Maren Taylor

One of the first steps in overcoming city-scale challenges is collaboration.

On September 13 in San Francisco, USGBC led an official affiliate event at the Global Climate Action Summit. The three-hour event, focused on local government policy to reduce emissions in the built environment, took place at Arup’s San Francisco office and gathered close to 100 attendees for a mix of panel sessions and small group breakout discussions.

To kick it off, USGBC’s Liz Beardsley interviewed longtime City Council member and former Mayor of Santa Monica Pam O’Connor. Councilmember O’Connor shared stories from her decades of leadership advancing sustainability policies in Santa Monica—a city with a long history of championing green building, culminating most recently in the 2017 passage of the world’s first net zero building requirement. One of O’Connor’s overarching lessons in working to make policy changes is to make connections with your local community and capitalize on momentum when it comes around, even if that momentum does not align perfectly with your initial policy goals.

Next, Shayna Hirshfield-Gold, Acting Sustainability Manger of the City of Oakland, and Caytie Campbell-Orrock, Climate Action Program Specialist of the City of Berkeley, joined moderator Maren Taylor of USGBC for a deep dive into tools, strategies and policies that their respective cities use to address buildings and their impact on the climate and community. The two experts discussed approaches to prioritizing their city’s resources in the face of limited money and staff, achieving progress in the existing building sector with required benchmarking, and good use of data and developing resources and tools to begin the transition to all electric buildings.

A breakout session pulled the speakers’ inspiration and ideas into practical terms, challenging participants to share expertise and experience in small-group discussions. Breakout groups tackled challenges and solutions to focused topics, which included electrification, a net zero building ordinance, benchmarking and existing building incentives. Building off the diversity of participants in the room, from city staff to academics to architects and engineers, participants brainstormed solutions to barriers in policy implementation and success, such as cost, regulatory hurdles, lack of or split incentives, equity and resource constraints.

Michael McCormick, Senior Planner in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), closed the morning in line with the overarching theme of GCAS. His message: action at the local level is essential if the state of California is to meet its climate goals. McCormick highlighted some ways the state is supporting local government climate action including by assisting with planning, providing technical resources and facilitating peer-to-peer learning.

“Climate Action at the local level is a crucial aspect of advancing decarbonization in our communities. This session provided helpful information and opened up the door for great collaboration opportunities. The cities and counties in our region are excited for the new USGBC tools coming out to help advance local efforts to make our communities part of the solution in addressing the climate challenge." —Laura Gromis, Executive Director, USGBC Central California

Among the valuable outcomes of the morning were the connections formed among participants as they shared challenges and solutions. No one person will ever have the answer, but one of the first steps in overcoming city-scale challenges is collaboration. We all have a role and a voice to support the officials and staff in cities where we live and work, and we are all urged to support our local governments in adopting and implementing climate policies.