Stories from USA-Canada

In-depth (based on site visits with extensive interviews)

  1. Canada – British Columbia (Whistler) – Community Engagement in Planning for a Sustainable Future – A community comes together to manage uncontrolled growth and creates a groundbreaking plan for sustainable resort development.
  2. USAGreen Business in America – U.S. businesses strive to become more eco-friendly.
  3. USA – California (Arcata) – Constructed Wetland: A Cost-Effective Alternative for Wastewater Treatment – Shunning a costly regional sewage treatment plant, a town converts derelict industrial land into a marsh that purifies its municipal wastewater.
  4. USA – California/Oregon – Decline and Restoration in the Klamath River Basin: The Klamath Settlement Agreements
  5. USA – California (Berkeley) – Edible Schoolyards: Connecting Kids to the Earth and Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits – Replacing a parking lot with a school garden and kitchen, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle school creates tools for education and social change.
  6. USA – California (Oakland) – The People’s Grocery: Bringing Healthy Food to Low-Income Neighborhoods – A mobile grocery brings fresh food to a low-income “food desert.”
  7. USA – Hawaii (Oahu) – Waiahole Ditch Water Restoration – Twenty years after their land struggle, the Waiahole-Waikane community achieves stream restoration as well.
  8. USA – Hawaii (Oahu) – He‘eia Fishpond and Watershed – Ecosystem restoration at He‘eia, Hawai‘i spans the watershed from the coastal fishpond to the upper valley.
  9. USA – Hawaii – Restoring the Life of the Land: Taro Patches in Hawai’i – Ancient irrigation systems are being restored to cultivate Hawai’i’s staple crop.
  10. USA – Hawaii (Oahu) – MA‘O Organic Farm: Growing Food and Empowering Youth – Agriculture and education improves food security and the social situation in a marginalized community.
  11. USA – Hawaii (Oahu) – EcoTipping Points at Hanauma Bay – An idyllic bay goes through two cycles of overuse and preservation.
  12. USA – Hawaii (Big Island) – The West Hawai‘i Fisheries Council: A Forum for Coral Reef Stakeholders – Stakeholder dialog reduces conflict and improves management of a coral reef.
  13. USA – New York (New York City) – Green Guerillas: Community Gardens Revitalize Urban Neigborhoods – Community gardens transform decaying urban neighborhoods.
  14. USA – Oregon (Portland) – Sustainable City – Participatory regional planning curtails sprawl and creates strategies for a sustainable future.
  15. USA – Oregon (Portland) – Flexcar: A Model of For-Profit Carsharing – Portland-based Flexcar cashes in on alternatives to car ownership.
  16. USA – Utah (Salt Lake City) – Regional Planning through Community Participation: Learning from Envision Utah – The community turned urban growth in a healthier direction with structured, map-based workshops for thousands of citizens.
  17. USA/CanadaThe Organic Farming Movement in North America: Moving towards Sustainable Agriculture – How the current mainstreaming of organics is just one stage in a larger EcoTipping Point towards sustainable agriculture in North America and beyond.

Capsule (shorter pieces which appear below)

  1. Canada – British Columbia – Tsleil-Waututh Nation – A native tribe helps to restore a degraded watershed, with far-reaching ecological and economic benefits.
  2. Canada – British Columbia – Sustainable Oyster Farming – Oyster farming diversifies the economy and provides incentives for ecological protection.
  3. Canada – Northwest Territories – Inuvik Community Greenhouse – An innovative greenhouse increases food security and self-sufficiency in the Arctic.
  4. Canada – Nova Scotia – Zero-Waste 2005 Composting Project – Recycling organic waste saves landfill space and feeds the land.
  5. USACommunity-Supported Fisheries – Modeled after community-supported agriculture, community-supported fisheries benefit fishermen, consumers, and the environment.
  6. USAPower to the People – Thanks to a new online platform, small investors can join together to fund solar energy projects.
  7. USA – Alabama (Hale County) – The Rural Studio – Architecture students combine their studies with the design and creation of ecological housing for low-income clients.
  8. USA – Alaska – Denali BioTechnologies – Valuable wild blueberries are harvested on deforested land, providing good nutrition and an economic boost to remote villages.
  9. USA – California – Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District – Napa County works with the “living rivers” principle for its flood management plan.
  10. USA – California (San Francisco) – The Garden Project – Organic farming by prison inmates restores their connection to the land and addresses recidivism.
  11. USA – California (Morgan Hill) – Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security – Women’s cooperatives create much-needed living-wage and eco-friendly jobs.
  12. USA – California (Los Angeles) – Natural Urban Park – The Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park turns an urban brownfield into a natural ecosystem that connects local residents to nature and revitalizes their community.
  13. USA – Colorado (Boulder) – Namaste Solar Electric – A photovoltaics company offers renewable energy and a socially conscious business model.
  14. USA – Hawaii (Big Island) – Sustainable Forest Management – The Forest Service, Nature Conservancy, and private companies cooperate in a sustainable forestry venture.
  15. USA – Hawaii (Oahu) – Kokua Kalihi Valley: A Holistic Approach to Health – Kokua Kalihi Valley community health center integrates the health of the people and the health of the land.
  16. USA – Hawaii (Oahu) – Sustainable Saunders Initiative – College students lead the effort to make the University of Hawai’i more sustainable.
  17. USA – Kansas – Land Institute – Restoring shrinking prairie habitats with sustainable agriculture.
  18. USA – Louisiana – Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program – A cooperative regional management program turns the tide of environmental degradation in the nation’s largest estuary.
  19. USA – Maine – Alewife Restoration – Extraordinary measures are taken to restore Maine’s river herring population, a keystone species in the ecosystem.
  20. USA – Maine – Maine Lobsters – Co-management in the Maine lobster fishery helps promote sustainability.
  21. USA – Massachusetts (Boston) – Nira Rock – An old quarry is transformed into a sanctuary for wildlife and people alike.
  22. USA – Minnesota – Red Lake Restoration – Native Americans restore wild rice and walleye fish on their reservation.
  23. USA – New York (New York City) – Melrose Commons – Local residents resist eviction and gentrification with alternative urban development.
  24. USA – New York (New York City) – Watershed Protection – Watershed protection is a cost-effective alternative to a costly treatment plant to improve the region’s deteriorating water quality.
  25. USA – Oregon (Portland) – The Rebuilding Center – A building materials recycling business thrives in a formerly economically depressed neighbourhood.
  26. USA – Texas (Austin) – People Organized in the Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER) – A low-income neighborhood starts a successful environmental/economic justice movement.
  27. USA – Texas (Austin) – Green Building and Green Choice Programs – Housing projects opt for sustainability in building materials and energy supply.
  28. USA – Texas (Austin) – Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Program – Austin incorporates natural habitats in city planning to protect it from sprawl.
  29. USA – Washington State – Lummi Nation Marine Aquaculture – Native Americans save their reservation with eco-development.
  30. USA – Various locations – Phytoremediation – Plants and microbes use natural processes to purify contaminated wastewater.

Canada – British Columbia – Tsleil-Waututh Nation

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation occupies some 190,000 hectares of the Indian River valley just north of Vancouver, Canada, living off the richly forested land with salmon and chum-filled rivers. Their way of life depended on salmon, deer, elk, bear, mountain goats, cedar, berries, and medicines; today although dramatically altered, some of these traditions still continue.

During the 1950s-1980s, industrial logging and other industry caused salmon runs to decline, affected other sea life, and degraded the water quality of the Indian River which drains into the Burrard Inlet. Concern over the ecosystem’s state and health of the community inspired the Nation leaders to find new ways to conduct stewardship of the land.

Among other things, they signed an agreement with the British Columbia (BC) government to co-manage the region’s provincial park, held a conference on integrated stewardship, began a watershed and restoration study, began an ecotourism business with canoe and boat tours, and signed cooperative agreements with the BC forest ministry and forestry operations to create sustainable logging ventures. They joined forces with foundation Ecotrust Canada in 1998, which provided funds, support and training for various programs, including: use of GPS for restoration of salmon habitat, field work and data collection, and cleanup of industrial waste in the valley left behind by logging camps and sawmills. They also deactivated 100 km of logging roads, which has been key in restoring the watershed.

They are applying for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council, the eco-labelling system for wood) certification for their logging, and plans are advancing for more ecotourism development.

Services/benefits: Watershed quality improved, salmon runs recovering, sense of stewardship and pride among TW nation, economic benefits

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Canada – British Columbia – Sustainable Oyster Farming

This case is interesting because it is a radical departure from the boom-bust cycles characterizing Canadian Pacific Coast economies and ecosystems since the early 1900s. These include whaling, sealing, mining, sardine canning, and logging.

Clayoquot Sound includes coastal temperate rainforest, rivers, lakes, marine areas and beaches, and is home of the Nootka first nations peoples. It is best-known as being the focal point of one of the country’s largest civil society campaigns to stop industrial logging, culminating in 1993 when the provincial government allowed logging of old-growth forest in the region. Activists organized blockades and other acts of civil disobedience which finally resulted in the region being declared a World Biosphere Reserve in 2000. (However, critics are skeptical of this because “reserve” does not legally protect the resources. Environmentalists insist that the same companies under changed names are using the sanitized euphemism of “conservation-based forestry” to continue industrial logging in a form virtually unchanged, which has lulled people into the belief that the area is protected.)

Anyway, as the economy searches for solutions to wean itself off its past addictions to resource extraction, aquaculture of shellfish began growing in the region since 1985 as a way to diversify the economy. An important difference between farming of shellfish (mainly oyster but also scallops and clams) and what has gone before is that it depends on a pristine marine ecosystem to thrive. It requires fertile water, good currents, and nutrients, including leaf litter from the shore, which means the marine ecosystem is recognized to include the neighboring terrestrial ecosystem. Because they grow in such good conditions, the oysters themselves are said to be of very high quality. In fact, shellfish farms have had to close a few times by law after heavy rainfall when fecal levels in the inlets where they are raised are too high. The practice itself is low-impact and relatively pollution-free (it does have some impacts and must be monitored carefully). The sector is expected to expand by up to three times by 2007.

This is another illustration of how markets can shape long-term preservation of a resource (as in silvofisheries in Malaysia, tree frogs in Peru, agroforestry in China’s upper Yangtze watershed) as much as they were incentives for earlier short-sighted use of resources through the same pattern of discovery, exploitation, and depletion. Finally it shows some residents have learned important lessons after watching history repeating itself for a century.

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Canada – Northwest Territories – Inuvik Community Greenhouse

This is a good example of increasing food security and self-sufficiency in a cold climate, as well as other important benefits the project has brought with it.

Inuvik is a town of 3,500 which lies 2 degrees north of the Arctic Circle, between treeless tundra and northern boreal forest. Permafrost and a short and unpredictable growing season limit agricultural possibilities, but between June and August there is 24 hours of sunlight, and so potential to make use of it under the right conditions.

In 1998, the Inuvik Community Garden Association decided to rescue a disused arena and adjacent school which were slated for demolition, with funds it had raised for this purpose. It replaced the walls with glazing and added a second floor, to create what is now the world’s most northerly greenhouse. On the first floor are raised beds for community plots which are reserved and paid for with a nominal annual fee (some of which are provided to elders and other community groups by local businesses), while on the second floor is a commercial nursery which grows bedding plants (starter flowers and vegetables, which are being bought and planted in gardens around town and has improved the aesthetic) and later filled with hydroponic cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables. The building also has space for workshops and gardening classes. The community garden has received funding from businesses and government. Starting in 2000, the project is still young but has begun a composting and town beautification scheme with hanging baskets for the main streets, and window flower boxes for the subsidized housing.

The greenhouse has become a focal point for community development and has attracted a variety of residents from various backgrounds (including indigenous Gwiichin and Inuvialuit) and age groups. There has been an enthusiastic response, with waiting lists growing for plot allotments. While the growing season is short, it is also very intense, with 24-hour sunlight creating an environment for vegetables to grow where they would not normally in the soil. This local availability of fresh food is important here where variety and quantity of fresh, produce is limited. This could reduce the dependence on food grown in distant places, treated by one chemical preservation process or another and imported over long-distance fossil fueled transport.

Benefits/services: social relations, waste treatment, recycling of disused building, food security/options, reduced dependence (during the growing season anyway) on distant food sources.

For more information visit Urban Agriculture Notes.

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Canada – Nova Scotia – Zero-Waste 2005 Composting Project

This was an ambitious plan for the small town (population 600) of Annapolis Royal to achieve zero waste by the year 2005. It was chosen to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of nearby Port Royal, which is Canada’s oldest European settlement, and was modeled after the low-waste lifestyles of the French settlers who arrived there.

In 1996 an environmental coalition called the Annapolis County Environment Protection Association (ACEPA) was formed to oppose the siting of a large landfill in an environmentally sensitive area. The plan for the project began in 1997, where members researched various alternatives to realize the goal, contacted experts and read technical literature. Their challenge was to break away from the provincially-mandated regional waste management, where despite high fees to participate, a small town like Annapolis Royal would have virtually no input in decisions affecting them.

Curbside collection of recyclables had been in place in Annapolis Royal since 1991, and after the province of Nova Scotia banned organic material from its landfills, many regional recycling/composting programs began, but they involved hauling organic waste, sometimes great distances, to central facilities.

