlaNYC 2030, points out that a decade-long building boom in the Big Apple scores low on green, energy-efficient performance. Since shrinking NYC's giant carbon footprint is a tall order for a vertical city, why isn't Mayor Bloomberg doing more?

Click to read Jeremy Miller's October 16th article »

October 16, 2007

See The Film, Read the Science

An English court ok'ed the screening of Al Gore's film in British schools. Do the scientific claims made in An Inconvenient Truth hold water? Click here

Think Differently

Can the resource and energy intensive norms of PC manufacture and replacement be rethought? FT

War & Heat

History suggests that climate change can cause grave conflicts. Warm enough?

October 15, 2007

Euro Cities Doing What Cities Do Best

Now that more than half the world's people are city-dwellers, (mostly) European cities are leading the way on sustainability. Get urban

Getting Some Respect

The soaring price of oil is propelling green projects up the corporate to-do list. Money talks

Climate Econ 201

An economics argument for making a quick transition to carbon neutral electric power. Plug in

Climate Econ 101

Pricing carbon makes economic sense for current and future generations. Setting a discount rate does not. Here's why

Importer Sues EU Over CFLs

An importer of Chinese CFLs is suing the EU to roll back tariffs while Germany wants to extend them. FT

CO2 Equivalents

With rising levels of atmospheric CO2 equivalents, there's heated discussion about how to measure them. Get technical

Kyoto Sunrise

The Kyoto Protocol sunsets in 2012, then what? Think ahead

October 11, 2007

Join The Dingell Debate

John Dingell been provoking some hurrahs and some hisses on climate and cars. What's your line?

Forecast: Warm & Sticky

Now, increased humidity is explained in new computer climate models by adding man-made warming to natural trends. Sweat it out

Don't Be Fuelish

A National Research Council report flags impaired water resources that could result from raising corn for ethanol production. Look into it

October 10, 2007

New Jobs Or Not?

Will a green energy revolution be an engine for green job growth in the US? Work it

What's the Score?

Want to know which pro-sports are more environmentally friendly than others? Play ball

Debunk Climate Junk

Check out this Wiki index for nabbing spurious climate stories. Use it

October 06, 2007

Lax Enforcement?

In China, signs of increased environmental law enforcement may not be popular. Look into it

October 05, 2007

Dutch Treat

The Netherlands will impose a first-in-Europe carbon-based packaging tax in January 2008. Wrap that!

October 04, 2007

Americans Want Urban Climate Action

A new survey finds strong support for local governments to require high performance housing, clean energy and other means to combat climate change. Go to Yale

Breaking Up

Learn about new mass-balance polar ice sheet measurement methods and findings. Click

Cheaper Than Mouthwash

The price of a gallon of gas in the US is still cheaper than the coffee or mouthwash sold at the station. No wonder SUV sales stay up. Wake up

One Picture's Worth

What would it look like if New York Harbor waters surged by 3-5 meters? Not pretty

October 03, 2007

Provincial Activism

Quebec imposes a carbon tax on energy firms. It will raise $200 million annually and fund other carbon emissions efforts. Voila!

Wind-Powered Trains

Indian Railway plans to build wind farms that will power trains, lower energy costs and attract private investment. That's propelling

Evo Morales in NYC

Bolivian President Morales meets with supporters of social justice, climate solutions and good green collar jobs in NYC. That's international

October 02, 2007

The Adaptation Option

A dire voice says it's too late to roll back climate change and global adaptation's our only choice. Gulp

October 01, 2007

Through The Grist Mill 6

How would President McCain face the climate challenge? Get the interview

The Healthy School and the Sustainable City

New York City is now in the middle of a $13 billion school construction and renovation plan, while New York State spends billions more. Yet, until recently, how often have we really paid attention to how our schools are built and how our money is spent in relation to the sustainability agenda? And how does this massive investment in school construction impact efforts to promote a sustainable city for future generations?

The “Healthy and High Performance School” is a vision that promotes student learning, improves student and worker health, saves energy, improves the environment and saves money for education. It is a green school, a sustainable school, a healthy school, an environmentally friendly school and an energy-efficient school.

Thankfully and perhaps surprisingly, a quiet revolution has occurred in New York’s approach to designing school buildings, and the vision of a new generation of schools built to be healthy and high performance is becoming a reality. State and City policy makers recently have been rolling out meaningful initiatives after prodding by environment, education and public health advocates. These achievements could soon result in one of the most significant and long lasting achievements of this decade’s educational and environmental progress.

About five years ago, when I began my career in advocacy for “green” school design, I believed myself to be on a near-quixotic venture. I was advocating for schools to be built “green” at a time when education reform, student achievement and securing significant funds for education were at the top of the policy makers agenda. Unfortunately but perhaps understandably, “green” or healthy school design was not at the top of their lists. Educators struggled with understanding how “green” school design, born in the environmental movement, would be advantageous to educators and their students. As one educator asked, “What does saving the whales have to do with educating children?”

Today, improving education remains extremely important, yet incredibly, we have also made real and substantial policy strides in promoting green school design. What we now understand is that educational attainment and school design are tightly linked and the good news is, we can act on this understanding. Here are the milestones in this new policy direction.

