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A leaked agenda for the United Nations Rio+20 conference places urban sustainability in a major role for UN member nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put forth for ratification this June. The document acknowledges that cities are on par with nations in terms of implementing and measuring sustainability progress over the next 18 years--the-make-or-break period for mitigating and adapting to global climate change.

The Rio+20 agenda, leaked today in the UK's The Guardian under the Ogilvy Mather promoted slogan "The Future We Want," lays out ten areas for new Sustainable Development Goals that will be released in Rio; urban sustainability is one of the key goals (other nine major categories include climate change, food security, water, green jobs, oceans, natural disasters, forests and biodiversity, mountains, and chemicals and waste).

The Rio+20 draft agenda states: "We recognize the need to integrate sustainable urban development policy as a key component of national sustainable development policy and, in this regard, to empower local authorities....We recognize that partnerships among cities have emerged as a leading force for action on sustainable development. We commit to support international cooperation among local authorities, including through assistance from international organizations."

Officially, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, follow-up to the historic UN 1992 "Earth Summit," also held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is dedicated to marshalling the global Green Economy.

The leaked 19-page agenda calls for major global actions in financing, policy, technology implementation and collaboration in the face of global climate change and economic turmoil, developing-nation poverty and climate-exacerbated natural disasters.

Elaborating on the importance of cities as part of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, the document includes the following recommendations:

  • "We commit to promote an integrated and holistic approach to planning and building sustainable cities through support to local authorities, efficient transportation and communication networks, greener buildings and an efficient human settlements and service delivery system, improved air and water quality, reduced waste, improved disaster preparedness and response, and increased climate resilience."
  • "...members of civil society to be actively engaged in sustainable development by incorporating their specific knowledge and practice know-how into national and local policy making."
  • "...the essential role of local governments and the need to fully integrate them into all levels of decision-making on sustainable development."
  • need for "...a toolbox of good practices in applying green economy policies at regional, national and local levels."
  • "...creation of Centers of Excellence as nodal points for Green technology R&D"
  •  "...call for strengthening of regional and sub-regional mechanism, including the regional commissions, in promoting sustainable development through capacity building."
The Sustainable Development Goals will be obtained through a three-part process over an 18-year period, staring this year with the Rio+20 event:
    • 2012-2015: establishment of indicators
    • 2015-2030: implementation and periodic assessment of progress
    • 2030: comprehensive assessment of progress

On the road to Rio, the UN's "Shanghai Manual for Sustainable Cities" was released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in December as a playbook for mayors of global cities so they can deploy triple bottom line strategies (I co-authored the manual with the UN). Non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders began last fall high-level discussions with the UN and NGOs ICLEI and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, on potential Rio+20 standards for ecocities including the International Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS).

Out of the 1992 Earth Summit, with 110 heads of state and thousands of non-governmental leaders, emerged pivotal treaties and frameworks for decades to come, including the Kyoto Protocol and Agenda 21. Other products of the first Earth Summit include the Global Environmental Facility at the World Bank, and national sustainability agendas in 86 countries based off Agenda 21, according to Jacob Scherr, director of global strategy and advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Scherr is coordinating a Ford Foundation-sponsored effort called "Sustainable + Just Cities" to make cities a top priority of Rio+20 agreements.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, author of How Green is Your City? and co-author of the UN's Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.

 
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After providing the curriculum for training urban leaders from 12 Southeast and Central Asian nations a few weeks ago (Manila, Philippines is pictured above), the United Nations is now globally launching the full content of the Shanghai Manual: A Guide for Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century.

 

The free publication features 47 global urban sustainability case studies and dozens of timely policy recommendations, especially when one considers the lack of global climate treaties due to tactics of "delaying nations" at the Durban climate talks, including the US. Instead, the Shanghai Manual is a practical tool intended to help the world's major and medium-sized cities in developing nations further advance their local green economies. The "green economy" is also the key theme of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20.

 

Using integrated sustainability planning (across management, financing and technology), one of the main functions of the manual will be to provide a basis for capacity building through the UN's Center for Regional Development, with support from UN agencies or departments including UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN Habitat and UN Conference on Trade and Development Office and global consultancies.

 

As co-author of the Shanghai Manual, I engaged in thematic sessions with the 12 Asian nation mayors and city leaders at the United Nations Center for Regional Development (UNCRD) in Nagoya, Japan. What became clear during sessions--which were based off the ten chapters in the Shanghai Manual--was the urgent need to cover a gamut of sustainability issues confronting Asia's local leaders.