Since the town had a small population (and small tax base), it wanted to find a solution that did not rely on fossil fuels to transport wastes long distances to a central facility, and was cheap and easy to use, particularly for the large population of elderly residents. They realized that the curbside collection and centralized composting was costly, so they found there was potential to save on tax dollars which would make up for any of its initial investments.

ACEPA formed a committee to handle the project, which had a lot of support with the public and elected city officials from the beginning. The whole project was created municipally, the information meetings were open to the public, and it still enjoys a high level of support and participation from the community.

Some 30% of Annapolis Royalis waste stream is organic. Three low-tech systems were put in place:

  1. “Green Cones” for individual backyard composting; these were cheap aerobic digesters which would handle meat, bones, dairy and other kitchen waste not composted.
  2. Neighborhood composters for use on streets or near multiple-unit dwellings.
  3. “Earth Tubs” which processed commercial volume up to 200 lbs/day, for businesses that produced higher levels of organic waste (supermarkets, restaurants).

The town exceeded its goal of diverting 50% of its waste from the landfill by 2000, with 53% being diverted. Before the start of the program 40% of its residents were composting to some degree; by 1999, 82% were composting. The waste from neighborhood composters and Earth Tubs are sold to farmers, gardeners and soil blenders. Around Nova Scotia, other municipalities are studying and copying the program, or adopting similar programs after learning of Annapolis Royal.

This case is interesting because the purpose of the project was to have a waste reduction program and purchasing choices that would allow residents and businesses to be “waste-free” by 2005 with a minimum of personal effort. This is a good illustration of redesigning a local system of purchasing, distribution and waste management that makes it “cheap and easy” for ordinary citizens to protect the environment rather than the other way around, and proves that if these conditions are put in place, people participate willingly and enthusiastically.

The whole of Nova Scotia’s waste-disposal program could be seen as a larger tipping point. When a large landfill was fast approaching capacity, and scheduled to close in 1996, with opposition to building a new one, a few strong leaders in the provincial government and municipalities began thinking of other solutions to the waste problem, since the story of aging outdated waste facilities was all over the province. This was the initial decision to ban not only organic waste but bottles, cans, cardboard, and other recyclable materials from landfills. After initial opposition from municipalities and citizens the situation has evolved to the point that Nova Scotia met the Canadian government goal to divert 50% of its waste from landfills, where no other province has come close. Now a burgeoning recycling industry has evolved, with tires and other “waste” being converted into car mats and other products, which has created at least 600 new jobs.

Services/benefits: Social relations, waste management, saving money, sense of pride, cultural heritage values.

For more information visit the Genuine Progress Index for Atlantic Canada.

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USA – Community-Supported Fisheries

The Current Situation

Like nearly everything else in the world, seafood has become part of the industrialized, globalized marketplace. An estimated 80% to 91% of all the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported (Nextworld n.d., Greenberg 2014, Conniff 2014). Shrimp (mostly farm-raised in Asia) has surpassed tuna and salmon as America’s favorite seafood. One third of the U.S. catch is exported, but much of that makes an “Asian round trip”: it is frozen, shipped overseas, thawed, filleted by low-cost labor, refrozen, and sent back as imports. On the other hand, foreign fish processed in the U.S.—e.g. blocks of imported “white fish” (tilapia and catfish) that are cut into fish sticks and sent overseas—is considered an American export (Greenberg 2014). To make matters even murkier, up to one third of imported seafood is “IUU” fish—illegal, unreported, and unregulated (Conniff 2014).

Figure 1 shows the sources and distance traveled of U.S. seafood imports. The average distance between where a fish is caught and where it is eaten is 8,812 km (5,476 mi) (McClenachan et al. 2014).

Figure 1. U.S. seafood imports

Figure 1. U.S. seafood imports
Source: McClenachan et al. 2014

Besides producing stale fish with a very large carbon footprint, this has several negative repercussions:

  • The deluge of imported fish (especially IUU fish) depresses the market price that U.S. fishermen are paid for their catch. This affects especially small boats with slim profit margins; many have been forced out of business.
  • Imported seafood can be hazardous to your health. Only 1% of it is tested, and of that, about half is rejected because of contaminants such as bacteria and viruses, antibiotics and fungicides. One place in Vietnam was found to be raising fish in sewage (Nextworld n.d.).
  • The beloved shrimp has an additional set of problems, including slavery-like conditions for the workforce; destruction of ecologically critical mangroves; and consumption of 1.3 pounds of processed fishmeal from wild sources for every 1 pound of farm-raised shrimp (Philpott 2016).
  • The global market makes U.S. citizens less concerned about the ocean environment. “Globalization has radically disconnected us from our seafood supply,” says Greenberg (2014), and “when trade so completely severs us from our coastal ecosystems, what motivation have we to preserve them?” For instance, with so much farmed salmon coming into the country, he says, no one seems concerned that the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska will ruin the spawning grounds of the largest wild sockeye salmon run on earth.

Alternative: Community-Supported Fisheries

According to the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA),

It makes no sense to pay fishermen a price that doesn’t cover their real cost of operation while the consumers are paying much more than they should for packaged, frozen or days-old seafood trucked hundreds or thousands of miles when it was caught steps away from our homes (

One of NAMA’s “market transformation” strategies has been to promote community-supported fisheries (CSFs). Modeled after community-supported agriculture, a CSF is a community of consumers collaborating with local fishermen to buy fish directly for a predetermined price and length of time. Usually customers pre-pay for a season and receive weekly or bi-weekly allotments of fish (,

The first CSF appeared in Maine in 2007. Now there are over 30 in the U.S. and Canada, with over 250 distribution locations. There are about 50 CSFs around the world. In 2012 they formed a “community-of-practice” called Local Catch, which includes fisherman, organizers, researchers, and consumers.

While CSFs are all based on the same business model, they are very diverse. Some were created by existing fishermen’s cooperatives; some had the help of government agencies, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations (see Table 1). Some have only a single fisherman and a single boat; some have several dozen. The number of shareholders ranges from 100 to 2,000. Some have dockside pick-up; others have many distribution points around a city or region. Skipper Otto’s on the west coast of Canada even delivers to the inland provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. Some sell whole fish and others fillets.  Some offer a “basket” of variable seafood depending on what the fishermen catch, while others specialize in specific species. Most are on the coast, but some are inland. One (Maple Ridge Farm and Fishery in Maine) combines community-supported agriculture with community-supported fishing (Brinson et al. 2011, Conniff 2014, McClenachan 2014,,

Source: Brinson et al. 2011

Source: Brinson et al. 2011

Steve Parkes of Cape Ann Fresh Catch distributes seafood to shareholders at the Morse School in Cambridge

Steve Parkes of Cape Ann Fresh Catch distributes seafood to shareholders at the Morse School in Cambridge

Like community-supported agriculture, community-supported fisheries shorten the distribution chain considerably, as shown in Figure 2. The average distance a fish travels is 65 km (40 mi) instead of 8,812 km (5,476 mi) (McClenachan et al. 2014).

Figure 2. Conventional vs. community-supported distribution chain for fish

Figure 2. Conventional vs. community-supported distribution chain for fish
Source: McClenachan et al. 2014

Besides producing fresh fish with a very small carbon footprint, CSFs have many other benefits:

  • They improve the price for both fishermen and consumers. Fishermen are paid more than they could get wholesale, and consumers pay less than they would at the supermarket (some as low as $3 per pound). This allows fishermen to make a living while catching fewer fish, which in turn is good for fish stocks.
  • Fishermen benefit by receiving necessary resources early in the season, bridging the gap between pre-season expenses and fishing-season income.
  • Wasteful bycatch is reduced because CSFs create markets for lesser-known species, including some highly abundant stocks not targeted by industrialized fisheries (McClenachan et al. 2014).
  • Most CSFs have a code of conduct for fishermen in which they agree to fish in a sustainable manner, e.g., by catching only what is in season, using lower-impact gear, and dumping no waste.
  • CSF shareholders form a political base of support for small fishermen and the ocean environment.
  • Local markets increase the economic vitality of coastal communities and maintain working waterfronts.
  • The system is transparent. Each fish is traceable from “bait to plate.”  This is not just traceability but “faceability” because it gives the person who caught the fish a face, says Jack Kittinger, director of Conservation International Hawai‘i, which recently helped create Hawai‘i’s first CSF, Local I‘a. “It’s seafood with a story and the story highlights the local fishermen who are out there bringing in this seafood” (Navares Myers 2015).
  • Knowing your fisherman can lead to rewarding relationships and a greater sense of community.
  • The CSF model ensures that independent, small-scale harvesters can continue to fish using the low impact practices their parents and grandparents used before them and still remain in an industry that is rapidly becoming dominated by big business and aquaculture (
  • CSFs provide hope for the youth that fishing is a career option.
  • Keeping small, owner-operated boats afloat at a time when they are increasing being forced out of the market has an additional set of benefits (see Figure 3). With about the same amount of catch for human consumption, small-scale fishing generates much more employment and has much smaller negative impacts than large-scale fishing.

Figure 3. Impacts of large-scale vs. small-scale fishing operations

Figure 3. Impacts of large-scale vs. small-scale fishing operations
Source: Chart created by Daniel Pauly posted on

Get Involved

To find a CSF in your area, visit Local Catch’s locator at It includes not only CSFs but also dock pick-ups, farmers markets, fishermen’s markets, boat-to-school programs, and others.

If no CSF is nearby, create one! Fishermen and community organizers can use NAMA’s Bait Box which explains in detail how to start a CSF. A number of other resource guides are available as well:

  • Market Your Catch website
  • Starting and Maintaining Community Supported Fishery (CSF) Programs: A Resource Guide for Fishermen and Fishing Communities
  • Fishermen’s Direct Marketing Manual
  • Final Report of the National Summit on Community Supported Fisheries

Organizations such as NAMA, Sea Grant, and Local Catch can offer assistance as well.


Brinson, Ayeisha, Min-Yang Lee, and Barbara Rountree. 2011. Direct marketing strategies:  The rise of community supported fishery programs. Marine Policy 35, p. 542-548.

Conniff, Richard. 2014. Hook, Line, and Sustainable: 5 Ways Community-Supported Fisheries Trump Supermarket Seafood., May 6.

Greenberg, Paul. 2014. Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish? New York Times, June 20.

McClenachan, Loren, Benjamin P. Neal, Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak,Taylor Witkin, Kara Fisher, and John N. Kittinger. 2014. Do community supported fisheries (CSFs) improve sustainability? Fisheries Research 157, p. 62-69.

Navares Meyers, Alyssa. 2015. Local I‘a: The freshest catch from your local community-supported fishery. Green Magazine 7(2), p. 16-20.

Nextworld. n.d. What about fish? Video.

Philpott, Tom. 2016. As If Slavery Weren’t Enough, 6 Other Reasons to Avoid Shrimp., Jan. 6.

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USA – Power to the People

“Abundant clean energy for and by the people” is Mosaic’s mission. “We’re building a platform for people to participate in and benefit from the clean-energy revolution,” says co-founder and president Billy Parish. “We’re aiming to be the leading investment platform for the clean-energy economy.” With its unique platform, even very small investors (with as little as $25) can help fund solar projects and reap the rewards.

To get started, in 2012 the company raised $3.4 million from venture capital investors and received a $2 million grant from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Incubator Program. That program gives grants to small businesses and entrepreneurs who are working on technology that (a) makes solar more accessible for Americans, and (b) helps toward getting the cost of solar below $1 per watt by 2020.

The JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act is also designed to support enterprises like Mosaic. Upon signing the Act in April 2012, President Obama said, “For the first time, ordinary Americans will be able to go online and invest in entrepreneurs that they believe in.” But the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has still not adopted rules to implement the crowdfunding provisions of the JOBS Act. Until then, Mosaic is working with state regulators to allow the offer of securities to the general public. Currently, “accredited” investors (i.e., millionaires and institutions) from all over the country can invest with Mosaic, but its projects can be offered to “non-accredited” investors only in California and New York.

How it works

Mosaic (formerly Solar Mosaic) selects high-quality solar projects in need of financing, and prepares prospectuses for investors. On Mosaic’s investment platform ( each investor creates a personal account, then browses online through available projects and chooses an investment. Many of the projects are relatively small-scale solar systems for non-profit, community-based organizations. Besides not having to struggle with obtaining funding from banks or institutional lenders, the organizations enjoy lower-than-average borrowing costs, and the investors enjoy higher-than-average returns.

Mosaic brings together small investors to fund community solar projects

Mosaic brings together small investors to fund community solar projects

Solar projects typically consist of photovoltaic panels that either (a) generate on-site electric power for small businesses or non-profit organizations, or (b) generate power for sale to an electric utility or other “off-taker” pursuant to a power purchase agreement. The projects can also generate revenue by selling solar renewable energy credits to utilities. Investors are paid back from the revenue generated; every month a payment is made to the investor’s online account which includes principal plus interest. One can easily re-invest the funds into new projects, or transfer them to a bank account. Once deposited into an individual’s Mosaic account, the funds are FDIC-insured up to $250,000.

