Workshop #16
August 20-21, 2009

Recognizing change as a constant and learning to be more adaptive in our public policy were at the heart of discussions at the 16th Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshops, held August 20 and 21 in Lincoln.

"My concern is that we are not making enough progress quickly enough," said W. Cecil Steward, CEO and President of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, sponsor of the workshop. Community food systems, he said, are just one enormous concern. "The latest analysis on climate change is that growing seasons are going to change. Are we talking enough in our communities about the growing crises so that we can make change? How can we demonstrate the economics of it? Whose role is it to bring this to a public policy level?"

Jim Powell is the former State Wetlands Coordinator in the Water Quality Standards Division, Department of Environmental Conservation for the State of Alaska. He said that Alaska truly cannot afford to wait for public policy to catch up with climate change.

He explained what he calls his "Resiliency Theory", ways to respond to change faster, drawing the following diagram:

The Resiliency Theory, he said, is based on biological principles, moving them into the world of sustainability. Everything changes, he said, in different spaces and at different times. Change is a natural system, whether biological or social, he said.

And all agreed we must be able to respond to change quickly, nimbly, and sustainably before things reach a crisis level. These are characteristics of a sustainability leader, noted Mary Ferdig, President of the Sustainability Leadership Institute and facilitator of the workshop.

"We are the ones we are waiting for," said Ferdig, workshop facilitator. Sustainability leaders are those individuals who choose to be.

Milo Mumgaard, Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Lincoln, said, "With respect to credibility and convening authentic conversation: everyone always has an interest. A good leader makes his interests transparent."

The group agreed that some of the other characteristics of a good sustainability leader include vision and revisioning, listening, facilitating, trust, integrity, speaking from a base of knowledge, using and providing tools, experience, courage, humility, open to expanded views, risk-taking, experimentation, understanding complex interdependencies, and expecting change.

"I assume we are getting to the point where individuals are choosing to become sustainability leaders," said Mumgaard. "What is that point of decision? Plenty of people are sympathetic to the condition and are beginning to recognize the need for sustainable answers to climate change and other such issues, but when does a leader choose to go this route and become a sustainability leader?"

It depends, said Ferdig. The difficulty is not overwhelming people with the bigness of it, but allowing them to engage in something doable, something manageable.

"They first have to get to the point where they recognize that the previous model isnít working," said Mumgaard. "At what point does an individual decide to take the risk and move in that direction?"

Cecil Steward said, "The epiphany is the moment when core principles match up with the awareness of a problem."

Ferdig agreed. She drew a diagram based on quantum mechanics and applying complexity science to social networks: Change equals disturbance (growing disturbance and/or dissatisfaction with the status quo) plus vision plus knowledge. This, she said, is how we are re-defining leadership for sustainable communities.

Justin Kemerling, a designer from Omaha and member of Lincoln Green by Design, said, "Epiphany and empowerment. Food is a good example. Food is personal and intimate and has possibilities to transform people's thoughts about sustainability as a whole."

Jim Crandall of the UNL Nebraska Cooperative Development Center spoke about the importance of local foods as an engine of economic growth.

"There is a national trend to buy and consume locally-grown food," Crandall said. "Locally-grown food allows you to know who and where your food comes from. It is perceived as safer and more nutritious. And there's also the important issue of sustaining local farmers."

Increasingly, he said, food is also viewed as a security issue.

Crandall talked about the growth of Buy Fresh, Buy Local Nebraska project, both in terms of suppliers and customers. The program, founded by the UNL Nebraska Cooperative Development Center, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, and Nebraska Great Plains Resource Conservation & Development, has grown from Southeast Nebraska into Central Nebraska. The University's Good, Fresh, Local foods program is now in 45 communities across the state, with 68 participants including restaurants and grocery stores.

Rural communities, he said, can nurture local food programs without "brick and mortar" stores through on-line markets where members of the cooperative are producers and consumers. Producers deliver to a central location twice a month or more in-season, and once a month out of season. Crandall said volunteer labor does the sorting and packaging of the foods.

Food, he said, can be a driver of economic growth. He pointed to a number of businesses that have been started in Nebraska, including cooperative producers of nuts, dairy products, fish, ostrich, and others.

Mitch Paine, Sustainability Intern for the City of Lincoln, asked, "How can public policy in city government change to better allow or support the entry of local foods in the city of Lincoln?"

Julie Diegel, a program coordinator for WasteCap Nebraska, talked about a program in Boulder, Colorado, in which the city purchased green space around the town's perimeter. "The city offered a plot of land with a house for $200,000 contingent on an application being made with a five-year plan to farm the remaining 1,800 acres, with a potential for renewal," she said. "There are waiting lists for the CSAs (community-supported agriculture farms)."

"This is a perfect example of utilizing the Five Domains to effect public policy," said Paine. "Boulder has taken the initiative with their city policy to incentivize this behavior."

Rosina Paolini, a member of the Mayor's Environmental Task Force, suggested making an effort to bring local foods into institutionalized settings. But, she said, "I hear that they have a contract which requires 'certified' food."

For fresh produce there is no certification program, Crandall said. "We recommend GAP—good agricultural practices—to help farmers certify themselves so they can approach institutional buyers."

Elaine Cranford, Jim Crandall's colleague at UNL, said, "Institutional buyers are sometimes bound only to go with the lowest bid or with Sysco, but policy-wise, you can change policy to allow for choosing geographical preference or changing the policy that requires going with the lowest bid."