Participants at the UNCRD capacity building included James Chan Khay Syn, the charismatic mayor of Kuching, Malaysia (population 2.5 million),  the youthful Mayor Jejomar Erwin S. Binay Jr., representing Makati, Manila's downtown district, and the urbane Executive District Officer, Muhammad Maswood Alam, who administers to Karachi's 17 million citizens. Meanwhile, China will be using the Shanghai Manual as a compendium sponsored by the national government to train its city leadership at the China Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai.

 

While something like the lack of green ordinances may, at this point in time, appear egregious to those in the United States or Europe, developing nations face a range of problems that render basic governance and provision of services much more challenging. For instance, in addition to pressing social-economic challenges, participants at the UN's Japan training center cited warfare, security and sensitive political issues as impediments in addressing sustainability. 

 

After an opening session by UN Habitat on strategies for working with "informal" communities (more than half of land in Asian cities has title in dispute or is unregistered), participants offered ideas for helping their own city's slum dwellers, who may number in the thousands or hundreds of thousands. One approach suggested by the participating mayors was to perceive slums not as informal but as "aspirational" communities. Such a consideration requires enabling a differing range of educational and social services, options by which the more ambitious could integrate into formal society. To better provide the most targeted city services, data gathering from slum dwellers--peoples' sex, age and special needs--was offered as an important first step for cities so they could plan essential services and outreach tactics based on surveys. City visits to community gatherings (i.e., clubs, mosques, temples, churches) was suggested by one city official as a key method for communicating sustainability policies. 

 

The training offered some surprises. During the Q & A following a presentation on green building principles and case studies, participants related that none of their cities had implemented large-scale green building measures, as these programs were thought to be too costly. At the end of the week's training, however, mindsets apparently shifted. A third of city participants said that they would soon start green municipal building ordinances and projects, as clear economic and operational benefits should result from combining energy efficiency audits and modeling better behavior (turning off unused lights and air conditioning in government offices). From such practical beginnings, green building ordinances and green building codes could provide an economic impetus. One mayor remarked how a municipal green building program seemed like a good way to help jumpstart the nascent Southeast Asian commercial green products and services market. 

 

Participants--both the cities and the officials running sessions--left with some answers but more importantly they gained new networks and strategic insights that they can share with their colleagues back home and around the world.

 

Global urban capacity building based off the Shanghai Manual, called a "living document" by the UN, is expected to continue. UN sustainable city sessions in other continents are in the planning stages. The ultimate goal? Addressing the evolving global landscape for financing, implementing and managing cities in rapidly developing nations to help mitigate and adapt to climate change and peaking resources. 


Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, author of How Green is Your City? and co-author of the United Nations Shanghai Manual on global sustainable city planning and management.


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With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games as the setting, Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson, has invited cities including Vancouver to join a public-private consortium against global climate change. The idea is to use Branson's Carbon War Room to rally cities as a vehicle for financing and capacity building, maybe a Keiretsu among Vancouver, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Chicago, London and Portland with whoever else walks down the tarmac from a corporate jet.

Sir Richard lauded Vancouver for reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels, which it accomplished while increasing population 30 percent. According to the Vancouver Sun, Jose Maria Figueres, chairman of the Carbon War Room and former president of Costa Rica, the group is trying to, "create a new blueprint for the creation of jobs, driving economies and greener cities around the world."

The Carbon War Room wants to harness the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change. The war, according to their website, operates on "seven fields of battle": electricity, transport, built environment, industry, land use, emerging economies and carbon management.

Branson also mentioned the depletion of oil in a speech, and the need to switch to alternative fuels. A new report funded by Virgin Airlines predicted shortages of oil in the global market by 2015, a prediction made by a former Shell oil CEO and reported here previously.

It's not clear how the Carbon War Room will work with governments, whether it's cities or other government entities. An example of a project or even a potential project would make the whole thing more real.

Vancouver under Mayor Gregor Robertson vowed in October to become the world's greenest city by reducing its environmental footprint by a factor of four. Thanks to oodles of regional small-scale hydroelectric power and admirable city and transit planning, Vancouver has the lowest per-capita carbon emissions of any North American city.

South of the border Seattle, has pledged carbon neutrality by 2030, but apparently Seattle did not get the invitation, nor did sustainability focused burgs such as New York, Amsterdam or Toronto attend. Also conspicuously absent were Asian city reps. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro did attend a panel with Branson and other mayors earlier in the week.

I couldn't find an explanation about how the Carbon War Room differs from or complements such efforts as the Clinton Climate Initiative's C40 group. The C40 approach is working on all inhabited continents with some of the world's largest cities, in a very similar vein: financing a $5 billion deal in 2007 on energy retrofitting older city buildings of New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Berlin, and Tokyo, for instance.