Interest paid varies by project, but with a general range of 4.4% to 5.5%, Mosaic’s investment opportunities currently outperform both 5-year certificates of deposit and 10-year Treasury bonds. They are slightly more risky, because repayment is entirely dependent on the borrower making payments, which in turn depends on the power produced and sold. To date, over $5.3 million has been invested through Mosaic and investors have received 100% on-time repayments. [Note: Past performance does not guarantee future results, and every conceivable risk is explained in each project prospectus.]

Mosaic earns money with loan origination fees and a “platform fee” of 1%, which it subtracts from loan repayments prior to giving the returns to the investors. For instance, if a project has a 5.5% interest rate for the developer, Mosaic keeps 1% and gives a 4.5% rate of return to the online investors.

Diagram of a typical solar finance arrangement

Diagram of a typical solar finance arrangement
Source: Mosaic prospectuses


Mosaic began its “beta” phase with non-interest-bearing investments in the spring of 2012. It assembled interest-free financing for five projects in California and Arizona:

1.5kW on the Navajo Project in the Navajo Nation, Arizona ($2,800)
26kW on St. Vincent de Paul in Oakland, California ($17,700)
9kW on the Murdoch Community Center in Flagstaff, Arizona ($18,275)
9kW on the Peoples Grocery in Oakland, California ($11,300) – see related ETP story
29kW on the Asian Resource Center in Oakland, California ($37,200)

Happy investors, People’s Grocery in Oakland, California

Happy investors, People’s Grocery in Oakland, California – see related ETP story

The first interest-bearing project, in September 2012, was a 47-kilowatt installation on the Youth Employment Partnership center in Oakland, California. Selected investors were promised very favorable terms of 6.38% with a repayment time of just 5 years.  In just 6 days, 51 investors fully funded the $40,000, 106-panel installation.  The project is expected to save the youth center more than $160,000 through reduced electricity costs—money that can now be used toward the organization’s mission.

Mosaic launched its public web platform in January 2013. Within 24 hours the first four projects (all affordable housing projects in California) were sold out—a clear indication of pent-up demand, according to co-founder and CEO Dan Rosen. Over 400 investors put in between $25 and $30,000 (average $700) for a total of $313,000.

So far, other fully funded projects include the following:

Project Amount Yield Term Prospectus
426 kW on U.S. Foods
in Albuquerque, NM
$453,950 5.75% 120 months Prospectus
322 kW on Farmlands
in Gerber, CA
$294,775 5.5% 144 months Prospectus
662 kW on Pinnacle Charter School
in Federal Heights, CO
$450,000 5.4% 120 months Prospectus
251 kW on University of Florida Apartments
in Gainesville, FL
$377,600 4.4% 108 months Prospectus
114 KW on the Ronald McDonald House
in San Diego, CA
$152,700 4.5% 117 months Prospectus
487 kW on the Wildwoods Convention Center
in Wildwood, NJ
$350,000 4.5% 114 months Prospectus

For projects still in need of funding, see the Mosaic website
For further information see an introductory video

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USA – Alabama (Hale County) – The Rural Studio

Founded in 1993 by the late Samuel Mockbee, Auburn University’s Rural Studio is a pioneering experiment which combines practical architectural education and badly-needed social services to low-income residents of Hale County, one of the poorest counties in Alabama. Mockbee’s vision was that architecture could be a strong force in combating the squalor and inhumanity of poverty, pointing to the often institutional facelessness of housing and other facilities for the poor.

In 1993, Mockbee left a lucrative private practice and began the Rural Studio. His later projects with his firm had done some projects for charity, and he realized that good design should not be a privilege for the rich. Founding the Rural Studio, he began inspiring students to create simultaneously radical and functional designs for low-income clients. He promoted the innovative use of cost-effective materials, much of which was salvaged and recycled, for example carpet scraps, car parts, old tires, waste cardboard bales, colored bottles, old license plates, concrete or rubble. His vision was a fusion of modern and traditional Southern elements with a strong sense of rootedness to place. He believed that architecture could be oriented towards the community and motivate architects to transform the social environment. This was contrary to the prevailing trend in architecture towards the flashy, grandiose, big-name projects in urban centers.

The first Rural Studio project was completed in 1994, for the Bryant family, a couple in their seventies raising three grandchildren in a dilapidated shack. Their modest needs were for indoor plumbing, a septic system, and comfortable places to sleep. The “Bryant House” was a compact home constructed of hay bales (which were good for insulation) covered in stucco, with a covered porch running the length of the house used for entertaining. The hay bale construction kept the costs down to $16,500. Since then, Rural Studio students have been designing not only low-income homes but a variety of unique structures including churches, chapels, playgrounds, community centers, playgrounds and outdoor pavilions, all of which followed the same resourceful methods of scavenging and recycling materials. It has won grants and awards, and after Mockbee’s death in 2001 he was awarded a posthumous prize for his accomplishments, and the Rural Studio still continues to thrive.

The Rural Studio has also been credited for influencing the education of architecture in the country; for example, in 1992 there were about 8-10 design-and-build programs, but today there are 30-40. Normally projects take place over one year and involve three sets of usually fifteen students working over each semester, so the project progresses like a relay race. The first group establishes contact with the clients and begins the design with the clients’ needs in mind, which is then passed on to the second set of students who choose materials and work out increasingly finer details as the project then gets passed onto the third group of students. Students are not allowed to remove anything created or designed by the previous groups. This gives students hands-on experience in designing and building something real and functional, exposes them to the realities of poverty and related social and environmental issues, as well as giving them an opportunity to provide a valuable community service. The emphasis on local and salvaged materials promotes environmental sustainability in architecture and encourages students to think beyond the discipline’s definition of what building materials are appropriate.

For more information visit the Architectural Record.

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USA – Alaska – Denali BioTechnologies

The Tongass National Forest is a rare temperate rainforest located in southeast Alaska. With 16.8 million acres, it is the largest U.S. national forest.

In the mid-1950s, large-scale clearcutting began in the Tongass under the U.S. Forest Service policy of selling the trees to private timber companies. Logging roads, pulp mills and saw mills were built and a booming industry began. In 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act reduced the amount of timberland under Forest Service jurisdiction. But once they finally acquired title to the land in the late 1970s, the Alaska Native corporations also began diligent logging operations.

By 2000, the timber boom was over, due in part to a change in Forest Service policy, but also to economic and other factors. This was a relief to the forest, but a hardship for the people. Employment in the forestry industry in southeast Alaska is now about 15% of what it was during the heyday of logging.

The Native village of Kake is a “poster child” of this boom-and-bust cycle, according to Dr. Maureen McKenzie. During the boom years, Kake Tribal Logging & Timber was Alaska’s third largest timber company. The village had a population of around 1,000. Logging jobs in the Tongass led to other jobs, e.g. in stores, restaurants, clinics, churches. The Kake Tribal Corporation (the governing entity) was also doing very well. After the boom, the people were left with few jobs, a badly scarred forest, and a diminished traditional subsistence economy. The town’s population shrank by about half, and nearly 80% of those who remain are unemployed. The Tribal Corporation is in bankruptcy.

Dr. McKenzie is the owner and CEO of Denali BioTechnologies, Inc. in Homer, Alaska, and also an adjunct professor of pharmacy at the University of Florida. Her company produces nutraceuticals—dietary supplements with significant health benefits. She is especially interested in identifying the most abundant resources with the longest history of human use. “We encouraged them [the village residents] to go look through the ‘slash piles’ for new growth,” wrote McKenzie. “Lo and behold, wild blueberries are thriving! We set up a formal harvest operation and make our proprietary, very high quality dietary supplement, AuroraBlue®, from those hand-picked blueberries.” (AuroraBlue also contains local huckleberries and bilberries from other remote regions of Alaska.)

Unlike commercial blueberries that are selected for optimal sweetness and juiciness, the wild blueberries contain exceptional quantities of flavonoids—far more even than wild blueberries grown in lower latitudes. Flavonoids—which are scarce in the modern American diet—are known to prevent and even help heal serious illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s). They are “natural chemicals designed to protect plants and us!” says McKenzie.

To not compete with people’s subsistence, Dr. McKenzie urges them to stock their freezers first before they pick for the company. When blueberries nearest the community are picked, she offers “chits” for gasoline to people who want to pick further away. It is often rough terrain, and the pickers sometimes encounter black bears who also enjoy the berries.

Denali BioTech pays $3.10 per pound to its 50-75 blueberry pickers in southeast Alaska. This is higher than the global market price. Denali also pays 50¢ per pound to the brokers who weigh and deliver the berries. Additional costs have included the rental of refrigerated vans at $135 per day each and the cost of air freight at $2.74 per pound. Thus the cost per pound of blueberries is sometimes nearly $8.00.

While profit margins are slim, McKenzie is proud of her work and hopeful for the future. “We have infused desperately needed jobs and cash into their communities,” she wrote.  “Although this is now seasonal employment [mid-June through early October], we are seeking ways to create year-round jobs related to the nutrition/health industries in the remote Native villages of Alaska.” Besides wages, she says, it gives people hope for a sustainable economic future, and pride in knowing that the product of their ancestors is of such premium quality.

In addition to AuroraBlue, Denali BioTech produces AuroraGreen from dandelions and AuroraRed from rosehips—both locally abundant and highly nutritious. The company has targeted over 150 plant candidates from all over Alaska for further nutraceutical research.

For more information see

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USA – California – Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District

This plan was designed for the flood-prone Napa River valley which took a new approach to river management. Usually, conventional flood control emphasizes forcibly altering a river’s natural flow and tendencies by combining various types of infrastructure such as dams, channels, dredging, widening, or levees. This approach is often expensive, environmentally insensitive, and may create new problems whose long-term costs (such as silt buildup or drying up of downstream areas) outweigh any initial benefits.

Floods are assumed to have been a part of the Napa River Basin for thousands of years, and many have been recorded there since the area began to be settled. A few attempts at flood control have been made over the years. In 1944, a dam was built on Conn Creek, which created Lake Hennessy, which didn’t solve much. The County went through a period of creating flood control plans following a flood, but never received much support, and so the plans would be shelved until the next flood. In the past 36 years, Napa County residents have suffered $542 million in property damages.

With the imminent expiration of federal funding for the Flood Control Act of 1965, a few actors from different sectors were moved to create a new, restorative approach which broke with the traditional flood control model. With funds from the state and federal government, they raised the local portion by voting to introduce a half-cent sales tax increase, which would be used to contribute to the project. The collaboration included residents, industry, local, state, regional and federal state entities, academics, environmental organizations, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and various non-governmental organizations.

After spending thousands of hours planning in town hall meetings and workshops, a comprehensive plan was created. This plan instead took a “living rivers” principle and worked with the Napa River by reconnecting it to its historic flood plain, buying over 600 acres of reclaimed pastureland and returning it back to a wetland. Among other things, this would hold excess water. Other plans included installing two levels of terracing on the river banks, which would allow the river more room to spread out in times of flooding. Several bridges were targeted to be replaced with larger ones to allow more room for the river to pass under it. At one “oxbow” (a horsehoe-shaped kink in the river which overflows when fast-moving flood waters are less likely to follow sharp natural curves of the river) will be fitted with a bypass channel to shortcut the oxbow in times of flooding. The plan also includes the cleanup of disused contaminated industrial properties. When completed in 2007, the project will protect 2,700 homes, 350 businesses, and over 50 public properties, which means $26 million annual savings a year ($1 billion for the life of the project), while sustaining migrating fish and wildlife.

For more information visit the Napa Flood and Water Conservation District.

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USA – California (San Francisco) – The Garden Project

In the past three decades, the population in US prisons has been growing exponentially, as a direct result in shifts in policy towards mandatory minimum sentencing. While the majority of these prisoners were incarcerated for nonviolent crime, two-thirds of these return to prison after release. The US state and federal prison population recently exceeded two million. This has led to overcrowding in prisons, and an increased burden on the states (which have outsourced many services and aspects of the system onto private industry).

The San Francisco County Jail was built in 1934. Originally it had grown its own food, but prison counselor Cathrine Sneed began to revive the practice in 1982. Trained as a lawyer, Sneed chose to be a counselor in order to find a way to get people out of prison instead of putting them in. While in the hospital with a serious illness, she had a revelation reading Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which showed what happened when people were disconnected from their land, and realized that this was what was missing from the prisoners’ daily lives. Using abandoned buildings and fields, organic farms were set up where prisoners would work for two hours a day. The produce from these fields were donated to local soup kitchens and family shelters. The program was successful, prisoners looked forward to spending time outside and there was a waiting list for the program. But Sneed noticed that when prisoners were released, they had no skills, no money and no services to facilitate their reentry into society, and so recidivism (reincarceration) rates remained high.

In 1992, the Garden Project was started. This was a post-release program aimed at giving parolees confidence and skills. Participants of the program are paid a living wage of $11.00 per hour, with medical and dental benefits. They work eight-hour days five days a week, growing broccoli, lettuce, chard, collards, squash, leeks and pumpkins. These are sent to voluntary organizations helping poor seniors and families, and some 800 families per week receive food. Some of the food has been sold to local restaurants. The project has also grown to include the Garden Project Tree Corps, which works with the San Franscisco’s Department of Public Works, planting and maintaining newly planted trees throughout the city. It employs twenty people who have planted 3,000 trees in the city. There are also nutrition, literacy, and computer training programs. The Garden Project is made up of partnerships between the private and public sectors: for example, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, the San Francisco Department of Public Works, the California Department of Forestry, as well as private donations and customers.

