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Getting Our Act Together for the Green Economy

Doug Henton / Nov 06 2009

For Release Friday, November 6, 2009

Doug HentonWhat if everyone wanted to do the right thing but didn’t know how to work together to achieve a shared outcome?

That pretty much sums up the challenge we face in realizing the potential of a green economy. The Obama Administration has made it a high priority. Most states and localities recognize the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Many businesses now understand the savings from greater efficiency and profits that can be gained from investing in the renewal energy. Labor sees this as a source of jobs.

So what is holding back the growth of a green economy? As we debate national cap and trade legislation, our fragmented, stove piped intergovernmental system is slowing down the implementation of over $40 billion in energy funding. Few states and regions have developed comprehensive energy strategies.

What can be done? It is important to look at this challenge from the bottom up. How can regions bring together all the key public and private players–local, state and federal to focus on areas of greatest comparative advantage based on the best available, objective data? Good information on the emerging green economy can help states and regions develop more effective strategies.

The dimensions of the green economy are now becoming clearer after the release of the Clean Energy Economy report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Green Economy State Profiles by the National Governors Association. Building on a unique green establishments data base methodology first developed by Collaborative Economics for the California Green Innovation Index for the nonprofit Next 10, we now have a better picture of the specializations across 15 different segments of the green economy in the 50 states. The good news is that each state has its own specializations and nationally green jobs have been growing faster than overall jobs. The next step is to bring this same information to metro level.

One tool for bring together key stakeholders to develop regional strategies based on this kind of diagnostic information is a negotiated investment strategy first tested as local experiments by the Kettering Foundation in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Teams of local, state, federal officials and private sector leaders negotiated federal, state and local governments’ urban investments, with the help of a mediator, to make sure they worked efficiently and supportively of each other.

More recently, the Climate Prosperity Project initiated by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has launched a series of regional pilots that are helping to bring together key stakeholders to develop strategies that address climate issues from an economic perspective, recognizing the immense benefits possible benefits for their regions–in savings, business opportunities and jobs

For example, Joint Venture Silicon Valley convened business, government, academic, utility and community leaders to negotiate a Climate Prosperity Greenprint that focuses on energy efficiency, renewable energy–especially solar–clean transportation and energy infrastructure. A Climate Prosperity Council has been created, co-chaired by the Mayor of San Jose with members from major businesses including Google, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and solar companies. One of the first major projects involved a joint application to the Department of Energy for the development of smart grid and energy storage technology.

Similar climate prosperity greenprints are being developed in Portland, Denver, St. Louis and the State of Delaware. While each region will develop their own strategies based on their unique comparative advantages, they will be developing their greenprints using a similar analytic framework and common information about green specializations.

For example, the St. Louis region is now developing a green economic profile to guide the development of its greenprint. This metro level profile will identify the regions relative strengths in terms of green segments that build on its existing strengths in such areas as green building design and bioenergy.

What does the national Climate Prosperity Project bring to the equation? It offers an economic perspective on climate and energy issues–recognizing their central importance–adding mediation to bring key government and private stakeholders together to think through and develop a green negotiated investment strategy.

By getting our act together at the regional level, there is much that can be done now to promote economic opportunity in the emerging green economy. There will be many different regional solutions rather than a single national solution to our climate and energy challenges. What’s vital is that we get to work, quickly, defining and implementing them.

Doug Henton is Chairman and CEO of Collaborative Economics and advisor to the national Climate Prosperity Project. His e-mail is columns are not copyrighted and may be reproduced in print or electronically; please show authorship, credit and send an electronic copy of usage to


  1. Posted November 6, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I applaud the referencing of the often overlooked work of the Kettering Foundation in this article, and the suggestion to shed light on gray areas in policy using their process.

  2. Neal Peirce
    Posted November 7, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Comment from Rob Dickson of Albuquerque:

    I appreciate (Doug Henton’s column), but it seems to me we will never have a green economy unless waste & pollution are priced into products & services via taxes.

    This could be done internationally.

    The amount of money raised from these taxes could in equal amount be cut from economically unproductive taxes on work, income, sales, property, trade, etc.

    This would seem to stimulate innovation, solve a lot of environmental and economic problems, and appears to be politically possible on the face of it – it’s a tax cut as well as a tax increase. Economists of all stripes agree it’s a more fair and efficient way to tax.

    Could be done over 20-30 years to allow for adjustment.

    We need to be talking about it

  3. Robert Justice
    Posted November 8, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Dear Misters Henton and Peirce:
    Please forgive me if I say this approach is like Nero fiddling while Rome burns. We know what is necessary for the green revolution. We must change our energy systems to non-fossil fuels by building Nuclear Power plants, replacing old coal power plants with new efficient ones, build mass transportation systems, rebuild our railroads, rebuild our automobile industry and make building materials out of chemicals rather than destroying our forest. To accomplish this we will need to restart our steel industry, educate more engineers and rebuild our craftsmen supply that we have let dwindle to nothing by shipping jobs overseas. The main impediments to getting this accomplished is too much talk and too much listening to Al Gore, Robert Redford and Robert Kennedy Jr. President Obama needs to let Secretary Chu lead a group of scientists, engineers, educators and energy business people (yes I mean oil and power companies) to lay out a plan to accomplish this. We cannot afford to have seven democratic lawyers, a switch gear salesman and a geologist, T. Boone Pickins who has a ax to grind to point us towards all wind and solar use as it will not work and Secretary Chu knows that. And currently I would suggest that all of us write our Senators, Representatives, Governors, Mayors, etc. to support the efforts of John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham to start building the 26 new nuclear power plants that have applied for permits and to drill for more oil. This effort is going to take 50 years at least and we better get on with it.
    Dr. Robert Justice
    Retired Chemical Engineer
    Kingwood, Texas

  4. Posted November 13, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    The HBA of St. Louis and Eastern MO has had a successful green building program for over four years now. It was the first program launched after the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) published its Green Building Guidelines.
    After four years and a few national awards, it has been used as a model for NAHB’s new National Green Building Program which includes as its criteria the new National Green Building Standard (ANSI ICC-700). We also have a nationally noted collaboritive effort with the MO Botanical Grden’s earthways center and the USGBC-St. louis Chapter to educate and promote the lower operating and maintenance costs and healthier, energy efficient lifestyle benefits of Green in new and exisitng housing!