18. Cool City Challenge
PROBLEM AND OPPORTUNITY: With international climate change legislation failing to get traction, a ticking clock, and the long timeframe required to scale up new technological solutions and renewable energy, the world is searching for feasible, scalable and high impact strategies to address global warming in the short-term while we still have the ability to take action. Since cities represent 70% of the planet’s carbon emissions and citizens’ daily lifestyle choices represent between 50 and 90% of these emissions, helping cities and their citizens reduce their carbon footprint provides the world with an unparalleled opportunity to address climate change. Further, engaging citizens can serve as a demand-side driver to increase the pace of renewable energy, energy efficiency and new technology adoption.
SOLUTION SUMMARY: The purpose of the Cool City Challenge is to scale up a proven community-based social innovation to achieve deep carbon reduction while building resilient neighborhoods and green prosperity in three early adopter California cities (the five city finalists, from which we will chose three, are San Francisco, Palo Alto, Davis, Sonoma, and San Rafael) and then throughout California, nationally and worldwide. The ultimate goal of the Cool City Challenge is to change the game around carbon reduction in cities and provide a viable path forward to address climate change.
As a result of the large carbon footprint of cities and citizens, they provide a key leverage point for addressing the climate change issue. But even though more than 100 local climate action plans have been developed in California alone over the past few years, they often lack implementation strategies and face stiff headwinds in community awareness and acceptance, much less financing. And these action plans tend to focus on high-level targets with no methodology for structured implementation, measurement or verification. Moreover, state and local approaches focus on technology-based solutions and policy adoption but generally lack strategies that include human and social factors that can either drive or hinder technology and policy adoption.
Initiatives for residential energy efficiency retrofitting programs targeting single-family homeowners have not been successful or cost-effective despite hundreds of millions in federal and state funding. Concurrently, personal transportation is the “800-pound gorilla”—the largest source of emissions in many cities—and city officials are largely vexed by this sector, with little in the way of short-term policy fixes and/or affordable technological solutions.
Fundamentally, this is a systems problem spanning multiple issues and perspectives: people’s attitudes and behaviors, how people view and use energy, technology choices and cost considerations, existing policies and incentives, market acceptance, and larger social contexts such as norms and values. Traditional approaches to climate change mitigation that focus on technology, policy, and markets often neglect or underestimate the human and social factors that interact with policy acceptance, technology adoption and market development.
Unlike conventional top down climate action approaches, the Cool City Challenge is designed to work from the bottom up by empowering citizens to reduce their carbon footprint through participation in a structured behavior change program—the Low Carbon Diet—with a peer support group of neighbors. A full suite of 24 carbon reduction actions is provided including transportation, home energy and food. And it does this by engaging not just citizens, but the whole system including local government, local businesses and civic organizations.
The Cool City Challenge brings to scale community-wide Empowerment Institute’s proven behavior change and community engagement methodology. Centered on household level GHG reduction, it uses the existing social infrastructure present in neighborhoods and community organizations. This behavior change methodology is based on two decades of rigorous research and social learning that has demonstrated how a peer support system combined with recipe style actions set in the context of a structured program and compelling community vision, move citizens to take action.
The Cool City Challenge initiates a new paradigm in addressing climate change: coupling state-of-the-art behavior change and community engagement strategies with deep data collection and analysis, and enabling technology adoption, policy adoption and market development. If the early adopter cities targeted by this initiative are able to achieve significant carbon reduction they will serve as role models and teaching cities to the many communities throughout America and the world looking for a cost effective, replicable and high impact solution to help them achieve their climate action plan goals. And if cities can achieve these goals, we will have taken a big step on the path of climate change mitigation.
TEAM: The Cool City Challenge is headed up by David Gershon, co-founder and CEO of Empowerment Institute, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on behavior change, community engagement and large system transformation. He has led a number of large-scale change initiatives integrating the public, private and civic sectors and his clients have included NYC, Philadelphia and Portland. He has assembled a world-class team of experts and institutional partners to support implementation, research and scaling of the Cool City Challenge including Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and the participating cities.
TIMELINE: Start-Up (1 Year): build program and technology infrastructure. Campaign (3 Years): Implement the Cool City Challenge in the three CA cities.
Why it should be recognized:
WHY THIS SOLUTION? Because effectively addressing the issue of climate change is essential to humanity's survival and we have few feasible, scalable, high-impact solutions available in the short-term. And because the Cool City Challenge has the potential to be a tipping point solution in that it not only can effectively engage people to achieve substantial carbon reduction, can be immediately implemented, is cost effective relative to most other solutions, and is scalable, but because it is a whole system solution that can drive change from both the demand side (consumers/voters) and supply side (policy change, technology adoption and market development).
Further, this initiative enables nothing short of the reinvention of our planet's cities, or if you will, a major upgrade of their operating system that can help them to better address the multiple challenges the 21st century will bring humankind--most of which will be living in cities. Additionally, the scalability, magnitude, and game-changing nature of this social innovation is in a position to fully leverage Silicon Valley's world-class community of visionary and socially progressive cities, businesses, research institutions, non-profit organizations and thought leaders. Some of the specific possibilities include leveraging the community's technological and social innovations, social media platforms and communication networks, and cutting edge sustainability and climate mitigation research.