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Nature based solutions take root at Sustainable Cleveland summit

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/29/17 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Climate

This week, 400 people gathered for the 9th annual Cleveland 2019 Sustainability Summit. The theme this year was “Vibrant Urban Green Space” which inspired conversations around how the city might improve its natural areas and access to healthy green space. Groups formed to discuss, for example, the Cleveland Tree Plan and its initial investment in 50,000 trees in the city by 2020.

<br />2017 Cleveland Sustainability Summit. 

Photo credit: City of Cleveland.

Of the many break out discussions, I joined the Cleveland Climate Action Plan (CAP) update. Cleveland reduced its carbon emissions by 5% from the efforts that connected to the 2013 Climate Action Plan. Its goal this time around is to look at carbon reductions through an equity and neighborhood lens while spurring green jobs. We gathered around a giant board and wrote ideas on Stick-e Notes about CAP priorities.

One of my favorite ideas came from a college student who wondered if Cleveland could incentivize neighborhood “green thumbs” to plant trees and build rain gardens and then train their neighbors to carry on the work (similar to Detroit’s and Kansas City's 10,000 Rain Gardens project).

We brainstormed which companies in Cleveland, particularly in the health sector, might invest in planting trees and bioswales to reduce residents' vulnerability to climate change (heat waves are the #1 natural disaster killer in Cleveland). We discussed a business proposal and study to compare an intentional re-greening of a Cleveland neighborhood to one without changes. Would urban heat island effect, asthma attacks, crime, human health and happiness improve?

As Cleveland Foundation President Ronn Richard told the proceeding, local business will see value in investing in sustainability.

"Our companies must be explicit in support of the environment," Richard said. "I think they’ve been pretty good, but they need to speak up, especially in the national realm."

Nature has a value that is invaluable, he indicated.

That jibed with the ideas that Mark Tercek, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) mentioned during his keynote address that are being funded by his organization in Washington, D.C.

Tercek, a native Clevelander and a former Wall Street trader for Goldman Sachs, said TNC is forming an investment pool for those who want nature-based solutions to combat climate change in cities. Again in D.C., TNC is monetizing the city’s policy that requires real estate developers to retain 100% of stormwater runoff from their properties. The policy allows the developer to use off-site solutions. TNC helped with establishing a credit/trading system that has monetary value.

“This allowed TNC to generate revenue and build big green infrastructure projects in D.C.” Tercek said. “We’d like to see this happen across the country. It will create ROI (return on investment) and attract more capital. We think can take this strategy to scale.”

Cleveland also has a goal to improve tree canopy cover from 19% to 30% by 2040, said Chief of Sustainability, Matt Grey. Also, the city’s Public Works Department is training its employees on how to build green infrastructure like rain gardens and bioswales.

As Tercek nicely summed: “Nature for too long has been viewed as a nice to have. We need more leaders and citizens to see nature as critical infrastructure.”

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