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“Extreme” Collaboration: Crossing boundaries to achieve sustainable goals mark these initiatives

AndreaLewis-web A number of sustainability initiatives in the Northwest illustrate the power of "extreme" collaboration. Initiated through the research of a PhD student studying the climate change mitigation efforts of jurisdictions within King County, the Cities Climate Collaboration gained momentum through staff members enthused by the idea of learning about and from neighboring cities’ efforts. These champions formed the basis of what has grown into a steering committee, comprised of city and county staff and partner organization representatives.

King County showed early support to the effort, and wrapped planning efforts together with ongoing initiatives, such as the Sustainable Cities Roundtable (now in its third year) and Green Tools. The Collaboration was formally launched on June 9th at a special event Roundtable, where King County Executive Dow Constantine (shown in photo) officially pledged support as a signatory along with several other Mayors. Six mayors have now signed the pledge.

DowPledge2 As signatories to the Pledge, King County cities will partner on climate change outreach, coordination of standards, strategies and goals, climate mitigation solutions, and — sealing the deal as an action-oriented effort – funding commitments for shared resources.  The Collaboration is unique in that the group is grounded in local efforts, experience, and action, but tethered by common higher level commitments such as the US Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, and ICLEI membership.

Another noteworthy collaborative model that has emerged includes the City of Seattle’s 2030 District – a public-private partnership effort of property owners, managers, design professionals and City of Seattle to create the nation’s first High Performance Building District. In this case, it’s an effort largely driven by a committed private sector group who in other respects might be seen as competitors – each working to maximize energy savings to their best ability in order to achieve an aggregate energy savings across the entire portfolio of properties within the district. After incubating for a year, 2030 District officially launches this week. Its visionaries hope to become a replicable model for similar collaborations in other cities.

Finally, at a national scale the Emerald Cities Collaborative (EEC) leverages the expertise, assets and skills of the public and private sector to create clean economy cities. Seattle and Portland are two of several early municipal partners who have signed on to the EEC. The EEC is a national non-profit based in Washington, DC that pools the resources of 21 national partners – organizations targeting green economies, the environment and community development – along with local partners such as non-profits, labor and industry groups, workforce development, and training centers, and city signatories to forge energy efficiency and sustainable development solutions at the local level. 

Working together towards a common goal is not unusual. What is unique about these initiatives is the willingness to cross economic, political, and social boundaries that have hitherto seemed uncrossable, making their efforts much more robust, and more ambitious goals attainable. As the father of evolution Charles Darwin said, “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

Andrea Lewis, CSBA, LEED AP ID+C is Senior Project Associate at O’Brien & Company. She has provided assistance to King County’s Green Tools and Sustainable Cities Roundtables initiatives since 2009 and is a regular contributor to the Building Capacity Blog. King County Photo by Ned Ahrens.

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