"The fact is that most of the nation's population will be living in an urban environment on the coasts," said Jim Powell. "Urban agriculture is something that must be factored in." The percentage of food produced now by CSAs compared to big agribusiness is growing, he said, and makes economic sense.

"In Juneau we donít have any commercial farms. We are dependent on food coming in by barge," Powell said. "The nearest farm is 2,000 miles away in Anchorage. Where communities canít do local production, we have to think about both the alternatives as well as the potential benefits to these [urban-rural] dependencies."

Alaska, said Steward, is the proverbial "canary in the coal mine". It is in places like Alaska that the first effects of climate change, and reactions and conditions surrounding climate change are observable. The two workshop participants from Alaska gave everyone a glimpse of changes we may all face.

"In Alaska," Powell said, "temperatures have risen 7 degrees in the past 30 years. We need to make changes now. How can we set up governance that moves as fast as these changes?"

Powell said, "Let's restructure government after the Five Domains. But I have a theory that there are ways we can respond more quickly—kind of like swat teams for sustainability."

Powell's wife, Beth Kerttula, an Alaska state legislator, said, "We in Alaska are at Ground Zero for climate change. Climate change isnít even a question for us. Itís all around us. Our infrastructure is based on permafrost, and the permafrost is disappearing. In Alaska, we have at least a dozen coastal largely native coastal communities whose infrastructure is falling into the ocean."

Kerttula said that the native Alaskans are well aware of climate change. "Native Alaskans say that the earth is growing to be too old," she said. "They see the permafrost disappear. They see the variation in the paths of the migratory birds. They see grizzlies and polar bears are mating."

Powell and Kerttula said that both food and energy are expensive. In rural Alaska towns and villages it costs $1,800 a month in the winter to heat a very small home. Many Alaskan communities import their food. "We are experiencing more forest fires and they are hotter," said Kerttula. "We are losing our wetlands for the migratory birds. The number of acres gone from climate change are being estimated by the state now."

"Expect change," Powell said. "Expect surprises. And think about how we can respond to these changes faster." (He and Kerttula added a plea for those of us in the lower 49 states to stop using coal-fired power plants.)

Todd Hall, Vice President of Consumer Services for Lincoln Electric System, spoke to the group. "We don't want to be a polluter," he said. "We don't want to raise costs."

The city of Lincoln is growing, Hall said, and per capita electricity use is growing even faster. "As we become more efficient we become more energy intense," he said. "Computers, large flat-screen tvs, DVRs, video games—all these things use a lot of electricity."

Along with an aggressive conservation and energy efficiency program—"next year we will spend $2.2 million to convince people to buy less electricity"—Hall said that LES is spending 50 percent of its revenues to pursue sustainable energy alternatives, which he believes is the answer to future energy resource problems.

On the second day of the workshop, participants learned about two more future resource issues—water and housing. Ann Bleed, Senior Program Manager at CDR Associates in Boulder, Colorado, and former Director of Water Resources for the State of Nebraska, said that while water as a resource is a constant—water molecules are neither created nor destroyed—the problem is "it is not at the right place at the right time, or it is polluted or damaged. In many areas, drinking water is in short supply. "

Bleed quoted Jeffrey Sachs: "All life an ecological processes are conditioned because of water on the planet." She noted that growing food is one of the most significant uses of water. "We've been able, so far, to grow enough food for the population," she said. "But by 2050, there will be 9 billion people on the planet. In Nebraska, we will have to produce twice as much as we do today to meet that demand."

In Nebraska, Bleed said, we have been using groundwater for agriculture, and that groundwater is declining very rapidly in the western part of the state. "There is a potential to run out of water," she said, "not only for irrigated agriculture, but for towns."

She noted, as Todd Hall had noted about electricity, that per capita usage of water also is increasing. Recreation, energy, production of biofuels, and computers are just some of the growing demands. "The reality is that Google and other large Internet companies have huge 'server farms' which use enormous amounts of water for cooling purposes. An AT&T server installation uses 13.5 million galls of water a day—an amount that would serve a community of 68,000 people."

UNL is starting a global Water for Food Institute, she said, to begin finding sustainable solutions to what is sure to be a dire resource need.

Affordable housing and the need for deconstructing and/or rehabilitating aging structures in our communities are a growing resources issue, said Danielle Hill, Executive Director of the Nebraska Housing Developers Association. Hill said her non-profit organization is increasingly working to educate community officials around the state about how their issues of sustainability can be framed to help influence public policy regarding housing, "not necessarily legislative, but more in terms of affecting the way resources are administrated and allocated."

"At our Regional Housing Summits in the past year, the need for demolition of buildings was the biggest issue," Hill said. "We are now encouraging the idea of deconstruction—recycling the building materials and keeping them out of landfills. Green building is another issue that is still small, but growing." The construction of affordable housing and accessible housing for disabled and elderly people are two areas her organization continues to focus on.

Cecil Steward noted, "It's been said that good housing is where the good jobs are. Affordable housing is where the teachers, police, and other workers live. Would you agree that small communities, even if they arenít growing, need to make sure they have good, affordable housing? There are many communities in this state that are worried about losing population, but they donít intend and don't want their towns to go away." "Absolutely," Hill answered. "Creating affordable housing can actually create jobs and a more viable community."

She added, "Rehab of older housing stock is also needed both to improve living standards and energy efficiency. Some people are paying more in energy costs than they are on their mortgages, in some instances. A community doesnít need to be growing to warrant that kind of rehabilitation of their homes. It makes the entire community more sustainable."

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