Ex-prisoners, once leaving the program, have gone on to start their own landscaping businesses, some have entered the construction industry, and another started a licensed day-care center. Called by the US Department of Agriculture “one of the most successful post-release programs and community development programs in the country,” the initiative’s record has shown results. So far, some 4,300 participants have completed the program. Normally the nation’s recidivism rate of prisoners after a year is 55%, but after two years, only 24% of participants of the Garden Project return to prison within two years. This shows one successful way that former prisoners can return to society and out of the costly cycle of crime and incarceration.

For more information visit the San Francisco Gate and The Garden Project.

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USA – California (Morgan Hill) – Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security

The cleaning industry is notoriously toxic, with products containing ammonia, chlorine, and other dangerous chemicals that cause rashes, nausea, dizziness, and respiratory problems – -or worse, with regular prolonged exposure, putting many cleaners at risk. Many new female immigrants to the US find underpaid jobs in the cleaning industry, with large hotel chains and offices or under-the-table cleaning houses. Before co-forming the cooperative “Eco-Care Professional Housecleaning,” Mexican migrant Mayda Iglesias used to clean houses on her own, earning $40-50 for 6-7 hours of work, where she developed asthma and headaches. She didn’t link this to the products she was using, assuming these were normal reactions to dust and dirt.

While taking English classes at a neighborhood church-sponsored program, she and her partners learned about WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security), a project aimed at helping low-income women form cooperative businesses. WAGES had begun in 1995, and some early trainees chose the cleaning industry as this was the field in which they felt most comfortable and experienced. The “eco-friendly” approach was chosen for reasons both economic and social: not only to find a competitive edge in a market niche, but also to promote workplace and community health and safety. Now all the cooperatives WAGES sponsors are eco-friendly cleaning companies. The training program gives skills in communication, business, decision-sharing with co-owners, and technical skills.

In the case of Mayda Iglesias’ cooperative, four are co-owners and employees of “Eco-Care Professional Housecleaning.” Each works 20-25 hours/week and earns $12 per hour, cleaning houses for some 50 customers. All products are natural, home-based solutions such as vinegar for cleaning windows, baking soda for scouring, and liquid vegetable-based soaps for general cleaning. Materials like rags are recycled from old clothing such as T-shirts. The cleaning requires some extra effort and planning (for example baking soda must be sprinkled first on ovens and left to wait while other parts of the house are cleaned), but since she stopped using these products, Iglesias’s asthma and headaches disappeared. The sustainable practices also extend to its promotional literature (printed with soy-based ink on recycled paper) and its office equipment and practices. While 4-5 other cleaning businesses operate in Morgan Hill, none use environment-friendly methods, and cooperative members believe that three-quarters of their customers choose them because of their practices. The enterprise has won local awards for environmental responsibility.

Another WAGES-inspired cleaning cooperative in Redwood City, California, “Emma’s Eco-Clean,” began two years before EcoCare and began initially with five owner-members, but has today grown to fourteen. Each new member receives training not only in environmentally safe cleaning but also air and water pollution as well as energy use, and the cooperative has managed to get full medical and dental insurance for its members. Products are chosen carefully and are biodegradable, scantily packaged, and non-toxic. Initially clients used to leave the house while the house was being cleaned (to avoid the chemicals) but now they stay when the cleaner comes. “Emma’s” has also won several awards, and has gotten a license to sell products which satisfy their eco-safe screening process. They have exhibited at San Francisco’s “Greenfest,” a trade show for sustainable business and organizations, and through this have promoted their practices and offered advice for similar cooperatives in other states.

The high level of trainees’ performance through the WAGES program has challenged assumptions that low-income women can’t grasp financial issues. With estimates by WAGES that its cooperatives have prevented the release of nearly 4,000 pounds of toxic materials into the environment, programs like this one have shown that eco-friendly cleaning businesses have the potential to transform an exploitative and toxic industry.

For more information visit WAGES.

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USA – California (Los Angeles) – Natural Urban Park

South Central, a run-down industrial zone of Los Angeles, is best remembered for the riots of 1994 that exploded following the verdict acquitting policemen caught beating up African American Rodney King on videotape. In the early 1990s, some 30% of its mainly African American, Hispanic and Asian residents lived below the poverty line, and 35% had experienced unemployment lasting more than a year.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC), which had been buying land in the Mountains and creating interlinking parkland, through a meeting with a local city council member, acquired a tract of land belonging to the LA Department of Water, which it planned to transform into a park.

The Compton-Slaison intersection, a boundary for four different neighborhood gangs, was an 8.5-acre derelict brownfield, full of pipes and other relics from the Department of Water, closed off by chain link and razor wire fences. The landscape architects who agreed to support the project with the SMMC had plenty of challenges ahead of them (not least of which were skeptics who doubted the merits of bringing nature to the poor when they had so many more urgent needs, and who were moreover assumed to have little interest in nature).

Initial efforts to bring the community into the plans through town meetings and door-to-door surveys brought limited success, until a table was set up at a supermarket across the street from the park, which attracted input and interest from hundreds of residents.

The plan was a collaboration of various agencies, community members, designers, contractors, the SMMC, and community groups such as ArtShare which organizes kids’ workshops on public art.

During initial meetings intended to discuss the park’s design, safety issues continued to dominate, and so designers realized this issue had to be addressed first before going further into the design plans. They finally decided to fence off the park with gates on four sides and employ a full-time park ranger. Resolving these concerns helped to build support for the project and gain needed trust for the design teams. When the community discussed priorities for the park, initial plans to build ball courts were scrapped in favor of facilities for nature education because they were decided to be of higher priority.

The collaboration continued throughout the project, with community members, those involved with nature education and SMMC rangers, for example, present during design meetings, as all of these issues needed to be addressed at the design phase. The plan included a library, visitors exhibit, facilities for nature study, an amphitheater, a stream and fountain powered by a windmill. Hills were created to create a refuge atmosphere from the surrounding neighborhood, and to create microclimates to support native species. The challenge of finding dirt to make these hills (the existing soil couldn’t be used due to pollution) was solved by luck when rainstorms caused landslides near Malibu and left soil removal teams with excess, which was transported to the park. ArtShare LA brought in 140 students and community members to paint tiles and design mosaic benches for the amphitheater, and the two ArtShare artists who built the wrought-iron fence included images of native animals and plants in the fence’s design..

Some materials were recycled, for example, the existing concrete was crushed to make a parking area, and trees and a cactus garden were donated. A grove of pecan and walnut trees and avocado trees was also created.

Some 50 residents were hired for temporary construction of the project, and permanent park maintenance staff were also hired, as well as educators for the wildlife and gardening programs. There are various activities such as a homework club, a Saturday science series, gardening and crafts clubs and events in the amphitheater. There are also programs which take South Central kids to other neighborhood parks and vice versa (bringing kids from Beverly Hills who have been taught to fear South Central). Camping trips, junior ranger and other programs have begun. Once a week, a free bus takes people from the park to other SMMC parks in the mountains. The park acts as a “portal” to the outdoors; Augustus F. Hawkins Park, while small, offers initial exposure to natural spaces which will open doors to learn about and explore bigger, wilder areas in their state and in the world.

The park is widely accepted as a major success and a rarity, which is now inspiring the creation of a similar project called the Vista Hermosa Park. The park has created a new sense of safety and community; while gangs still exist they have a tacit agreement not to fight in the park. Kids’ perceptions of the government has changed as a result of its involvement in the project, and the park has kept them off the streets and in school.

Most importantly, the project challenged stereotypes of poverty, and showed that natural spaces were as much a priority to lower-income people as to anyone, and that bringing natural areas to poor areas will solve much more than just environmental problems.

For more information visit the American Society of Landscape Architects.

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USA – Colorado (Boulder) – Namaste Solar Electric

Civil engineer Blake Jones once worked for Brown and Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton) in the Middle East oil and gas industry. But he had a “gradual awakening to wanting passionately to work with renewable energy because I thought there was a better way.” He moved on to Nepal to install solar and hydroelectric systems in remote areas.

In 2004, Amendment 37 was approved by Colorado voters, requiring the state’s biggest utilities to get 10% of their power from renewable resources by 2015 (including 4% from solar power). “It hit me,” said Jones, “the biggest impact I can make is back home in Colorado, where we have fantastic solar resources. The U.S. is the largest consumer of energy and we need to recapture our leadership in the world for setting a positive example.”

In 2005, Jones joined with friends Wes Kennedy and Ray Tuomey to start up Namaste (which means “greeting of great respect, celebrating the interdependence of all living beings”) Solar Electric. It is the very model of a righteous business, both ecologically and socially. The company’s website states “We measure ‘profit’ and ‘success’ in a holistic way that includes not just traditional economic metrics (i.e. earnings and growth) but also the effects on our natural environment, work environment and local/global communities.” Some interesting features include the following:

  • The company is employee-owned, and all major decisions are made by consensus. Every employee has equal pay, and gets six weeks paid time off per year.
  • Whenever possible, business trips (even deliveries of solar equipment) are conducted by bicycle. The company van runs on biodiesel, and the company car is a Prius. What little carbon they generate is offset with the purchase of carbon credits.
  • The new office building is 100% wind and solar powered and has a xeriscaped garden. It is built of recycled building materials. All the office furniture and carpet is secondhand, and they use carpet tiles so that only the worn out pieces need to be replaced. Kitchen waste is composted and nearly everything else is recycled, with a goal of zero waste.
  • The company donates 1% of its annual revenue to non-profit organizations, in the form of grants which are not money, but solar systems. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, they say. Beneficiaries have included schools, homeless shelters, environmental organizations, and a local radio station.
  • Namaste partners with public schools, universities, and non-profits such as Solar Energy International to conduct workshops, classes, and internships.
  • It also is active in promoting more solar-friendly laws at the Colorado legislature and Public Utilities Commission.

Namaste’s unique business model has made it the subject of many case studies by MBA students. The company can show impressive results: Namaste has installed over 350 photovoltaic systems in the Denver-Boulder area, including prominent projects such as the Governor’s mansion. The number of employees has grown from 3 to 45. Triple-digit growth (i.e., at least doubling each year) is the norm.

Business really took off in 2006, when the local utility, Xcel, announced its rebate program. By the end of 2007, the utility had paid out $19.5 million to more than 1,000 customers for more than 4.3 megawatts of power. State sales tax rebates and federal tax credits also help to offset the average $12,000 cost of a photovoltaic system. According to satisfied customer Hal Stuber, “for every $3 of cost, from rebates and tax credits I’m getting $2 back.” A further incentive is net metering (or Grid-Tie), where his electric meter actually runs backward, feeding power into the grid, when his system produces more than is being consumed.

The future of solar energy in Colorado became even brighter in 2007, when Governor Bill Ritter – a strong proponent of a “New Energy Economy” – signed a law that set a goal of 20% renewables by 2020.

For more information see the Namaste Solar Electric website.

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USA – Hawaii (Big Island) – Sustainable Forest Management

This project was a collaboration between the US Forest Service (USFS) and The Nature Conservancy (NC), a US-based nonprofit organization that targets near-pristine land and buys it for the purposes of conservation and protection.

The Forest Legacy Program, created in 1978, is a partnership between private landowners, participating states and the USFS to identify and protect environmentally important forests from being converted to “non-forest uses.” It is seen as a cost-effective way to give private owners the means to maintain native forests on their lands. In 1999-2003, the Nature Conservancy began buying forested land in South Kona from private owners, with the intention of helping the Forest Service gain control of the land. The Forest Service then bought what is called an “easement,” (or usage rights, which include restrictions on the way the land is used, to protect it from activities local authorities deem inconsistent with sustainable forest management such as industrial logging, ranching or development of subdivisions), from the Nature Conservancy. As Hawaii is the only state without National Forest Lands, this was the strategy of the Forest Service to offer long-term protection of Hawaii’s important forests. While Forest Legacy Easements have been authorized since 1978, this is the first case in Hawaii.

The NC usually only buys undisturbed land to ensure its continued protection. This area had been severely degraded in places by intensive grazing and logging in the 1950s and 1960s. But it was also considered to be important, both to the local watershed and native species. It was intended to be a good opportunity for the NC to experiment with reforestation, and to explore options for economic revenues through controlled logging and possibly some limited ranching. The koa, for example, is a major canopy tree, providing shade and wind protection to a diverse range of species; the NC will through its work rehabilitating the land decide whether it’s viable or sustainable to log some of the koa and remove it without causing extreme damage to the forest.

