Environmental activist Rob Greenfeld's food waste display in Union Square Park, New York City. (Sustainable America)
When it comes to the overconsumption, cities are both the epicenters of the most destructive behaviors and the most promising arenas within which to produce change. As the ranks of climate change deniers shrinks, municipal officials across North America are increasingly aware of the inefficacy of existing efforts to tamp down production and consumption, and of their direct responsibility to find new solutions to the accelerating environmental crisis. But what role, exactly, should cities play in promoting sustainable behaviors? This question is at the heart of an upcoming webinar hosted by the West Coast Climate & Materials Management Forum. The October 20 event, which takes place from 9:30-11:00am PST and is free and open to the public, continues a dialogue among US and Canadian urban administrators, researchers, and activists seeking concrete strategies for municipalities committed to moving the needle on sustainable consumption.
The webinar, “The Role of Cities in Sustainable Consumption: Making the Case for Local Action,” features two speakers. Babe O’Sullivan, Sustainability Liaison with the City of Eugene, will outline the “Eugene Memo,” a four-page document created following an October 2014 workshop, also titled “The Role of Cities in Sustainable Consumption.” O’Sullivan will be followed by consultant Cara Pike of Social Capital Strategies, author of new research on the cultural context of reframing sustainable consumption. Pike’s study was commissioned by the Vancouver-based “think and do tank” One Earth, whose executive director, Vanessa Timmer, will offer introductory remarks.
The “Eugene Memo” [PDF] is the work of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative, and One Earth, and bears the imprint of over 30 signatories, including Shareable’s Neal Gorenflo. It summarizes the conclusions of the October 2014 workshop and offers a set of “guiding principles” for action on the city level. Among the former are the acknowledgment that the current economic system is “living beyond its means” in terms of material and energy consumption”; and the idea that efficiency-improving technology alone is not enough to solve the root problem of ever-increasing demand. The memo’s strategies range from redefining prosperity away from material and financial accumulation to setting goals and measures outside of standard economic indicators like GDP.
At the core of the “Eugene Memo” is the assumption that meaningful change will require a transformation of contemporary cultural values, urban economies, and urban form. Pike’s report, “Sustainable Production and Consumption Framing: A Research Summary" [PDF], picks up on this thread. Following a review of North American opinion polls, academic studies, media stories, and websites plus a set of interviews, Pike offers suggests a few keys to reframing the sustainable consumption agenda. Allies must first learn to communicate across the disciplinary boundaries, to maximize the lessons learned through academic research, nonprofit work, and civic leadership. Pike also favors a greater emphasis on human needs and quality of life alongside the environmental dimensions of sustainability. Finally, the report indicates the need for clearer, less jargon-y language when addressing the urban citizenry, as well as for shifting from themes of sacrifice and guilt to innovation and opportunity.
To register for the webinar, click here. More information and links to downloadable materials can be found on West Coast Climate & Materials Management Forum’s website. A webinar recording will be available here by October 27.