Most recently C40 cities announced in Copenhagen the creation of a C40 electric vehicle network as part of one of the few COP-15 "wins," the Climate Summit for Mayors

Anyone active in the green economy is already seeing many alliances taking shape, a few which have employed savvy marketing and visible leadership. Winning green city public-private partnerships, however, will also draw upon compelling business cases and urban performance analytics while clearly putting forth their value proposition.

Richard Branson versus Bill Clinton, now there's a match that could rival the Olympics. Could a more effective approach besides individual competition be a relay or other team event, perhaps?

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.   
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One of the great challenges in urban planning and green building has been material life cycle energy use--how steel, concrete and wood products are produced and transported. Add to that the decisions people make once construction is finished, and you can rightly conclude that development standards have only scratched the veneer of total energy and sustainability impacts.

In addition to material climate and resource burdens, there are myriad consequences on life-cycle energy use that arise from commuting and transit choices, food and product consumption, and building heating or cooling.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have devised a tool that may soon provide governments and urban planners ways with which to model complete material, building and residents' anticipated energy use.

After a proof of concept was applied to a Jinan, China, housing development, LBNL has integrated building life-cycle assessment (LCA) and urban form agent-based modeling tools to capture embodied, operational and behavioral aspects of urban form energy use and emissions.

With hundreds of new cities being planned or built in China, Indonesia and India, new tools such as LBNL's will be critical in managing and reducing the energy, climate and environmental impacts of this unprecedented urban growth era.

Adding 1.1 billion people to new or growing Asian cities will produce more than half of the world's increase in global climate change-causing greenhouse gases by 2027, according to the Asian Development Bank.

I met last week in the green hills of Berkeley with David Fridley, Nate Aden and Yining Qin at LBNL's China Energy Group offices. The team demoed their new urban form and behavior energy analysis tool, describing how they based its performance on a variety of existing approaches in urban form-related analysis and life-cycle materials analysis.

The innovative aspect to the group's project is that they combined these existing cutting-edge approaches with an extensive survey of 230 residental households in the Lu Jing Superblock.
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The researchers examined where Lu Jing Superblock (built in 2008) residents worked and went to school, how they commuted, where they shopped, what kinds of appliances they owned and how they used them, and even how much meat and what kind of products they ate.

The result was perhaps the closest-yet attempt at modeling and thus being able to forecast the complete energy needs of a segment of urban population. This allows an integrated assessment of required energy supply and expected impacts far beyond a single structure, energy type or industry.

It's like Sim City, but for addressing real planning, energy, and environmental challenges, which is something I've always wanted to see.

Simulations ran through the four seasons, showing cumulative energy use based on household and individual appliance and transportation use, showing cars or buses shuttling between supermarkets, offices, schools and the Lu Jing Superblock.

Total energy use and types of energy used were continually graphed, and the final results showed a breakdown between how much energy would be used by the buildings for power, cooling and heating,  as well as for transportation, food and other areas.

The group sees the tool being used by policymakers trying to prioritize energy and climate regulations in land use, transportation, planning and energy. Urban planners are another obvious group of potential end users.

One planning issue unresolved for future iterations of the tool would be how water use and supply could be added to the analytical capabilities. Or perhaps LBNL's energy tool can be combined with a software-based supply analysis and use forecasting tool for water. Water life-cycle analysis is an especially relevant issue when planning development in areas of India and Northern China that are facing climate-related drought and water supply shortages.

Still, the LBNL effort is significant in synthesizing existing tools and approaches on urban energy use into a single model that can help guide our world as we move into what is increasingly becoming the century of urbanization.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.  

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What will the impacts be of the Dubai credit crisis on Masdar City, the famous living sustainability lab being built in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the goal of being a zero-net carbon city?

So far the UAE capital city-state of Abu Dhabi, backed by significant revenues from oil production and collateral from reserves, has escaped the financial panic that has gripped neighboring Dubai. This bodes well for Masdar City, to which Abu Dhabi pledged $15 billion in investments; some are predicting the Dubai domino effect will not stir up dust in Masdar.

Abu Dhabi is looking at Masdar as being an international crucible for renewable energy and other sustainability technologies so that the UAE can make the transition from relying exclusively on fossil fuels to exporting technologies for future low-carbon/ low-water global energy and resource needs.

Masdar, which will have about 55,000 residents when complete before 2020, is notable in that it is serving as a large-scale test bed for new technologies in renewable energy, passive wind cooling, advanced materials design, innovative car-free transportation, water conservation and local food production.