It should be noted that this project, and the Nature Conservancy, is not free from controversy. Some critics are fear buying the land will open it up to logging under the guise of “sustainable forestry,'” and that logging of the native koa may not be sustainable. While the NC’s aim is to redirect some of American corporate wealth for conservation on a scale otherwise unachievable, critics say the compromises it has made along the way to its donors have undermined some of its successes, have led to some scandals over lack of disclosure on financial transactions, and that vested interests in the governing board members have silenced it on issues in direct conflict with its stated policies, such as opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

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USA – Hawaii (Oahu) – Kokua Kalihi Valley: A Holistic Approach to Health

Kalihi is a large low-income neighborhood of Honolulu, Hawai‘i. About one third of the residents are foreign-born immigrants from Asia and the Pacific Islands. About 15% fall below the official poverty level. The community is home to several public housing projects, including the two largest in the state. It has been declared a Medically Underserved Area.

Kokua Kalihi Valley (KKV) is one of 14 community health centers in Hawai‘i, where people are served regardless of whether they have medical insurance, and are billed based on ability to pay. KKV had very humble beginnings: It began 40 years ago, in 1972, as a non-profit organization with four outreach workers. Dr. Charles Judd and Dr. William Myers began providing medical services at Kalihi Valley Homes. The following year, KKV purchased and renovated two military surplus trailers to serve as clinics and added a dentist to the staff. Since then, KKV has grown to include six locations, including a main clinic, a clinic and a resource center in one of the public housing projects, an elderly service center, a bicycle exchange warehouse, and an upper-valley nature park/community garden. KKVstaff has grown to 160 employees serving over 10,000 community members each year.

KKV main clinic

KKV main clinic
Photo: Honolulu MidWeek 12/12/12

Unlike other community health centers, KKV limits eligibility for service to people in the service area—basically, the 96819 zip code. But it provides a much broader range of services than most community health centers. Besides the usual primary medical care, dental and mental health services, KKV offers “enabling services” such as case management, transportation, translation (for 20 Asian and Pacific Island languages), and a “medical-legal partnership for children” to help immigrant families with legal matters, especially those pertaining to children. The main clinic was recently expanded into a nearby building, with funding from an assortment of government agencies and charitable organizations. It houses not only more clinic space, but also a commercial kitchen and space for micro-enterprises like the women’s sewing project, designed to improve economic self-sufficiency.

What sets KKV even further apart from the ordinary health center is its effort to reunite people and the land. This began around 2003 with the Active Living By Design project. KKV clientele are not too keen on exercise in the conventional sense, but very excited to grow their own food. The idea was to encourage people to be more physically active while growing and eating healthy foods—keys in managing illnesses such as diabetes. With a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, KKV procured a warehouse for an instructional bike exchange and a low-cost, long-term lease for a 100-acre parcel of state land deep in the valley—land which, incidentally, the community had fought to protect from development for 30 years. The vision was to create a nature park with hiking and biking trails, and an organic community garden.

The land was named Ho‘oulu ‘Aina (transl. to make the land grow). With volunteer labor from community college trade students and various community groups, the dilapidated home on the land was completely renovated and now serves as the caretaker’s residence and community meeting hall complete with a large kitchen.

Sign at Ho‘oulu ‘Aina entrance

Sign at Ho‘oulu ‘Aina entrance

There is less emphasis on hiking and biking than originally intended, but the garden is flourishing. Between coconut, banana, and papaya trees, there is a lush mosaic of vegetables, herbs and spices, and berries. Other garden patches (e.g., kava) are further into the forest. Traditional lo‘i (taro patches) are planned for the future, using water from Kalihi Stream.

Ho‘oulu ‘Aina organic community garden

Ho‘oulu ‘Aina organic community garden

Gardening is just one aspect; Ho‘oulu ‘Aina has four program areas:

  1. Hoa ‘Aina (community access) to create unique opportunities for quiet recreation, contemplation and pleasure in Kalihi’s natural environment
  2. Mahi ‘Aina (community food production) to share knowledge and offer a variety of opportunities regarding healthy food, exercise, increased self-sufficiency, and a reconnection with the land, nature and diverse cultures
  3. Koa ‘Aina (native reforestation) to restore health and balance to Kalihi’s watershed and native upland forests
  4. Lohe ‘Aina (sacred places and stories) to restore and revitalize ancient sites, perpetuating cultural knowledge and instilling a sense of honor in the ahupua‘a [watershed] of Kalihi

It is now a favorite community meeting place as well as cultural learning center. Community work days are on Wednesdays and the third Saturday of each month. On other days, Ho‘oulu ‘Aina is busy with school children or farming classes or even nursing students coming to learn about medicinal plants. On the Wednesday I visited, expecting to get muddy, the activity was arts and crafts. About 25 people of various ages and nationalities gathered to stamp and stencil pouches, and make fiber Christmas ornaments, shell necklaces, and coconut cups, while sharing knowledge about Hawaiian culture. Some of the people are KKV patients, so in the interest of privacy I was asked not to photograph anyone. While we worked lunch was being prepared in the kitchen.

To spread the food and the community spirit throughout the valley, KKV initiated its Roots Project with a Kresge Foundation grant for unique projects that integrate community health and prevention with primary care. This land-to-table initiative integrates food production at Ho‘oulu ‘Aina with food preparation and sharing, at KKV’s new community kitchen and at imu (traditional underground ovens) elsewhere in the valley.

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USA – Hawaii (Oahu) – Sustainable Saunders Initiative

The University of Hawai’i at Manoa (UHM) campus is the second-largest consumer of electricity on the island of Oahu, second only to the military. Since over 75% of the island’s electricity comes from burning oil, and the utility passes oil price increases directly on to the consumer, UHM’s electric bill kept going up – -despite efforts at energy conservation and an actual reduction in kilowatt-hours used. The bills amounted to over $15,000,000 in 2005, and were projected to rise to $21,300,000 million in 2007. In response to the “sticker shock” of rapidly rising electric bills and its impact on the University’s budget, the UHM Chancellor’s Office convened an Energy Summit on October 24, 2006. The Chancellor proposed a Clean Energy Policy with the ambitious goals of:

  • 30% reduction in campus energy use by 2012
  • 50% reduction in campus energy use by 2015
  • 25% of campus energy supplied by renewable sources by 2020
  • Energy and water self-sufficiency for the campus by 2050

The University and the electric company formed a partnership to work toward these goals. Saunders Hall, a seven-story building which houses the social science departments, was chosen as a pilot project to implement projects on a trial basis which could then be “rolled out” across the entire campus. Two electric meters were installed in the building to establish a baseline demand and measure the impact of any energy conservation projects.

The Public Policy Center on the 7th floor of Saunders launched the Sustainable Saunders Initiative in early 2007, and a student group called Help Us Bridge (HUB) was formed. In the spring of 2007 the Public Policy Center surveyed all the occupants of Saunders Hall regarding their energy use. (This also served as a behavior modification tool for encouraging people to turn off their computers at night and to take the stairs more often.) By fortunate coincidence, according to Sustainable Saunders student coordinator Shanah Trevenna, “90% of the building’s energy was used for lighting and air conditioning while the top two complaints by residents were that the lights were too bright and the temperature too cold.” Thus it was logical to begin with lighting and air conditioning projects.

There were many more fluorescent lights than were needed. Over 2,100 bulbs were removed, for an energy savings of 107,434 kilowatt-hours (kwh) per year. An additional 42,330 kwh/year are being saved due to the replacement of incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones.

Forty-five percent of Saunders offices have individual air conditioners, but the rest are subject to a centralized system which, unfortunately, is permanently set to “CLO 1” – a temperature which may be appropriate for people in business suits, but not for Hawaiian students. Someday that system may be replaced, but in the meantime an air conditioning shutdown project has yielded great savings. Whereas the air conditioning was previously always on, now it is turned off from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., 7 days a week. The resulting savings are estimated at 411,720 kwh per year. Research is being conducted on whether the shutdown hours could be expanded on weekends.

Together these simple no-cost projects have reduced Saunders Hall’s electricity use by over 24%, which in 2008 prices translates into a savings of about $150,000 per year. HUB received a letter from the Chancellor’s office asking if the group could perform similar energy audits and conservation measures on all the UHM buildings; the response was “not for free.” It was proposed that part of the money saved could be devoted to paying the students to perform the audits. That did not happen, but in the 2009 state legislative session a bill was introduced to secure $207,000 per year in state funding for a sustainability internship program which would serve the same purpose, plus prepare students for similar jobs outside the university. With the encouragement of testimony from HUB members, the bill made its way through numerous committees in the state House and Senate. But it was not heard in the Finance Committee before the final deadline, and thus failed.

In addition to the energy conservation measures, five photovoltaic panels with microinverters on each have been installed on the Saunders rooftop, generating an estimated 1,400 kwh per year. Wind tests are currently being conducted, and eventually the Campus Facilities Office will move a donated vertical-axis windmill from the 7th floor lanai to the roof as a testing/education/demonstration project. It is thought the windmill might be able to generate 1 kw of electricity (or 8,760 kwh/year if constantly running).

But the Sustainable Saunders Initiative takes a much more holistic view of sustainability than just energy. At its official Interactive Launch Party on Earth Day (April 20) 2007, Saunders Hall’s seven floors were divided into fifteen theme areas, with exhibits and experts on topics such as recycling, composting, bicycling, climate change, energy and water conservation, renewable energy, architectural design, sustainability education, food security, and organic agriculture. Each area was hung with graffiti paper so that the hundreds of students, faculty, staff, experts, and community members in attendance could jot down their own ideas. Results were presented to the State of Hawai’i Sustainability Task Force.

In February 2007 HUB began “dumpster diving” to retrieve recyclable materials and to analyze the waste stream. Now there are recycling bins on every floor of Saunders Hall for glass, aluminum and plastic. According to recycling coordinator Tamara Armstrong, this has resulted in a 70% reduction of bottles in the dumpsters. On the ground floor there are also 10 bins for paper and one for cardboard.

Sustainable Saunders also obtained donations of low-flow water fixtures and a waterless urinal, which were installed by the Campus Facilities Office on Saunders’ 6th floor. One of the faucets even has a small turbine, so that water flowing down the drain generates enough electricity to power its sensor. Shanah Trevenna calculated that an expansion of the retrofit throughout the building could save enough water per year to fill over four Olympic-sized swimming pools, and would pay for itself in under 5 years.

The group also built picnic tables from recycled plastic lumber for the Saunders courtyard.

Three teams meet weekly: HUB itself, the Energy Team, and the Events team. I attended one meeting of HUB and found the room filled to capacity with very enthusiastic students. Three of them had gone to the “Power Shift” event in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Blue Planet Foundation. They reported on what they learned in the areas of policy, science, and organizing, as well as what other colleges across the country have been doing to promote sustainability. “We’re kind of behind,” said one. Other business included discussion of whether HUB should become an official chartered student organization instead of a registered independent organization.

The Energy Team hosted a workshop series on some very technical topics, with experts discussing various energy systems as well as financing and lease options. The Events Team was mainly busy with Sustainable Saunders’ third annual Earth Day celebration. It was a big success, with 100 booths of eco-friendly products, services, information, and food, as well as a concert in the amphitheater. Events like this create a “big buzz” for motivating as well as educating the broader community, says Tamara Armstrong.

As for the idea of “rolling out” Saunders energy initiatives across the campus, some students from the Sea Grant College Program have taken up energy auditing, and the Facilities Management Office has become quite diligent in negotiating and implementing “energy scheduling initiatives” (i.e., air conditioning shutdowns) in addition to its regularly scheduled upgrades. As of October 2008, eight buildings had evening air conditioning shutdowns for an estimated savings of 1,900,000 kwh and $350,000 per year; five others were pending for 2,900,000 kwh and $536,000. Proposed weekend and holiday shutdowns in 48 buildings across the campus might amount to an additional annual savings of almost $4,000,000. The problem, according to mechanical engineer Blake Araki, is that the occupants who readily agree to air conditioning shutdowns are not in the biggest energy-using buildings. Many are concerned about mold or highly sensitive computers or scientific equipment; and some scientists who bring large research grants to the university feel they are entitled to 24-hour air conditioning.

The Sustainable Saunders idea also caught on at the East-West Center, a research institution across the street from the UHM campus. Sustainable EWC has implemented some of the same measures, as well as an organic garden.

Outside the university, HUB members with experience in energy auditing have been hired by the Coast Guard and an art museum, with several other prospects in sight. A recent newspaper article headlined “Hire a Student for Green Help” touts the Sustainable Saunders interns’ past achievements and mentions that the “cost of a consultation ranges from $200 for a basic home assessment to about $2,000 for a commercial assessment.”

Projects for the future (besides installing the windmill) include various 2009 Summer Session courses, workshops, and lectures on sustainability (including Sustainability 101 by Shanah Trevenna). For the fall, an exciting energy conservation competition is planned by the Public Policy Center among the seven floors of Saunders with the social sciences (anthropology, geography, economics, sociology, political science, etc.) keeping their eyes on newly installed meters on each floor. Also in the works is a program of mentoring K-12 schools to do their own energy audits.

