Cylvia Hayes might happen to be Governor John Kitzhaber’s better half and consequently Oregon’s First Lady, but she’s a visionary in her own right. For the last installment of the Green Line Series for Portland, we sat down with Cylvia to get her unique perspective on how government and business can work together to get it right for Oregon’s economy, communities and its environment.
GoGreen Conference: Give us a sense of your role in Governor Kitzhaber’s Administration and how your own professional expertise plays into that.
Cylvia Hayes: I wear two hats around here. I have a more than 20 year career in sustainable economic development and clean energy. So I have that professional perspective. And as First Lady of the state, I’m very involved as a volunteer policy advisor for the administration on those two issues. To give you some specifics, I was the co-chair on Governor Kulongoski’s (the previous Governor of Oregon) renewable energy working group, which was the body that was put together and worked to pass several of Oregon’s big energy policies — including our renewable portfolio standard and renewable fuels standard. But towards the end of that term, my fellow co-chair and I became a little frustrated, because although we realized that we had passed a number of lofty and important measures, we had no comprehensive plan on how to actually get there.
So, now one of the big clean energy policy efforts we have underway in the Kitzhaber administration is a 10-year energy plan. The intent being that in 10 years time our trajectory is to meet and exceed our renewable portfolio standard, our fuel standard and emission reduction goal, but that we have credibly bent the curve so that we are moving towards a low carbon energy and transportation system.
One of the other very specific policy pieces that are at play is our Cool Schools Program. This is a really cutting-edge approach to scaling up energy efficiency. What it does is provide state-backed bonds based on future energy savings to provide the funds to our public schools necessary to be able to do energy audits and retrofits. So with a $175,000 investment of state dollars, we have leveraged $21 million worth of economic activity.
GoGreen: It seems like that would not only have a positive effect on a school or district’s budgets, but also trickle down into our communities based on the work it takes to do these audits and retrofits?
CH: Absolutely. Schools that are spending less on energy are able to put that money into the classroom. Plus kids that are in buildings that are properly ventilated and warm when they should be, and cool when they should be are able to learn better — no question. And in these tough economic times, anytime you’re able to get $20-plus-million of economic activity into your local economy, that’s significant.
GoGreen: Can you go a little deeper on how the 10-Year Energy Action Plan affects the business community? How can we work alongside it strengthen individual companies and Oregon’s economy?
CH: Let me take a brief step back at this point and say that in looking at our big problems right now — the need to move to a more resilient, secure, low carbon energy system or the need to improve our education system or the need to bring down healthcare costs — none of those problems can be solved by government alone. Neither can those problems be solved by the business sector alone. I believe that we have entered an era where innovative public/private partnerships have never been so important as they are today.
In my work, I’m very often working with government entities — local, state and/or federal depending on the situation — and the business community almost seamlessly. So, for instance, on the 10-Year Energy Action Plan, we have had a very robust process with design teams focused on energy efficiency or energy resources, and had many businesses working in all of those segments. The business community is directly helping us to write that plan. And we’re not designing the 10-Year Energy Action Plan to just be an energy policy. Rather we’re designing it to be an energy policy that is also an economic development policy.
Throughout this entire process we have been putting a lens on this plan that goes beyond how we regulate emissions or achieve certain standards, but how do we do that in a way that is most likely to create jobs? How do we do it in a way that is more likely to create conditions in Oregon that make it possible for entrepreneurs to start a new generation of clean economy companies here? That appreciation of business and that entrepreneurial approach is at the heart of the 10-Year Energy Action Plan.
GoGreen: How has Oregon been successful in busting the myth that sustainability has to be a zero-sum game between economic and environmental priorities? And how has that achievement been instrumental in helping our legislators come to bi-partisan agreements that advance these goals where many other states, and indeed the federal government, have not?
CH: This is an extremely important topic. I believe it is a false premise that we can’t have a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Our common way of thinking is that the economy is the end-all-be-all and that environmental concerns are a sub-set within the economy. But the reality is that every bit of raw material, every bit of energy resource — everything necessary to grow the economy — comes out of the environment.
The real picture is the environment, our natural resource bank and planetary life-support systems are the end-all-be-all, and the economy is a human-made structure that exists within that. We see examples all over the world where once we reach a certain point of environmental degradation, the economy takes a major hit. We saw it in the collapse of the cod fisheries on the east coast of the United States and the challenges faced by timber towns that were harvesting at an unsustainable rate. These communities are now struggling with everything from loss of industry to things like flooding or pollution of community waters.
