Portland, Oregon, where we here at EarthTechling are headquartered, leaves no doubts in one’s mind of its status as a leading American city in green innovation. We’ve been ranked one of the top communities in the country by the EPA on green power usage. Ford chose to kick off its national electric car tour here earlier this year. We could soon have one of the world’s most advanced green buildings. And the list goes on.
One local entity which has very much been involved in this is the city’s government. Current Portland Mayor Sam Adams has made it one of the priorities of his administration to make his town one of the greenest out there, even in the face of a tough national, and local, economy. To get a better idea of what green technology initiatives, such as clean energy and electric vehicles, the mayor has been working on, we recently caught up with him over email for an interview:
EarthTechling (ET): What makes Portland a great city for green technology innovation?
Mayor Sam Adams: Portland is often considered one of the most sustainable cities in the United States. We’re often in the top ten of sustainable cities in the world. For example, we have more certified LEED buildings than any other city in the United States just by raw numbers, not per capita. As a result, we have more people who have hands-on experience doing green building, manufacturing green, green services, than I think per capita any other city in the United States. That’s our calling card and that’s where we need to create jobs. I want to use that to create new jobs in clean-tech, green industries, green financing.
It also helps greatly that Oregonians and Portlanders specifically were sustainable before there was the modern usage of the word sustainable. And, it was really about protecting the environment, protecting the forest, farm land – we could see the sprawl writing on the wall, and the forefathers and foremothers of this city said let’s hem it in. As a result, our downtown – our central city – didn’t go in the depths of the car onslaught, and we remain much more vital than a lot of other cities.
We were sustainable before it was cool.
And Portland really is becoming a living laboratory for the sustainable urban environment of the future. We have a DIY culture, so we’re seeing homeowners and entrepreneurs innovating just as we’re seeing larger companies, universities and the public sector working to keep that innovation happening. For example, we recognized one of the biggest barriers to people making energy efficiency retrofits to their homes was financing. You could go get a loan for a car, a loan for an RV, but there was no loan product specifically for making smart, energy-efficient improvements to your home. Improvements that would create net gains in GHG reductions and long-term energy savings. So we developed Clean Energy Works Portland, in which we used $2.4 million from federal stimulus and some of our own money and partnered with ShoreBank, NW Natural, PacifiCorp and PG&E to start the nation’s first on-bill financing and payoff for clean energy retrofit homes. In the past few years 2,800 Portland residents did the original energy audit, but never acted on it. Now we have the opportunity to understand how to get people to do the right thing. With Clean Energy Works Portland, we’re jumpstarting the energy efficiency industry in Portland — which creates good jobs, increases demand for energy-efficiency products and services, and helps the city meet our goals of reducing GHG emissions by 80% by 2050.
That’s just one example of being even a bit scrappy to find ways to stay competitive and innovative as a city.