#NewMetrics ’14: NYC Just One Example of Cities Furthering Sustainability Engagement

NewMetrics14_NYC

“How do you get buy-in and get the resources to implement a sustainability campaign? How can you prioritize this over firehouses being shut down and teachers’ salaries? We need data and research.” — Roya Kazemi

On Friday, the final day of #NewMetrics ’14Roya Kazemi — director of GreeNYC for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability — led a candid and engaging conversation about public-private partnerships at the city level. Session attendees brought their own examples from the cities of Copenhagen, Vancouver, Lexington, North Carolina, and closer to home in Lowell and Cambridge, Mass.

Kazemi started the session by describing her previous projects with both voluntary programs and mandates, and discussing the shifting evolution of building partnerships with corporate sponsors. Attendees noted that corporate philanthropy has to increasingly provide a return to the firm, so the traditional philanthropy model no longer applies in many cases — these partnerships have shifted to be far more mutually beneficial and strive for collective impact. Kazemi highlighted that for this return to be maximized, companies need to ask themselves what their goals are, but also what their potential is for making the greatest impact.

Examples of this new style of corporate-public partnership ranged from NYC’s partnering with Home Depot and other retailers for their CFL campaign to a more diverse donation model from NYC designers offloading spare textiles and other materials to a store that provides them for free to artists. An interesting audience example came from Lexington, North Carolina, where a startup was looking for space to test a new technology. When a government recycling center offered up space for the test, the startup offered them first dibs on purchasing the product. The test, and the partnership, were successful.

Kazemi said one of the interesting facets of working with NYC is the exceptional character of the city, which her office incorporates into their programming. For example, she would love to have people carry reusable water bottles, but NYC is one of the most “on the go” cities in the world — how can you get someone to drag a water bottle around when it will likely inconvenience them? Another example is farmers’ markets that are not open after-hours when most New Yorkers get off work. To address this issue, Kazemi’s team did a deep dive into when and where markets are open and adjusted policies accordingly.

A question arose about shifting consumer behavior, a definite topic of interest in the retail-driven stress of NYC. While Kazemi’s office has found that the public easily makes a connection between trees and paper, and health is a strong motivator, they face challenges in other areas of behavior change. An attendee provided the example of the crowdsourced sustainability challenges offered in Copenhagen, which adds a competitive and highly visible campaign to important issues. Hopefully, the more visible and high-profile campaigns can become, the more obvious they obvious, and ideally actionable, they are to the public. Case in point: Phoenix’s “Reimagine Phoenix” campaign, designed to help residents improve their recycling and waste-diversion efforts.

The session ended with some hope for the next generation of sustainability practitioners: students. Examples from the audience of successful partnerships with universities and student groups prompted the sharing of their impacts and success stories. For example, NYC’s Carbon Challenge (not to mention its newly updated goal to reduce its emissions 80 percent by 2050), which resulted in universities excited to talk about achievements and reaching their targets ahead of schedule, spurred on through some friendly competition. Kazemi also mentioned building in research from climate psychologists from Columbia to help with a climate survey, and how effective it was to build off of resources that already existed.

While a perfectly sustainable city is far from being realized, Kazemi and the many other motivated community leaders from the audience are proof that inspirational and innovative work is being done on many levels.

By Hilary Fischer-Groban in Sustainable Brands

Image credit: GreeNYC