There is no economy without the environment. The other thing is that I do not believe it has to be an either/or situation in any way. The governments of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California have come together as the Pacific Coast Collaborative and signed a joint resolution stating our intention of accelerating the development of a clean economy in the West Coast Region. As a part of that, there was a study commissioned — the West Coast Clean Economy: Opportunities for Investment & Accelerated Job Creation report — that took one of the most credible approaches I’ve ever seen to answer two questions: What is the status of clean economy industry sectors in our region? And are these clean economy industries able to deliver economically?
The results are pretty compelling. What the report shows is that clean economy sectors are producing jobs faster than those in the conventional economy, they are paying better, and have been far more recession resistant straight across the board. It’s incredibly important that those of us who understand the need for sustainability — whether it’s individuals or groups within the government or socially repsonsible businesses — begin to shift the narrative around this. It’s neither jobs nor environment. It has to be both of those things together.
I always like to point out to folks that the root of the word ‘economy’ and the root of the world ‘ecology’ is ‘eco.” In Greek that means home. There’s a reason for that.
GoGreen: When you envision us all working together — business, government, academia, non-profits, etc. — what role does business need to play?
CH: The more businesses that we can get to understand the need to evolve to a form of capitalism that takes on a triple bottom line approach, the better off we will be. I’m a capitalist. I have a company and I like it when I’m making money. But it can’t be at the expense of a healthy environment or bettering my community overall. So I’m excited, because we really have a lot of momentum here around the expansion of triple bottom line companies. And that’s critically important.
But I also think it’s really helpful when those companies tell their stories and help to educate their customers and competitors alike. And whenever possible it is great to hear exactly how it’s paying off for them. Why is sustainability beneficial to their company?
The other role that is so important for business to play, that really no one else can, is that of the entrepreneurial, risk-taking innovator. Business has the attitude of creating the next thing. They don’t rest on their laurels. They are the ones who can create the next wave of innovation that will move us toward a sustainable economy.
We have heard consistently over the past several years that we just need economic recovery. I think that’s the wrong goal. Recovery conveys a sense of going back to the way things were. What we really need is economic reinvention. And businesses, by their entrepreneurial nature, can lead us in that reinvention.
GoGreen: Tell us a little about what you’re going to address at GoGreen Portland. What topics and ideas are you going to cover?
CH: I definitely want to talk about this concept of reinvention versus recovery. I’d also like to present some specific examples of cities and communities that are reinventing and show how that’s paying off for them economically and in other ways. I’ll talk a little bit about some of the very interesting experiences that we’ve had on a couple of interesting trips to Asia – and the incredible opportunities that lie in providing new clean economy products on the global market.
Of course, I’ll also go into some of the policy specifics that we are that we’re putting forward in Oregon and get a little deeper into this ‘West Coast’ approach. Coming from a governmental perspective, the state’s role in this public/private partnership is very important. I think it’s looking less likely that we are going to get big, transformative change from the federal level than it is for us to get really significant policy developments and entrepreneurial opportunities from states and multi-state regional blocs working together. We’re in the middle of testing that theory out right now, so I’d love to hear what the business community thinks about that.
GoGreen: Any other ideas you’d like to put forward to the GoGreen audience before you’re up on stage?
CH: The one thing I’ll add here, since I have the opportunity, is that I feel it is really, really important to recognize that the great global recession is not just a temporary downtown. It is actually evidence that there are deep, structural flaws in our status quo economic model. We are at the point where we need to evolve from what some are calling ‘capitalism 2.0’ to ‘capitalism 3.0.’ I would encourage your readers to do a search if they want to get deeper into those concepts, because I think we have to go much deeper.
The people coming to this conference are entrepreneurial and already open to the fact that we need to be doing things more sustainably. So it’s very important for this group to be thinking about the fact that we need to make some significant structural changes to our economy. This is a really exciting time. The recession has made it much more possible to have those conversations than it was when it looked like this kind of economy was infallible.
Cylvia Hayes is a 20-year veteran of the sustainability and clean energy industry, small business owner of 3EStrategies, and First Lady of Oregon. Cylvia will give keynote remarks at GoGreen Portland, Thursday, October 11. To join us, register at portland.gogreenconference.net.