In this installment of the Green Line Series we had the opportunity to sit down with Eugene Mayor, Kitty Piercy. This year during GoGreen Portland we will bring together mayors from across the region to discuss the impact being made in their cities to solve environmental challenges and improve the quality of life for all citizens. Read along to find out about initiatives in the environmental movement being made in Eugene.
GoGreen Conference: What caused you to decide that sustainability was a key element of governance that you wanted to focus on?
Mayor Piercy: There has long been interest in sustainability by many here in Eugene, but it tended to focus on environmental protection rather than the triple bottom line. The business community eyed the concept of sustainability warily and often focused on areas of conflict. When I ran for office, I was cautioned by my environmentally-minded friends to stay away from the very word sustainability until after the election. As I talked to people across the political spectrum, I concluded that was wrong. Most of us live here because we love the natural beauty of this place, because we care about the well being of our neighbors and know that all our families need a strong economy with good jobs. I concluded that the bridge across our community was sustainability and an approach to it that, in keeping with our community values, truly embraced the triple bottom line. Early in my administration, I launched the Sustainable Business Initiative—a new task force to help us build a platform of ideas and actions to move this forward. The work of the task force was a critical step, both in terms of bringing a community focus to the idea but also for engaging businesses in developing a credible path to sustainability. I knew it couldn’t be successful without a meaningful partnership between government and business.
GoGreen: In 2014, Eugene City Council took a bold step in adopting the Climate Recovery Ordinance that codifies some ambitious climate action goals for the city. How is this approach different from what other cities are doing and what do you think will be some of the biggest challenges to its implementation?
Mayor Piercy: We’ve committed ourselves to significant greenhouse gas reductions in a way that few others have. By putting our climate action goals into our city code, we’re holding ourselves accountable for reaching them. So it’s not just a matter of creating another plan with aspirational goals, but also committing ourselves to monitoring our progress closely and making adjustments if we’re not on track.
We’re also considering a new goal—one that calls for reaching a safe level of emissions in line with 350 parts per million CO2. In developing this new target, we recognize that we can’t look to the past for setting our goals but must be informed by what the science tells us is safe for future generations.
These are aggressive goals, and we’ll face a lot of challenges in meeting them. The biggest challenge is overcoming the fear that we can’t get there. We can—we have all kinds of solutions already available to us: renewable energy, electric vehicles and biofuels, energy efficiency and many other technologies and approaches available today. We need to stay committed to this path and be willing to invest now to make these changes possible.
GoGreen: The City of Eugene focuses on three aspects of sustainability – social equity, environmental health, and economic prosperity. In what ways does the city advance this Triple Bottom Line approach to build a more sustainable city?
Mayor Piercy: Several years ago, we adopted the Triple Bottom Line as a decision-making framework, and we use this as a lens for considering all kinds of choices we make routinely, those involving policy, programs, budgets, investments, etc. So we have a very explicit Triple Bottom Line approach, and this helps us consider all the potential impacts of our choices. We may not always have the luxury to advance all three aspects (environment, equity and economy) simultaneously, but the TBL approach brings a discipline and transparency to the discussion. This thinking has become ingrained in discussions both at Council and in the community—it’s become part of our DNA!
GoGreen: How do you balance your hopes for a sustainable city with some of the other challenges you face, such as homelessness, unemployment, increasing demands on city services, etc.?
Mayor Piercy: Well it certainly isn’t easy, but we have to be opportunistic and leverage all our work to achieve multiple goals. That’s just the reality for local governments today. As policy makers, we are often asked to choose between competing needs and goals. In keeping our library open despite serious budget pressures, we maintain equal access and opportunity for everyone, no matter the income. It is a place even the homeless can utilize, a place one can find job openings and explore arts and culture. We need to integrate sustainability in all that we do, so if we need a new city facility, we make sure it’s the highest energy performer our money can buy. If we need to repave our streets, we take that opportunity to include bike lanes, and so on. It means being intentional and resourceful and keeping our eye on the long game.
Event Details: The eighth annual GoGreen Portland, will take place Tuesday, October 6, 2015 at the White Stag Building. Tickets are available at portland.gogreenconference.net or via phone at 503-226-2377. Save 30% on tickets with promotional code GREENLINESERIES.