• In New York City, Local Law 86, the City’s Green Building Law, requires all new city public schools and major newly renovated schools to adhere to green building standards. This past April, I was thrilled to have my organization (Healthy Schools Network) join with the New York City Apollo Alliance in sponsoring a forum attended by over a hundred of the city’s education, environmental, labor and health leaders, to hear School Construction Authority President Sharon Greenberger and her key staff present their Green School’s Guide. This guide brings New York City design, construction and major renovations in compliance with Local Law 86. It is also a comprehensive and well thought-out green design manual that promotes student health and learning as much as it promotes energy efficiency and environmental stewardship.

• In Albany, advocates convinced the President of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the Commissioner of Education to work together to develop a unique New York standard for green school design. On September 27, 2007, at an Albany press conference, Education Commissioner Richard Mills, NYSERDA President Paul Tonko and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis unveiled NY-CHPS (Comprehensive School Design), perhaps the best and most progressive green school design manual in the county. Although still voluntary, NY-CHPS is a comprehensive and progressive manual that puts New York State in the top ranks of green school advocates, and it is being promoted by the New York State Department of Education.

How can we explain these milestones and why are they happening now? More specifically, what drove policy makers to devote time, resources and political capital to promoting green schools? And what lessons can we draw?

Educators are now taking the lead in green building because a growing body of evidence derived from research and experience convincingly demonstrates that the design and operation of a school has a direct impact on student learning, student health and student attendance. A Healthy and High Performance School is child centered. It focuses on the needs of children to learn, breathe fresh air, and have optimal lighting and acoustics. By integrating these needs with building design that demands energy efficiency, efficient resource utilization and environmental stewardship, economies are achieved and resources are optimized to create a modern school building.

High performing students learn better with fresh air, good lighting and good acoustical design. High performing students are healthier, because of much improved indoor air quality, avoidance of toxic materials in classroom design and maintenance, and due to improved lighting and acoustics. High performing buildings save energy and water, reduce carbon emissions, and otherwise reduce the building’s negative impact on the environment. Good for learning, good for health and good for the environment, these comprehensive design standards demonstrate that a holistic, informed and comprehensive approach to school design and construction can indeed be a win-win-win scenario.

There is also no longer any need to assume that there is a larger “first cost” as compared to conventional school buildings. As experience with “green” school design grows, exceptional costs have dwindled. NYSERDA and the State Education Department, in the Introduction to NY-CHPS, notes that high performance schools can be built as the same cost as conventionally design schools. When there is a first cost differential, it is generally a mere 2%. In October of 2006, Greening America’s Schools, Costs and Benefits by Gregory Kats showed that “green” schools will easily recover any usual first cost investment within just a few years. Cost savings accrue from decreased energy usage, decreased maintenance needs, improved student attendance and worker job satisfaction. When adding factors such as the benefits of a better educated and healthier generation of children, the savings to society are even more dramatic. As summarized by Kats,

“This national review of 30 green schools demonstrates that green schools cost less than 2% more than conventional schools - or about $3 per square foot ($3/ft2) - but provide financial benefits that are 20 times as large. Greening school design provides an extraordinarily cost-effective way to enhance student learning, reduce health and operational costs and, ultimately, increase school quality and competitiveness.” (italics added)

Educators and policymakers are seeing that there is no downside to the Healthy and High Performance School, only the upside of better achieving students, healthier children and increased cost savings from the inherent efficiencies in operating a high performance building. This is why the New York City and the New York State Education Departments have endorsed and are now promoting Healthy and High Performance School Design. Saving whales is important; saving children is also important. Healthy and High Performance School design policy has been successful this far because it has proven to integrate key values of sustainability with improving children’s health and education.

Still, we are a long way off from seeing a whole new generation of Healthy and High Performance Schools. Despite the current investment level, it will take decades of sustained commitment to rebuild and redesign all the City and State schools. More immediately, we need to assure that all New York City schools are built as promised (and required by law) and designed in accordance with the Green Schools Manual. For the rest of the State, we need to have Albany follow New York City's lead and make NY-CHPS the building standard for all schools; they must be more than voluntary guidelines. In addition, the SCA and the State's Education Department must each engage in a process to continuously improve and refine their guidelines, fully taking community and education stakeholder input into account. In this way, they will assure the adoption of the best and most protective standards. Further, City and State leaders must assure that schools are built on the best possible sites. Schools built on toxic sites have been a tragic, and avoidable, problem.

What does all this mean for the future of a sustainable city? The 1987 report Our Common Future is rightly cited as being the beginning of the “sustainability” movement. In her forward, Prime Minister Brundtland argued,

“The environment does not exist as a sphere separate from human actions, ambitions, and needs, and attempts to defend it in isolation from human concerns have given the very word "environment" a connotation of naivety in some political circles” (

In re-reading the report in 2007, I am struck at the breadth and power of its discussion of sustainability, that traditional “environmental” issues are just one facet of sustainability, and how the issues and recommendations in this report are leading us to create a more livable future.

It is clear that, Healthy and High Performance school design seems to be succeeding because the demonstrated benefits are multifaceted, broad in scope, and appeal on many levels. Healthy children, better learning, happier teachers, cost savings, operational savings, energy efficiency, and environmental stewardship are all part of the vision.

Maybe saving the whales has a lot to do with educating children after all, and vice versa.

Stephen Boese is a very unlikely sustainability and children’s environmental health advocate, educated as a social worker, with prior careers as a staffer in the State Senate, lobbying, business development, program management, cafeteria worker, movie theater janitor and newspaper delivery among others.


Wonder if the greening of business is hitting critical mass or if it's a just a bubble? Maybe

Carbon On The Campaign Trail

Here's a current scorecard on the climate policy views of Presidential candidates. Stay tuned