What made Sustainable Saunders so successful is described in every article and interview as the enthusiasm, passion, energy, and commitment of the students. Often mentioned as well are the management and outreach/public relations skills of coordinator Shanah Trevenna. Interested students are immediately accepted and given real projects and opportunities to make a difference. In the words of Jennifer Milholen:

When I decided to move from Kauai to Honolulu I started doing general google searches of organizations in Honolulu that were doing wide-reaching work in sustainability. I knew that I wanted to get involved and have a tangible impact. Sustainable Saunders at UHM was a search result that came up over and over again, so I sent a simple email to Shannah who was the coordinator and was told that I was welcome at all of the meetings for all of the sustainability teams. Shannah immediately made me feel welcome and able. I was given tasks and objectives right off the bat. I started participating in projects for the events and energy teams that I could tell were necessary and timely. I helped “dumpster dive” for the campus eatery waste audit. The data from those dives will be used to justify the sole use of biodegradable containers and cutlery on campus eateries. I also was asked to do extensive research on the potential for industrial size composters and biodegraders on campus. For the first time I participated in the legislative process and testified in front of a Senate panel on the potential benefits of the Sustainable Saunders Internship Program Bill. That was an amazing experience. I was also able to help with the initial installation of solar panels on the roof of Saunders Hall. Currently, I have an active hand as the Volunteer Coordinator and Assistant Logistics Coordinator for UH Manoa’s Sustainability Festival 2009. This has all taken place in a few short months. I went from having no experience in sustainability to having several wonderful ones. Being a part of the Sustainable Saunders group has played an integral part in my journey toward becoming an avid supporter and activist for a sustainable human society and culture. I plan to continue working with this group for as long as possible. Shannah leads an amazing group of motivated and creative students who I know will do incredible things for the UHM campus and Hawaii.

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USA – Kansas – Land Institute

The Land Institute is researching and developing alternative agriculture in the heartland of agribusiness on the US prairies. Because of massive soil erosion, herbicides in waterways, and the overdrawing of the Ogallala aquifer, Land Institute co-founder Wes Jackson says, this region is headed for a collapse on a scale far surpassing that of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. But this imminent but ultimately avoidable catastrophe is not being addressed. The reason is that it is temporarily masked by the subsidized “cheap food policy” which lulls consumers into illusions of food security, and that soil is now eroding not visibly by wind but by water, where it flows into rivers and ends up eventually in the sea, and creates areas like “the dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. As with other groups bucking the industrial model, Jackson and his colleagues are making farms mimic natural systems in this case, suited to the prairie ecosystem made up of polycultures of perennial grasses.

After graduating with a PhD in genetics, Jackson began teaching environmental studies in California State University, but soon became dissatisfied with academia. So he quit his job and went back to his native Kansas with his then-wife, Dana, where they acquired a cow and some chickens and began farming. They decided to form the Land Institute, which would give students an opportunity to learn from direct experience.

The institute continues to evolve, but has kept its commitment to studying the prairie ecosystem and developing methods which reduce the impact on the soil, the need for chemicals, and for fossil-fuel driven machinery like tractors and ploughs. To do this, it developed the concept of “Natural Systems Agriculture.” The ecosystem, as the result of centuries of evolutionary selection for ecosystem function, has the ability to:

  1. maintain or build ecological capital
  2. fix or hold nutrients
  3. is resilient to periodic stress ie. drought or fire, and
  4. can manage its weed/pest/pathogen populations.

Since prairies naturally show a dominance for perennial grasses instead of the annuals like the corn, wheat, barley etc. grown on prairie farms (which together make up 70% of the human diet), the priorities of the Land Institute are to research whether perennials can produce a high yield seed, and if perennial polycultures can match or outyield perennial monocultures. So far, these results seem to be confirmed. A perennial polyculture in the prairies would change farming techniques in several important ways:

  1. permanent root systems would hold and build the soil,
  2. gowing perennials would eliminate the need for annually tilling and planting and reduce the need for fossil fuel-consuming machinery,
  3. diversity would increase resilience and thwart spread of pests, reducing or eliminating the dependence on chemicals.

To further recreate the prairie ecosystem, Jackson has begun keeping bison as they are well-adapted to the prairie landscape.

The Land Institute gives research opportunities to postgraduate students, and its work extends beyond natural to social systems, and links the consolidation and corporatization of farming to the overnight disintegration of community, public health and economies across rural North America.

The concept of “home coming” or reclaiming this rural way of life is part of Natural Systems Agriculture, and events and education in schools are other programs the Land Institute is involved in. The institute is gaining recognition from other researchers who are examining the potential of perennials and testing the approach, and the underlying principles resonate beyond the prairie ecosystem and have attracted interest from other parts of the world. Jackson has written a number of books and has won several awards, including the Right Livelihood Award. His former wife Dana Jackson is now head of the Land Stewardship Project and his daughter, Laura, is a researcher at the University of Iowa.

For more information visit the Land Institute and Audubon Society.

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USA – Louisiana – Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program

This is an example of “regional environmental management” for a degraded and economically important ecosystem. It shows how a complex web of players can coordinate a successful strategy despite multiple interests and agendas.

The Barataria-Terrebonne (BT) estuary in Louisiana is the country’s largest, covering an area of 16,835 square km where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Its rich natural resources have been important to the livelihood of the people who live there, but overexploitation, development, agriculture, and industry dramatically impacted the water quality, posed health risks, affected fisheries, and was causing land to sink.

Concerned about the state of the nation’s estuaries, the US government made a decision to create environmental management plans for the major ones in 1990. Hiring a small team of full-time staff and recruiting volunteers who were given the challenge of developing a plan for the BT estuary, the government’s conditions were that the plans should be an inclusive coalition of “government, private and commercial interests” to identify the issues, create strategies, and coordinate the whole process through carrying out the commitments.

The plan was developed in clear stages. Workshops, open to everyone who wanted to participate, attracted some 250 people, and included representatives from all three levels of government, industry, citizens and others.

The first stage was a “visioning” exercise where participants were to brainstorm what they hoped to see for the estuary in 25 years time. This would include the variety of perspectives, which were then written and displayed as keywords, which were organized into loose groups. This helped to clarify some of the basic themes, and to summarize a vision statement.

The following workshops followed the same procedure as the first. The next workshop was to identify obstacles to realizing the vision, and challenges in overcoming them. In the third workshop, participants brainstormed actions to deal with the challenges. Another workshop gave participants a chance to identify “catalytic actions,” those which would not only produce desirable results, but that would trigger other desirable results as well.

Results of this workshop formed the basis of the “action plans” which were part of the final environmental management plan, for each of which alliances were created, and participants then signed up for the ones they wanted to be a part of. Over the next year, details within each alliance were worked out, and the plans began to be implemented in 1996. The management plan is comprehensive and includes four basic elements:

  1. Planning/management/procedures
  2. Ecological management
  3. Citizen involvement/education
  4. Economic development.

Until now, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program has been successful in attracting public attention on the estuary as an important ecosystem, garnering support and involvement from citizens, and gaining a level of trust and credibility for the program. Some of the concrete actions so far have focused on preventing further land loss, so mulberry, blackberry, oak and other trees have been planted to protect the soil. Old Christmas trees have created brush fences which were lined up on the coast to protect soil from eroding through wave action. Some other projects have worked to redistribute water or silt to build land where it is most needed. Still others are installing small-scale sewage treatment systems for houses and cabins along the waterways, and an education program was launched to help farmers find alternative methods of weed and pest control (to reduce the use of chemicals). Many of these programs have involved the use of community volunteer groups, high school students and local business associations, which has helped to create a high level of public participation in the project.

For more information visit the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program.

Read a more detailed version of this story in Human Ecology by Gerry Marten

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USA – Maine – Alewife Restoration

The alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) is a member of the river herring family, which also includes shad and blueback herring. These species are anadromous, i.e., they travel upriver to spawn. Alewives are born in freshwater rivers and lakes and make their way to the sea after a few months. At age 3-4 years for males and 4-5 years for females, the alewives return to the place of their birth to spawn a new generation. In Maine, the mass migration upriver occurs in May.

Long ago alewives were plentiful in all the rivers along the U.S. East Coast. They provided a welcome food supply when other food stocks were low. In colonial times, widows and the elderly were entitled to 2 bushels of alewives (about 200 fish) each. These were generally smoked for preservation. Others were layered with salt in barrels and shipped to slaves in the West Indies. During the Depression alewife harvest and processing provided much-needed jobs. Now that refrigeration makes for a much greater variety of preferred seafood, alewives are used more for lobster bait than for human consumption.

Regardless of their use to humans, alewives are crucial to the entire ecosystem—a “keystone species.” Everything eats alewives: economically important bottom fish such as cod, haddock, and halibut; migratory species such as striped bass, bluefish, and tuna; various freshwater species such as bass, trout, salmon, pickerel, pike, and perch; fish-eating birds such as osprey, eagles, herons, gulls, terns, cormorants, and loons; marine mammals such as seals, dolphins, whales, and otters. Minks, foxes, raccoons, skunks, weasels, and turtles are also fond of alewives. Moreover, alewives serve as a “buffer” to protect migrating salmon. By swimming upstream at the same time that juvenile salmon are swimming downstream, adult alewives distract the predators. Fortunately, only 2 in 1,000 alewives must survive to spawn in order for the run to be sustainable.

Over the years from colonial times to the mid-1950s, the progress of industrialization decimated alewife populations, primarily from water pollution and dam construction. In Maine, numerous dams were constructed on all the major rivers, preventing alewives from travelling upriver to their native habitat to spawn.

Awareness and conservation efforts began in the early 1960s. At the U.S. federal level, the National Marine Fisheries Service was created to manage fisheries, and in 1965 the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act was passed. States were encouraged to restore fish populations, and were given resources to do so. The Clean Water Act of 1972 helped with water quality improvements. However, alewife populations remained severely depleted. States from Massachusetts to North Carolina have imposed moratoriums on the harvest of alewives, and the federal government is considering listing alewives as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act.  The interstate Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, under Amendment 2 of the Interstate Fishery Management Plan, decreed that river herring fisheries should be closed in any state that has not developed a sustainability plan.

Due to good management practices Maine escaped this fate. Its river herring runs were deemed sustainable under Amendment 2. The full plan is available online. As of 2012, Maine was the only Atlantic state with an active river herring harvest. Forty Maine municipalities have commercial alewife harvesting rights; 24 of these currently have active alewife fisheries. Each municipality with alewife harvesting rights must submit an annual harvesting plan to the state Department of Marine Resources that includes a 3-days-per-week no-fishing period. (The period was 1 day in the 1960s and was increased to 2 days in 1988 and to 3 days in 1995.)

Maine’s efforts to restore alewives’ access to their traditional habitat has included some extraordinary measures. Dams were removed from three major rivers–two on the Penobscot, one on the Kennebec, and one on the Sebasticook—as well as from many smaller waterways. Elsewhere, fish ladders, lifts, and other bypasses enable the fish to get around dams. On the Union River and Saco River, they are trapped and transported by truck to upstream spawning habitat.

Maine rivers and lakes

Maine rivers and lakes

Alewife populations in the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers are estimated at several million each. The restored Damariscotta Mills fish ladder on the Damariscotta River has become a major tourist attraction as people come from all over to witness the spectacle of more than 400,000 alewives migrating upstream (see photo).

Alewives at Damariscotta Mills fishway

Alewives at Damariscotta Mills fishway
Photo: Portland Press Herald

In sharp contrast to all these alewife restoration efforts, in 1995 the Maine Legislature enacted legislation to prevent alewives from entering the St. Croix River, which forms part of the U.S.-Canada border—reversing the restoration progress made there during the 1980s. Apparently a group of local fishing guides wrongly accused the alewife of damaging smallmouth bass populations and mounted a successful anti-alewife lobbying effort. The St. Croix alewife population fell from 2.6 million in 1987 to only 1,300 in 2007. In 2008, when new legislation required that access to 2% of the watershed be restored, the population was estimated at 12,000. Fifty organizations on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border requested that the International Joint Commission use its authority to reopen the waterway to alewives. The Conservation Law Foundation filed two lawsuits. Finally, in April 2013, the Maine Legislature reversed itself and passed legislation requiring that dams on the St. Croix be reconfigured or operated in a way that allows the unconstrained passage of river herring. On May 13, 2013 the St. Croix was reopened to river herring. “It’s a historic moment,” said Rep. Madonna Soctomah, representative of the Passamaquoddy Tribe in the Legislature, who sponsored the bill. “It’s a really good day for Maine people and the environment.”

It is expected that populations could reach up to 10 million in the St. Croix, and up to 50 million for the state of Maine as a whole.

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USA – Maine – Maine Lobsters

According to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s “Lobstering History,”

Long ago, lobsters were so plentiful that Native Americans used them to fertilize their fields and to bait their hooks for fishing. In colonial times, lobsters were considered “poverty food.” They were harvested from tidal pools and served to children, to prisoners, and to indentured servants…. some of the servants finally rebelled. They had it put into their contracts that they would not be forced to eat lobster more than three times a week.

Today, Maine lobster is a world-famous delicacy that fetched about $330 million in 2012. The lobster’s continued abundance—a stable supply since 1947—attests to the success of a management system that has evolved over the years.

Lobstering as a trap fishery started in Maine around 1850. The lobstermen eventually formed “harbor gangs,” as anthropologist James Acheson puts it, which established a certain territoriality. They had an informal, often unspoken agreement about who belonged to which community and where each member of the fishing community could lay his traps. In 1975 Acheson wrote, “Although their claims are unrecognized by the state, they are well established and backed by surreptitious violence,” meaning mainly cutting an offender’s trap lines.

