Last Wednesday, Cascadia GBC’s Green Building Interest Group (GBIG) focused its monthly panel discussion on the Memo of Understanding (MoU) signed between the City of Portland and GE last summer (The Building Advisor blogged on it here). The announcement, while cool, was a bit cloak and dagger, flying under the radar of most media outlets possibly due to its vagarity: the public/private partnership and use of the phrase “sustainable economy efforts” were dead giveaways.
So John Lerch, Government Relations with GE, Clean Energy Works Oregon’s Director of Marketing Will Villota, and John Tydlaska from the Portland Development Commission tried to help the wily brokers, builders, and other green nerds maneuver what was behind last June’s “big formal handshake,” as one panelist put it.
Turns out, nobody’s all that sure what’s going to happen, but whatever it is, the Oregon Sustainability Center (OSC) is going to be a part of it. Clean Energy Works Oregon needs to be a part of it, due to their status as a nonprofit organization in a pilot program stage that needs to expand.
For another thing, Portland still wants to be best in class on sustainability. Sure, the projects aimed at falling under the header of the MoU will be 1) close to fruition and 2) demonstrative of exportable skills. But its clear we want to use the net zero buildings and university system/City partnerships that come out of the MoU as proof of Portland’s brand as the nation’s hotbed of sustainable innovation.
One hope is that in the delivery of ecodistricts – neighborhoods that are self-contained organisms, both creating and consuming the resources they need – around Portland with the help of GE, we’ll be “retrofitting communities.” This is a deep thought, one to which whole initiatives have been devoted to here at the local level.
Even deeper? Enlisting the public utilities to help us. When you’re starting with a self contained community, like a military base, all the way up to a fast growing, diverse neighborhood like Lents Commons, creating ecodistricts out of existing communities will be a trick. Looking at this “retrofitting communities” idea, we’d have to disassemble a neighborhood that is, according to older models, working just fine.
It’s kind of like increasing the energy efficiency of existing building stock. Its a whole lot easier to build something energy efficient from the ground up (just ask Will about his solar envy). When forced to make something that already exists better, we tend to face a roadblock where many people give up.
It’s a mammoth dream, this ecodistricts stuff, and the GBIG folks on both sides of the table know it. As far as how we get there, Villota alluded to companies like Opower (in the residential space) and Bundle (a financial software dashboard), which show users how their resource usage – be it energy or money – measures up to other Americans. The overall goal being to make energy efficient upgrades a more emotional decision than it ever has been before, even a social imperative.
What do you think? Are competitive dashboards the way to incite motivation for achieving energy savings in the commercial sector? Tell us what you think below.