Global warming is considered one of the biggest dangers to present and future generations. Our excessive reliance on fossil fuels, sweeping deforestation, and hedonistic activities are the main causes for rising temperatures around the globe. This peril causes negative impacts on many levels from not only an environmental but an economic and social standpoint. We have to ask ourselves, “What is the value of sustainability?” One answer can be found by following the example set in Berkeley, California.
In its efforts to secure the future of its community, the city of Berkeley has decided to effectively combat the present threats triggered by climate change. In 2006, recognizing the costs to society, the voters of Berkeley demanded a critical change by endorsing the “Berkeley Measure G.” The measure proposed reducing the community’s greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve this goal, the government led by then-mayor Tom Bates started a local climate change campaign that resulted in the 2009 Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan. By creating value in sustainability and the future; Mayor Bates was able to engage the population into moving forward progressively.
Tom Bates was a “Greenie” before pushing for the Climate Action Plan. He was already recycling his garbage and composting the organic disposables from his own house inside his garage, taking public transportation and walking to his meetings. In 2009, he was able to scale the reach of his actions to a bigger level by taking the lead on the development of the Berkeley City Climate Action Plan.
To move this idea forward, local government established an ambitious goal of reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent by 2020. The project consisted of a sequence of behavioral change measures distributed over five different important areas:
- Sustainable transportation and land use
- Building energy use
- Waste reduction and recycling
- Community outreach
- Adaptation and resilience
To monitor the progress and ensure the results were achievable, the key performance indicators (KPIs) and impact measures were carefully planned and designed to involve all the important stakeholders, from city residents to local companies, during the process. Every opinion and thought was seriously considered.
To date, Berkeley has already achieved outstanding results such as decreasing commercial electricity usage by seven percent, and reducing solid waste disposal by 43 percent, which equals approximately 48,000 tons. Unfortunately, like every long-term plan that quickly achieves success in its initial stage, the biggest concern the city faces now is how to move forward and keep the same high level of achievement.
Ever since its implementation, enthusiastic citizen engagement has been credited as a crucial part of the plan and the determining factor for achieving success as well as a solid functional and sustainable financing system. Some strategic events were developed not only to attract the contribution of locals but also to measure the efficiency of the project as a whole. The city used monetary reward systems, especially in the area of waste reduction and recycling, to stimulate companies, local businesses owners and residents to adopt new habits when disposing their garbage. In the first year of the project, a “Cash for Trash” contest granted up to $2,000 dollars to citizens that demonstrated strong recycling policies and local businesses would get up to 30 percent off the fee of standard garbage collection.
In the four years since the implementation, the city has identified major points where they need to improve. On the commercial side, Berkeley needs to expand the impact of its Climate Action Plan by finding an alternative and sustainable funding system so they can put into practice some of actions and measures that required a bigger investment.
In addition, to have better results from the Climate Action Plan, it is necessary that its residents become even more involved in the project and the improvement of infrastructure by the local government. Another important entity is the Cal Climate Action Partnership (CalCAP) which is a collaboration of faculty, staff and students working to diminish greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at UC Berkeley.
Community outreach, corporations and organizations are all involved in this process. Every actor plays an important role, but much of the emphasis is on the residents in Berkeley, because its imperative that they participate in many of the activities, such as:
- Generating less waste
- Saving water
- Incrementing the use of public transportation
- Adopting the new ways of energy (more sustainable)
- Supporting the local food production (local farms)
Local government needs to improve its marketing strategy and, at the same time, promote various incentives that stimulate a positive reaction in the community and private organizations. One example is reduced taxes for homes or businesses installing solar panels in Berkeley. This motivates people, and at the same time, they are contributing to a green environment. A functional marketing strategy is essential in order for the community outreach and policies to reach out to the population. Berkeley is lucky that they already possess engaged residents. A good recommendation would be to further market the idea of value and justice to the population and promote sustainability for the community.
Berkeley shouldn’t just focus on policies, but also look for collaboration possibilities. A climate plan and an engaged population can only go so far, but having other stakeholders like NGOs, corporate companies, and social and capital ventures collaborate on multiple projects in different spheres would allow a more organic model of sustainability. Providing tax breaks or infrastructure to these companies in return for greener operations is the way to move forward.
Berkeley’s Climate Change Plan is a unique program which was initiated and supported by a local government and its residents. This plan demonstrates an organic model of sustainability that can be developed, expanded and scalable, thus benefiting the lives of Berkeley’s future generations, and hopefully others.
By Julia Moura, Mohammad Abdul, Vaibhav Brajesh, Yuhua Jiang, Paloma Gonzalez. The authors are Master of Social Entrepreneurship candidates at Hult International Business School.