Twenty years later, in 1995, Acheson was able to report that the state had recognized the lobstermen’s claims, as well as their expertise in managing the resource. When Maine’s legislature passed the 1995 Co-Management Law, it divested itself of several contentious issues and allowed the lobstermen themselves to propose the rules of lobster management. Progress was swift:  By 1997 seven zones had been established (see map), each with a zone council elected by the licensed lobster fishers in that zone. By 1998 all seven had established progressively decreasing trap limits of 600 to 800 per fisherman by the year 2000, as well as a policy on fishing hours (dates and times of day). The Co-Management Law also included a statewide trap tag identification system and an apprenticeship program.

Maine Department of Marine Resources

Source: Maine Department of Marine Resources (

In a system similar to the West Hawaii Fisheries Council (see the EcoTipping Points story), besides establishing zones, the zone councils can propose rules to the state of Maine Department of Marine Resources, which can then adopt them or not. Acheson notes that Maine had a sympathetic Commissioner of Marine Resources who accepted all the recommendations; having someone else in that position might have had a different outcome. For certain specific areas, however, the fishermen have the final say. For instance, the waters around the island of Criehaven “shall be closed or opened to lobster fishing whenever a majority of the lobster fishermen at Criehaven so petition the Commissioner“ (Maine Department of Marine Resources Regulations, Ch. 25.01).

Acheson notes that the trap limits were not popular with the “big fishermen” who would have to reduce their trap numbers, and as a management measure they were not sufficient if entry into the fishery itself is unlimited. So in 1999 the zone councils were given the additional power of suggesting limited entry rules, that is, establishing the ratio of new permits to the number of permits not renewed each year.

While these limits on fishing effort do help protect the sustainability of the lobster fishery, probably more important are state and federal laws governing which lobsters can be caught. According to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute,

  • All states and the federal government share a minimum legal size, 3 1/4 inches carapace-length–from the eye socket to the beginning of the tail. A lobster caught at this size weighs about 1 1/4 lb.
  • Any egg-bearing females must be released. Some female lobsters are “V-notched,” that is, a triangular slice is cut from a tail flipper. This badge of motherhood is meant to keep them off the dinner table and in the breeding pool. Cutting the V-notch is a voluntary action on the part of conservation-minded lobstermen and the Department of Marine Resources. At the other end of the spectrum are lobster harvesters who scrub off the eggs from a female and remove any traces with bleach. Conscientious lobstermen and lobster police do not look kindly on these people.
  • Maine imposes a maximum legal size of 5 inches carapace-length so all our biggest breeders, which may produce 100,000 eggs rather than the average 10,000 eggs, can stay in the population.

Between the state and federal levels of governance there is an interstate level—the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) (established 1942). “A compact of 15 eastern seaboard states, the Commission has three representatives from each state. These people include the Director of the state’s marine resources management agency, a state legislator, and a fisheries representative appointed by the Governor” (GMRI n.d.). Concerned mainly about improving the rate of recruitment (i.e., new baby lobsters) to avert a population collapse, the Commission pays considerable attention to human impacts on lobsters and their habitat, e.g., from various forms of water pollution. The Commission divided the eastern coastline from Maine to North Carolina into seven zones (see map), each with its own Lobster Conservation Management Team. For Area 1, the Inshore Gulf of Maine, for instance, the ASMFC management plan (ASMFC 1997) specifies trap limits, maximum trap size, maximum lobster size, and stipulates that an area be chosen for complete closure to lobster fishing. The ASMFC fisheries management plan for American lobster is incorporated into Maine’s regulations governing lobster and crab.

The ASMFC can suggest changes to federal regulations, which “may include, but are not limited to, continued reductions of fishing effort or numbers of traps, increases in minimum or decreases in maximum size, increases in the escape vent size, decreases in the lobster trap size, closed areas, closed seasons, landing limits, trip limits and other management area-specific measures” (CFR title 50, § 697.25).

Source: ASMFC 1997

Source: ASMFC 1997

At the federal level, the National Marine Fisheries Service adopts regulations for lobster harvesting in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) i.e., 3 to 200 miles from shore. Where federal and state laws are both in force, the more restrictive law applies. The Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (16 U.S.C. 5101 et seq),implemented by the regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 50, Part 697, ATLANTIC COASTAL FISHERIES COOPERATIVE MANAGEMENT, establishes yet another set of zones, with trap limits and permit requirements, etc. for fishing in the EEZ.

Thus, like a system with precincts and districts, “a person declaring any Maine Lobster Management Zone (LMZ A – G) must also declare federal Lobster Management Area 1” (Maine Department of Marine Resources Regulations, Chapter 25.07).

A broader federal law governing fisheries is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (reauthorized 2007) which established eight Regional Fishery Management Councils around the country. Maine is in the New England Fishery Management Council.

Many people have noticed that Maine’s co-management system fits perfectly Elinor Ostrom’s description of polycentric, nested institutions for governing common-pool resources, and her design principles:

1A. User Boundaries: Clear and locally understood boundaries between legitimate users and nonusers are present.

1B. Resource Boundaries: Clear boundaries that separate a specific common-pool resource from a larger social-ecological system are present.

2A. Congruence with Local Conditions: Appropriation and provision rules are congruent with local social and environmental conditions.

2B. Appropriation and Provision: Appropriation rules are congruent with provision rules; the distribution of costs is proportional to the distribution of benefits.

3. Collective Choice Arrangements: Most individuals affected by a resource regime are authorized to participate in making and modifying its rules.

4A. Monitoring Users: Individuals who are accountable to or are the users monitor the appropriation and provision levels of the users.

4B. Monitoring the Resource: Individuals who are accountable to or are the users monitor the condition of the resource.

5. Graduated Sanctions: Sanctions for rule violations start very low but become stronger if a user repeatedly violates a rule.

6. Conflict Resolution Mechanisms: Rapid, low cost, local arenas exist for resolving conflicts among users or with officials.

7. Minimal Recognition of Rights: The rights of local users to make their own rules are recognized by the government.

8. Nested Enterprises: When a common-pool resource is closely connected to a larger social-ecological system, governance activities are organized in multiple nested layers.

(Ostrom 2010, p. 653)

Besides these principles, Ostrom (2007) notes several “user attributes” of Maine lobster fishers that are important to the success of local management:

  • deep roots in their communities, going back many generations
  • local leadership
  • norms of trustworthiness and reciprocity with those with whom they have close interactions
  • effective knowledge about the resource system and resource units they are using

She also notes that the lobster management system takes advantage of the potential organization and governance of social-ecological systems at small to ever-larger spatial scales. But Acheson et al. (2000) complain that the laws “give the federal government a high degree of authority to manage fisheries from the top down. The passage of these laws means that the United States is going in the exact opposite direction it should be going if we wish to develop co-management governance structures” (p. 60).


Acheson, James M.  1975. The Lobster Fiefs: Economic and Ecological Effects of Territoriality in the Maine Lobster Industry. Human Ecology 3(3), p. 183-207.

Acheson, James M., Terry Stockwell, and James A. Wilson. 2000. Evolution of the Maine Lobster Co-management Law. Maine Policy Review, Fall, p. 52-62.

Acheson, James M. and Laura Taylor. 2001. The Anatomy of the Maine Lobster Comanagement Law. Society and Natural Resources 14, p. 425-441.

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). 1997. Fishery Management Report No. 29: Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan For American Lobster.

Coombs, Monique. 2011. Lobstering and Common Pool Resource Management in Maine. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter 2(9).

Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). n.d. Lobstering History.

Ostrom, Elinor. 2007. A diagnostic approach for going beyond panaceas. PNAS 104(39), p. 15181-15187.

Ostrom, Elinor. 2010. Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems. American Economic Review 100, p. 641–672.

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USA – Massachusetts (Boston) – Nira Rock

In the Depression of the early 1930s, the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was passed to create jobs for unemployed workers. One of the projects under this Act was the reopening of a “puddingstone” quarry in what is now the Hyde Square neighborhood of Boston. The quarry became known by the acronym of the act that re-enlivened it: Nira Rock. Though much of the quarry’s puddingstone was eventually removed, a dramatic outcropping was left behind, which is now at the heart of the 1.8-acre Nira Rock site.

Over the next decades, Nira Rock and its meadow languished as a forgotten, overgrown place. Its seclusion – with no abutting major roads – made it the perfect place for young people to get away from the watchful eyes of parents and police. Neighborhood children affectionately called it “Gilligan’s Island.” The spot was a favorite for high school drinking, as well as Sunday-night bonfires. In the late 70s and early 80s, the site took a darker turn, as much of the city was affected by the burgeoning crack epidemic. “Foreboding” is a word often used to describe the place. According to Boston’s Police Neighborhood Crime Watch Unit, this created a bit of a vicious cycle: ”If people don’t use it, it becomes more attractive to people doing bad things there.” The rock became covered with graffiti.

In the late 1980s, a number of new residential projects were developed in the Nira Rock area. Partly in response to this, Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) conducted a community forum to discuss the potential utilization of a number of local city-held properties. In addition to the creation of a neighborhood park and community garden, this process led to the transfer of Nira Rock’s ownership from the Boston Department of Neighborhood Development to the Boston Parks Department – and its official recognition as a protected “Urban Wild.”

Through a city-funded grant, BNAN initiated the recovery of Nira Rock, including the removal of years of illegally dumped trash and debris, the installation of formal entry gates, and the planting of native shrubs, trees and perennials. In 1990, EarthWorks planted an orchard of apples, pears, cherries, plums, grapes, juneberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, and currants–all free and accessible to the public.

In 2000, Friends of Nira Rock was formed with the mission of preserving and enhancing Nira Rock Urban Wild as a safe, beautiful and lasting sanctuary for wildlife and people alike. Regular site cleanups were initiated. The Parks Department’s Urban Wilds Initiative embraced Nira Rock as a priority and, in 2004, COGdesign created a landscape design for the site which would make Nira Rock a more pleasant place for families. Momentum grew with the award of grants and donations from several sources – including the city as well as private and non-profit organizations – for infrastructure improvements and ambitious native plantings.

Thus the vicious cycle was reversed with what one local resident described as the “broken-window syndrome …You clean up the neighborhood. It looks like people care about it. Less crime happens.” Nira Rock was transformed from a derelict, foreboding place into a beautiful natural sanctuary for wildlife and people alike. “You can kind of be in the country, in the city,” says one local resident. Regular social events like monthly family-friendly outdoor movies (“Flicks on the Rocks”) and climbing workshops, as well as educational lectures (e.g., on invasive species) have added a new dimension to the site’s place in the community.

Today, Nira Rock is managed through a partnership between the Urban Wilds Initiative and Friends of Nira Rock, with help from many partners and supporters. For instance, on May 8, 2009 Generations, Inc. rolled boulders, removed invasive plants, weeded and mulched; on May 30, City Year brought a busload of workers to plant a blueberry patch. But some areas are left as undisturbed and un-“managed” habitat.

For more information visit

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USA – Minnesota – Red Lake Restoration

The Red Lake Band of the Chippewa Tribe lives on an 837,000-acre reservation in northern Minnesota, an area about the size of Rhode Island. The band takes its name from the reservation’s Red Lake, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the U.S.

The traditional staple food of the Chippewa is wild rice, which once grew in abundance in the marshes around Red Lake. It is a 5-foot-tall aquatic plant native only to North America. In late August – the Wild Rice Moon – the Chippewa paddled canoes into the marshes to harvest the rice. The harvesting method included knocking some grains back into the lake to sustain future harvests, and leaving some grains on the plants as food for birds.

In the 1930s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began impounding two nearby rivers, the tribe’s major rice-producing areas were destroyed or heavily damaged. Most people on the reservation no longer go “ricing” at all. But the band is trying to restore some of the old rice stands, and has purchased 2,500 acres next to the reservation for a commercial wild rice farm.

Besides making money for the band, the wild rice farm provides critical habitat for a large number of species. Eighteen species of ducks and geese eat wild rice and other plants that grow in the rice paddies. The dense vegetation provides ample nesting sites for bitterns and teals, and when the paddies are drained in late summer, the mudflats serve as stopover areas for godwits, yellowlegs, phalaropes and other shorebirds.

Red Lake also once teemed with fish, in particular walleyes. In 1917 tribal members launched a commercial fishery with gillnets on their portion of the lake, in addition to subsistence fishing. In the portion governed by the state of Minnesota, sport fishing by the general public flourished. Eventually people were taking more fish than the lake could provide, and harvests plummeted.

The Red Lake Band realized the walleye needed time to recover. In 1997 the tribe halted commercial fishing, and in 1998 stopped subsistence and sport fishing as well. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources banned walleye fishing in its portion of the lake in 1999. To augment the natural regeneration process a fish hatchery was established, and between 1999 and 2003 more than 100 million walleye fry were released into the lake.

The fish thrived, and the effort is now known as one of the nation’s most successful freshwater fish recoveries. The lake was reopened to walleye fishing, but in a cautious way to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

For more information see Restoring a Lost Legacy in the National Wildlife Federation’s journal.