The project is financed by funds through partners such as Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse and is being developed with technology corporations such as General Electric, the anchor tenant in Masdar's Ecoimagination Center.

The Masdar Institute, which started classes this fall, is backed in a cooperative agreement with MIT (The MIT Technology Review is the source above that predicted things will be hunky dory in Masdar despite Dubai's situation).

In terms of financing, The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, which is the government entity behind Masdar, announced in late September that it was seeking $600 million over seven years to fund construction of Masdar, where ground was first broken earlier this year. The government reported that it was not seeking an estimated $18 billion to finance the project, a figure that was published in other media reports.

Carbon credits and trading represents another form of project financing for Masdar. Last month Masdar was required by the United Nations to resubmit four out of six its carbon credit schemes that were part of the Clean Development Mechanism program of the Kyoto Protocol under the UN, which will become active in earning credits in June of next year.

Masdar is currently engaged in a wide assortment of R&D, including working with the nation of Spain to test large-scale concentrated PV solar power production in semi-tropical desert conditions. Masdar features some 30 manufacturers of PV and thermal solar products testing more than 40 solar related technologies alone.

With GE, the city is testing smart-grid technologies, including smart appliances, for home energy monitoring and energy conservation, among other technologies.

It seems that Masdar represents a completely different mindset than the 'build it and they will come" approach taken in Dubai.

Instead of Dubai's living-for-today mentality with giant indoor ski slopes and man-made islands built in the desert for jet-setting tourists, Masdar is more about channeling global innovation for both the future of its own nation's economy and the growing demands of the world.

Still, many interested in clean technologies and sustainable cities will be watching Masdar  closely during the next few months to look for signs of how a critical sustainability innovation ecosystem will survive the stress tests of a volatile global financial ecosystem.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute
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New Songdo City, Incheon, South Korea

Back from Incheon, South Korea, where the partially contructed New Songdo City district is rising up as an acclaimed example of the world's first ubiquitious technology city, and the first Korean "new city" planned with green features. Ground was broken for Songdo in 2004.
Completion is scheduled for 2014, when about 65,000 residents are expected to live locally and 300,000 workers are anticipated.

Having benchmarked the sustainability of the largest 50 US cities in my book How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings, I was curious to investigate Songdo's qualities.

I was representing Common Current in New Songdo by addressing the Global Environment Forum on the topic of climate change and urban sustainable development. The conference, on "Low-Carbon, Green Growth" was hosted by the city of Incheon's Free Economic Zone and the United Nations.

About 1,000 people from the UN (including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon), national governments, businesses, international non-governmental organizations and academia met in New Songdo's ConvensiA to collectively forge the path toward a low-carbon future.

Songdo is quickly taking shape as a city of the future because it will be digitally wired and controlled in terms of systems management, which includes everything from waste to energy use. In my five-star Sheraton Hotel room, for instance (opened August 1), not only did my room entry card activate and de-activate all lights and appliances when I entered or left--a feature common in European hotels and woefully absent from the antiquated US hospitality industry--it also turned on or shut off the room's cooling system.
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Songdo's Central Park (foreground), Songdo Sheraton (center) and ConvensiA (right)

The system was so efficient it was able to quickly cool the room when I re-entered, and when I left the room for short periods of time to workout or go to breakfast, it was so well insulated that it remained comfortable without active cooling.

Integrated smart building features will save massive amounts of energy. How many unoccupied rooms in hotels or offices across the world have lights burning and air conditioners blasting at this very moment? Probably enough to supply most of the energy for the spaces that are being used. Other digital features enabling greener operations will be bicycles and electric cars available through electronic smart cards, similar to the highly successful Velib bicycle share program in Paris.

All buildings including the smoker-free Sheraton are accredited by the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environment (LEED) ratings. The New Urbanist-inspired master plan for New Songdo was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, with some buildings designed by Daniel Lebeskind and HOK. The entire development is a LEED for Neighborhood Development pilot project, the only one in Korea, and one of 239 worldwide.

LEED-ND attempts certify that the not only are buildings green, but that their neighborhood is resource efficient in terms of offering public transportation, cycling and pedestrian options. New Songdo is served by a new subway line and will feature dozens of miles of cycling paths and pedestrian friendly urban planning, including wide sidewalks with generous landscaping, and frequent crosswalks.

New Songdo's more traditional "green" features include 30 percent open space, highlighted by a carefully planned and executed Central Park with running and biking trails, and waterway for both transportation and recreation.

