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“Going to Town” with Climate Action

A cohort of students from Tufts University working through the 180 Degree Consulting program recently completed a study with Beacon Climate Innovations entitled: Municipal Decision Making with Respect to Climate Action. Opportunities for Emerging Climate Tech Firms. The object was to uncover paths that bring the “frontlines” of climate change (namely municipalities) closer to the business community developing relevant solutions and technologies. The findings and recommendations were presented to the Greentown community and participating municipalities on June 4, 2021. (Click here for link to recording).

The study covered 30 towns and small cities from different parts of the United States. An estimated 1.9 people reside in these towns. Town populations ranged from 5,700to 168,000 with an average of 57,000. The median income for the group of towns was $76,000. The FEMA Natural Hazard Index ranged from 7.65 (lowest) to over 40 (highest). Of the 30 towns assessed, interviews were conducted with representatives of 16 of them. Of those interviewed, ~60% were governed with strong central figure (Mayor/Town Manager) and ~40% had more dispersed form of governance (selectpersons, town meeting). The government enthusiasm and community engagement for the towns ran the gambit with a little less than 50% ranking high and the balance ranking from unclear/uncertain to low. ~ 45% of the towns had Climate Action Plans in place while another 45% were actively working on one. 10% did not have plans in process.

The presentation covered compelling anecdotes and observations that played an important role to informing the conclusions and recommendations of the report. It cited examples of both “best-practice” and “pitfalls”. Unsurprisingly budget, bandwidth and bureaucracy were cited as the most common barriers to climate action. The study identified partnerships and community engagement as two critical cornerstones to addressing the major challenges faced by towns and cities. An analogy between Greentown labs (as a community of independent emerging climate tech firms with a common overarching mission benefitting from open collaboration) and small to mid-sized municipalities (facing a common threat/opportunity) was drawn. The presentation classified 3 critical waypoints in a municipality’s climate journey: establishing appropriate sense of urgency, pre climate action planning process (CAPP) launch and post CAPP launch. It emphasized the importance of the climate action planning process over the plan itself – advising towns that affordable, actionable, and accessible climate action plans are within their immediate reach.

The landscape painted, more specific recommendations to the Greentown community were made including:

· Targeting small cities and towns – a sizable market with more simpatico to Greentown community with less competition from larger firms that are more focused on large cities.

· Applying some simple guidelines with which to better understand a municipality’s characteristics and where a given town is on its “climate action journey”.

· Finding ways to tailor offerings and leverage resources through collaboration and integrated solutions.

· Building trust through facilitating awareness, exchange, cross-pollination, partnerships and ultimately projects that develop in thoughtful phases.

The presentation concluded by reflecting on seedlings for “bigger things” that it hoped to plant. While past “energy” transitions were largely driven by greed and opportunity, civilization then was not facing a vast, imminent existential threat as it is today. Cooperation is imperative and, much like COVID19, folks can’t be left behind to keep fueling the threat. To that end, this process needs to develop a special tide that raises the more vulnerable boats to greater equity with those that are more resilient.

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