Sustainability is a cornerstone for Denver and its citizens. With a future in which climate change will affect each and every one of us, we want to provide a platform for the people and groups leading the sustainability efforts in Mile High City. In this sustainability series we will discuss the problems, examine the solutions, track the efforts and explain how to develop better sustainable practices in daily life.

Denver is trying to change how sustainability is handled With recent efforts, it is evident that the city and its citizens are ready to take further action. As a backdrop, Mayor Hancock published a set of guidelines in 2014 that were drawn up by municipal departments and community interest groups and should have been followed by 2020 12 categories to improve including air quality, energy and emissions. However, the results were not as clear as the goals, and skeptical critics pinned the Sustainability Office for more transparency. In 2018 the mayor published his 80 × 50 climate plan (80% emission reduction by 2050 based on 2005 levels) – a goal that the city is still officially joining.

READ: An update on Denver’s 2018 Sustainability Goals

In 2019, Mayor Hancock announced that he would provide $ 40 million in 2020 for sustainability initiatives. City council member Jolan Clark urged, among other things, a massive restructuring of the sustainability office (which previously consisted of three employees) into a larger agency called the Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency (CASR). The decision to establish the CASR was passed 11-0 by the Denver City Council in November 2019.

The new sustainability office

Denver Mayor Hancock speaks at the 2019 Sustainability Summit. Photo courtesy of Denver CASR on Facebook

This new department has dedicated CASR employees, including two of the three former employees of the Office of Sustainability. This also includes the Environmental Quality climate team and members of the solid waste disposal team (recycling, compost, garbage) of the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (DOTI). In addition to the committed employees of the city, the CASR office is restructuring and expanding the old sustainability advisory board, so that several different sub-committees are now made up of experts, which are headed by co-chairmen appointed by the mayor. While this sounds complicated and bureaucratic, it should be a beneficial centralization, especially given that complaints about the previous Sustainability Office were based on a lack of cohesion and accountability. In other words, The CASR is now a cross-departmental organization that should be able to get more done.

Grace Rink, the new Chief Climate Officer and Head of CASR, noted that the collaborative structure of the new office “is exciting for us because we want to focus on the circular economy – managing politics and Make sure there are citywide initiatives. “To do this, the CASR office needs to have connections to all the city departments that actually do the work.

“Our approach is 100% collaborative, but We are a very political organization. We also run some programs out-of-the-box, like the benchmark program, but we’re not implementers, ”Rink explained. For example, the CASR can “set a target for how much area is covered by green spaces, but we are not the ones buying open spaces or creating parks. We have to work with them. The point is that we work with them on the ground floor from the start. “

The former president and CEO of all-women sustainability consulting firm Quercus Consulting in Chicago, Rink brings more than two decades of experience providing sustainability advice to governments – She directed the country’s first RFP for solar energy in multiple jurisdictions for grids. Established Solid Waste and Food Waste Diversion Program in Illinois; and monitored transition programs to promote electric vehicles, as just a few examples.

The Climate Action Task Force

Photo by Amanda Piela

When Ice rink began As early as March 2020, the Denver city council had convinced Mayor Hancock to set up a task force to investigate and draft a climate protection report with recommendations for improving sustainability. The task force consisted of nearly 30 community members, all of whom were volunteers, representing everything from the oil industry to environmental activists. Throughout the process, the CASR office provided technical advice to the team and “helped with science and urban systems,” as Rink commented.

In addition to preparing the report, the main focus of the task force was to ensure that the recommended efforts could be funded. Before the November 2020 elections, the task force convinced the city council to include a sales tax hike in the vote, which, as many of us know, was carried out and then approved by voters.

Dominique Gomez, a member of the task force working at the Salazar Center for North American Conservation at the time of her participation, mentioned: “a Much of the urgency was about sales tax. We knew it wouldn’t happen without earmarked funding, period. That’s the sad part of the climate recommendations across the country. Not that individual actions are not particularly important, but the most important thing for us was back then [the ballot initiative in] November.”

Now is the CASR office run by Rink find out what recommendations in the report are achievable within the confines of the city government and develop programs that use the sales tax fund. However, she suggested that taking immediate action based on the recommendations would likely be incremental, not because the circumstances are not urgent, but because the adoption of guidelines that are not carefully scrutinized can have detrimental consequences for an emerging sustainability initiative. “Our office was born from the engagement of the stakeholders When we develop a policy, it will work with members and community representatives to find out how it works for everyone. We’d rather take our time and make sure it works. “

Animated efforts

Photo courtesy Denver CASR on Facebook

With the sales tax increase that brings in between $ 20 million and $ 40 million each year, Sustainability efforts in Denver will receive more funding than ever before. According to multiple sources, Denver is the only city that uses a sales tax for climate action, although other cities like Portland, Oregon, have tax authorities running for a similar climate fund. This could enable Denver to set an example for other communities who want to act faster to tackle climate change.

With sales tax having no impact on food, water, medication, or feminine hygiene products, and channeling 50% of the funds to communities most at risk from climate change in Denver, the benefits seem to outweigh the costs. Rink said: “The cost of nothing is enormous. What will it cost to do nothing in the next 50 years? The people of Denver have spoken and are ready to invest and do so every year. ”

With the new bankroll, the new office, the new Chief Climate Officer and the new policy on focusing on environmental justice (with a distraction of 50%), many are celebrating the potential for quick and tangible action. As Rink and others have pointed out, it’s important to remember that much of the work is done through almost invisible efforts.

“We will definitely use that [sales tax] Fund to change people’s lives in Denver for the better, whether or not it’s visible to all is less clear, ”she said. Some of the early efforts include updating low-income households with electrical appliances as well as adding weather conditions (like sealing windows and adding insulation) to make these homes more accessible to renewable energy networks and resilient to climate change. It is part of the “Implementation Plan for New Buildings and Houses with Net Zero Energy” published in January.

Jacob Bornstein, the lead advisor on the Climate Recommendations Report, confirmed Rink’s thoughts when he commented: “wWe’re seeing strong engagement in the city and I think that’s pretty powerful. Whether or not it’s fast enough is another question. He added that the decision to rebuild the Sustainability Advisory Board – an effort the CASR is now leading – provided concrete evidence that the city was not simply putting the task force’s recommendations ‘on a shelf’.

Other members of the task force agreed with some of Bornstein’s opinions. Gomez mentioned that the trust she placed in the other members who worked on the report “extends to the city employees with whom we have worked. You are clearly committed to it. I trust that they now have the funding and turn to the recommendations we have put together. “

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Check out our next sustainability article in two weeks’ time, which details Denver’s current progress on its existing sustainability goals.