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Entryway to New Songdo's Central Park, Sheraton Hotel in background

When I jogged through New Songdo's car-free 100-acre Central Park (note to designers - a more direct pedestrian pathway from the hotel entrance to the park's crosswalk is needed), I was taken first by how established its many plant, grass and tree species were, despite construction still in progress. Most developments landscape as an afterthought, which means plants and trees do not get established before they are subjected to foot traffic and other human stresses.

The park's seven rain cisterns, holding 5,253,000 liters, capture rainwater for use in the park's irrigation, and they were plenty full after remnants from Typhoon Morakot deluged the area this past week.

In New Songdo, the care given to having natural systems interact with the built environment was testafied to by the noise of insects, including droning cicadas and thousands of graceful dragonflies zipping about the trees.

The New York City-based developers Gale International, have worked with fomer EPA Administrator Christine Whitman's Whitman Strategy Group in planning integrated sustainability throughout the $35 billion mixed-use (40 percent office; 35 percent residential; 10 percent retail; 10 percent civic space and 5 pecent hotel space) Songdo City.

New Songdo is in partnership with Cisco and its Connected Urban Development initiative, which is aiming at reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the use of technology in buildings, transportation and communications.

Whitman told me her four-year process on providing sustainability input is entering its final phase: the group's role now is to ensure that construction firms don't cut corners, such as making sure that pedestrian paths and bike trails aren't compromised with narrower layouts.

Gale International founder Stan Gale said a challenge for New Songdo has been in harmonizing green building standard between the USGBC's LEED and emerging Korean standards, which are set to go into effect for all private building construction by 2011. Many countries are hesitant to adopt LEED standards wholescale, as these were designed for the US developers in terms of zoning, material and operating system requirements.

New Songdo is a living example of new green cities that will be springing up throughout the world, particularly in Asia, over the next 20 years. The excitement that comes with these endeavors is palpable, in that politicians and planners at events like the Global Environment Forum are recognizing that cities produce about 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gasses, and that if we can't get cities right, we will have little chance to mitigate the most destructive impacts of global change.

And as New Songdo demonstrates, you can fight global climate change not only with more sustainable economic development, but that you can do it with natural systems, applied technology and style.






A group of the largest foundations and major corporations last week gave the nation's 40 largest cities, and the Obama administration, a plan for investing in green jobs, energy efficiency and better transportation.

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The report, "Green Cities: How Urban Sustainability Efforts Can and Must Drive America's Climate Change Policies," was researched for the past year by Living Cities, which is funded by a group including foundations (Gates, Rockefeller, MacArthur) banks (B of A, Deutsche Bank) and insurance companies (MetLife, Prudential).

 

Full disclosure: I was one of dozens interviewed for the report and was delighted they  prominently cited my book How Green Is Your City? as "the first systematic report card ranking the sustainability of the largest 50 US cities" and a "survey of where clean technologies might break new ground to expand job markets and tax bases across the country."

 

Refreshingly, however, Living Cities mostly gave their attention to less sexy areas requiring lots of work if cities want to truly be more sustainable for all.

 

One focus of the study was on how to make improvements in the "un" sectors of cities: the unemployed, and underskilled paying large portions of their capital on energy for their uninsulated homes.

 

Poorer neighborhoods without access to public transit were also highlighted as a vexing problem, with limited economic choices, not to mention being subject to greater amounts of air pollution from cars and trucks.

 

Small and medium-sized businesses were nominated as prime candidates for leading the green revolution: "The green jobs sector is more likely to rely on dozens of smaller companies, such as contractors..."


There was a conclusion, too, that the past emphasis of city economic development must be transformed away from attracting businesses through traditional incentive packages. Business as ususal has been to favor large-scale corporations, enticing them to come (or stay) with promises of lower taxes, reduced utilities and developed infrastructure.

 

Living Cities intends to walk the talk.


Like the Stimulus effort, they will be investing directly in several local efforts, particularly in large-scale energy retrofitting--insulating homes, plugging the energy leaks--and designing transportation projects in pilot city markets (SF Bay Area, Minneapolis-St. Paul). Look for new partnerships among financial institutions, philanthropy and business as a result.

 

Some of the city or issue-specific findings:

  • Chicago has the early lead in creating Green Jobs programs through its $2.5 million GreenCorps Chicago effort, though it and most city efforts are officially reporting small numbers
  • Chi Town also has the lead in large-scale building rehabs with its Chicago Energy Efficiency Retrofitting Program
  • San Jose has set a goal of creating 25,000 clean technology related jobs and is working implementing job-training programs on a city-wide basis at community colleges and universities
  • Houston has about 80 percent of its new Downtown construction meeting LEED standards
 

About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); the provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing sustainability policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years. Read more here.

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Green Building category.

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