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USA – New York (New York City) – Melrose Commons

In 1990, the New York Department of City Planning and Housing Preservation and Development (CPHPD) leaked a draft of plans to redevelop a derelict 30-block area in the South Bronx. While the plan seemed innocuous, a closer look revealed that it could not have been less suited to the lower-income, mainly Hispanic and African American people who lived there. Large parts of land were to be bulldozed to make room fore new housing which was well out of financial reach for most of the 6,000 residents. Angered by being left out of the proposal’s 9-year planning process, and feeling betrayed by local elected officials and city agencies, local residents formed “Nos Quedamos” (“We will stay”). This group united homeowners, tenants and businesses who decided the only way the residents would not be displaced was if they become an active part of the project.

When the plan was finally presented, Nos Quedamos members voiced their numerous objections over affordability, opportunities for local business, social and community services, use of open space and streets, and building materials, to name a few. In 1994, the CPHPD finally agreed to withdraw the original plan and to meet once a week with the community to develop a new one. Out of these working sessions, and while members actively sought residents’ feedback through several go-by-block surveys and workshops, several goals were developed:

  1. To respect the existing community by including them as a partner.
  2. To provide services currently unavailable, such as proper health, educational, cultural, recreation and commercial services.
  3. To support economic development which is based on the needs and skills of the community.
  4. To create a space which is livable and desirable, which included, among other things, greening of industrial areas.
  5. To create open spaces, mixed-income housing and a variety of housing options.
  6. Economic opportunities through creation of after-school centers, health clinics and recycling initiatives.

The project attracted assistance by many professionals including urban planners, architects, and lawyers, who were able to address social, environmental, housing, infrastructure and design layouts and other community issues. For example, the original plan to have a large park in the center was rejected as it was thought to attract crime, so it was relocated. Some of the buildings were to be designed as low rise housing with stores on the ground floor, which would provide enough people on the street to make them safer. Plans to extend transportation routes were included, to reduce the amount of private parking space.

Environmental concerns were also designed into the project, with the creation of a one-acre public park, smaller midblock parks and community gardens, with options for rainwater harvesting explored and design for water retention. Another area, now with disused railroad tracks, will be a tree-filled buffer zone to separate the commercial/residential areas from the manufacturing area. Materials for buildings will be chosen for environmental soundness. Construction began in 1999 and is expected to take about a decade to complete.

This case shows a few stages in the process of transformation of an urban wasteland to a viable mixed-income, self-sustaining community within the city that worked with, not against, the neighborhood’s cultural and historical identity. It set a rare example of grassroots organizing successfully resisting urban redevelopment, and has attracted the attention of city planners from LA and Chicago. It was a model of collaboration between all diverse groups who had a stake in the process, local institutes and university as well as public and private planners, architects, business, residents, and non-governmental organizations. Finally, it restored people’s sense of community and civic responsibility, and reinvigorated local democracy.

For more information visit the Sustainable Communities Network.

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USA – New York (New York City) – Watershed Protection

The New York City (NYC) Water Department supplies some 1.3 billion gallons of water to nearly 9 million New Yorkers every day, transported mainly by gravity through a system of 19 reservoirs in a 1,969 square mile watershed that extends some 125 miles north and west of NYC (The Croton and Catskills/Delaware watersheds).

For years, NYC’s water quality was one of the highest in the country, but increased pressure from agriculture and urban sprawl caused the water quality to decline, as was seen by an increasing number of boil-water alerts over the past 5 years. Installing a filtration system would have cost an exorbitant $2-8 billion dollars. City, state and EPA officials thought it would be much cheaper if they focused their priorities not on purifying degraded water but by preserving it at the source – -the watersheds themselves.

From 1989 the city began a watershed protection program, funding upgrades of sewage treatment plants, water supply facilities and dams, and a watershed agricultural program, which paid farmers to remove some sensitive lands from production and apply conservation practices in place of crops. This was the first upstate-downstate collaboration where water quality and economics were viewed as a shared, not a conflicting, goal. In 1997, watershed communities, the City and State governments, the EPA, environmental organizations and others united to create a landmark Watershed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which had 3 main elements:

  1. Land acquisition and stewardship: The City spent (or will spend) $250 million (properly, with a consultation process) on purchasing lands or conservation easements (giving money to landowners to conserve the land they own) in undeveloped land near reservoirs, wetlands, or land with other natural features that are sensitive to water quality. Priority is given to buying undeveloped lands around reservoirs, streams and wetlands. In agricultural regions, a total of 3,000 acres of highly erodible land and 2,000 acres of riparian “buffer” lands have been targeted for protection.
  2. A watershed protection and partnership program: This is meant to promote watershed-wide cooperation, and especially build good connections between the City and its upstate neighbors, who are the day-to-day stewards of the water on which NYC depends. These might include maintenance and rehab of water and sanitation facilities, water conservation education programs and a “bank” which loans money to environmentally sensitive projects in the watershed communities.
  3. New watershed regulations: This replaces the outdated 44-year-old standards related to design/construction/ operation of wastewater treatment, and stormwater control measures.

While the MOA is seen as a milestone in the City’s water supply, the challenge lies in implementing it, but the expected result is that over 165 stream miles, and thousands of acres of natural areas will be preserved, resulting in improved water quality at a fraction of the price of a filtration system.

For more information visit the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

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USA – Oregon (Portland) – The Rebuilding Center

Started in 1998 by Shane Endicott and his partners in Portland, Oregon, The Rebuilding Center is a “nonprofit enterprise.” As a young man Endicott faced the dilemma of many socially-conscious people in search of livelihood: how to support a family without also supporting “the suicide economy.” He had been interested in construction and demolition, but didn’t want to simply “crunch and dump, grind up all that useful wood, metal and brick and dump it in a landfill then go and chop down more trees and mine more iron to build something else.”

With a private loan of $15,000, Endicott and his partners, along with some volunteers, set up shop in a garage in an economically depressed area of Portland. Entirely by hand, they began calling friends, contractors and developers, offering to pick up unwanted items and equipment, and set about gutting apartment buildings, demolishing wood or brick houses, removing old built-in furniture like kitchen cabinets or toilets, renewing them, and selling them at half or less of the retail cost.

The Rebuilding Center now occupies a half-block long building full of its goods where customers from around the city come to buy anything from light fixtures to movie theater seats, door frames, roofing, church pews, hot tubs, appliances, fountains, and other salvaged goods. Its new warehouse, built in 1999, was made from recycled materials. It tries to maintain a closed-loop cycle, where every scrap is saved and renewed, which has diverted thousands of tons of useful materials from landfills while reducing demand for a shrinking supply of raw materials. It recycles an estimated 3,000 tons of materials per year.

While the Center could now afford to expand and ship out more desirable refurbished furniture out of the region, it refrains from doing so as the use of fossil fuels would contradict its goal to reduce fossil fuel use and other environmental impacts and support the local economy. The work is labor-intensive, requiring a large number of staff, but without the maintenance and fuel costs of sophisticated machinery, the Center is still able to pay living wages to its employees (starting at $10/hour for the most unskilled work and increasing with regular reviews and hikes), who also receive full medical and dental benefits. While four other centers in the city opened and failed, RC survived because it was not as commercially-oriented, as it receives support from some 500 part-time volunteers and functions as something like a community center, where customers can also borrow do-it-yourself books from the center’s library.

The Center’s organization is democratically structured, with a low ratio between the lowest-and highest-paid members, the same number of votes per staff on work-related issues, and a hiring process where new people are hired by the people he or she will be working with. With 36 full-time employees, most of whom are from the neighborhood, the Center has been credited in local media for revitalizing the local economy. Financially the company has been operating at surpluses, which are either reinvested into the business or paid out to community projects, one of which, Our United Village (OUV), is a nonprofit organization started by Endicott before he teamed up on the Rebuilding Center. OUV is a mechanism to link people in the community, for example elders teaching neighbors how to make jam, or community scholarship funds paid to young people doing odd jobs like lawn mowing.

The Center received Portland’s “Best Business” award as well as other awards in recognition for its practices.

For more information visit The Rebuilding Center.

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USA – Texas (Austin) – People Organized in the Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER)

The work of PODER (or People Organized in the Defense of Earth and Her Resources) began with the successful removal of a 52-acre “tank farm,” or fuel storage facility which for 35 years had emitted toxic chemicals and was linked to chronic illnesses for neighborhoods in East Austin, where 88% of the population is Mexican or African American also suffering from high rates of crime and unemployment.

In 1993, after over a year of campaigning, PODER, other community groups and residents succeeded in the closure and relocation of the site, whose three pipelines were owned by major oil corporations, a notable achievement in the state of Texas.

From this success, other initiatives began, including:

  1. A survey given to assess the health problems of residents living around the tank farm was shared and used with communities of several other states.
  2. Helping neighborhoods fight excessive increases in property taxes resulting from both closure of the tank farm, and with the appearance of new high tech IT giants who have moved into the neighborhood induced by major tax abatements from the government (also garnering government funds for one of these, SEMATECH, towards research and development of clean, safe manufacture of microchips).
  3. Pressuring state officials to crack down on the oil companies who have made little effort to clean storage tank sites.
  4. The relocation (to a non-residential area) of a poorly-run recycling facility where overflow was left outside, causing rat infestation, and whose glass crusher at night prevented residents living around the site from sleeping properly.

PODER began teaming up with other neighborhood groups to look at issues of regulations, taxes, policy and design of infrastructure, which have major implications for East Austin residents, despite the fact that decisions were taken without the input of those most affected. Such issues have growing importance to PODER and other neighborhood groups and they have launched various Land Use/Rights campaigns, including:

  1. Forcing the city to “downzone” the tank farm site from “industrial” to “community/commercial” and “neighborhood/office” in order to prevent new industrial-level occupation or development in the area. These zoning categories are also integral to the concept of “smart growth” (the prevention of sprawl and unplanned haphazard development).
  2. Getting the passage of an ordinance requiring neighborhood residents to be notified and given opportunity to voice concerns any time an industrial facility wants to locate or expand in East Austin.
  3. Forcing the City Council to impose a 90-day moratorium and initiate a land-use study in East Austin.

They are also involved with various transportation issues:

  1. Conducting a transportation/safety issues campaign, and raising money for transportation improvements for East Austin residents, including bus shelters, sidewalks, bike racks, additional street lights and signs.
  2. Working at the state and national level with organizations to reform transportation, especially with the construction of a light rail transport system whose design has not yet taken into account the community, economic, and transportation needs of East Austin residents, especially youth.
  3. Programs aimed at ethnic “minority” youth for addressing educational, environmental, social and economic justice, including a youth employment program serving young people of 14 or 15 years old.
  4. Technical support and training of residents and PODER members in IT to help narrow the “digital divide.”

Working with other neighborhood groups such as El Pueblos, community members are being given the tools, information and motivation to work with local city and transportation agencies to get investments that improve safety and livability of communities.

This case highlights the concept of “environmental justice,” and how environmental issues in low-income communities are inherently bound up in historical, social and economic forces which have shaped land use, zoning regulations and demographics. It also shows how the system enables middle or upper classes to externalize the costs of their lifestyle onto the poor and politically marginalized on many levels, for example through flight into white suburbs which is draining the tax base from inner cities, or through siting of commuter freeways, industrial sites, or landfills in poor neighborhoods. As one PODER executive member pointed out, “Land-use practices and transportation design are the worst agents of these injustices.” Rather than simply battling each new issue piecemeal, PODER is pushing for changes at the deeper level of fiscal regulation, zoning policy and transportation design.

For more information visit PODER-Texas.

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USA – Texas (Austin) – Green Building and Green Choice Programs

Both programs have won recognition as leaders in the sustainable building and energy sectors. Since the 1980s, Austin launched the Energy Star Program which rated energy efficiency of new homes.

In the early 1990s, there was a sense among the more progressive architects and builders that more could be done beyond energy savings. Materials in house building, for example, are generally inefficient as the used building materials, containing mined materials and other recyclables, mostly end up in landfills because of the low disposal fees. In 1990, with a grant from the Urban Consortium for Energy, a partnership between Austin Habitat for Humanity and American Institute, with the help of volunteers, created a demonstration project which helped to promote the program to buyers, builders, developers and architects. Green building principles view the house as a system, which includes four main areas (water, energy, materials, and waste). The program began as a checklist which focused on site, energy, water landscape, waste material issues and indoor air quality which later evolved into a rating system ranging from 1-5 stars (5 being the highest). Green practices included in the system might include:


  1. Recycled carpets made from PET bottles to use of fly ash in concrete.
  2. Straw bales for insulation.
  3. Reduction of toxins which are found in many building materials and paints, for example formaldehyde-free fiberboard, low volatile organic compound recycled materials in carpeting.


  1. Composting toilets, greywater recycling or rainwater harvesting.
  2. Xeriscaping in gardens to conserve water use (as opposed to traditional lawns or non-native plants unsuited to the climate).


  1. Use of solar panels.
  2. For heating: “passive solar energy” or design or positioning to optimize natural sunlight for heating and lighting.
  3. For cooling: design of windows for ventilation, strategic planting of trees to provide shade and moisture, creation of a porch to provide shade for walls, the inclusion of windows in rooms to allow for cross-ventilation, the choice of galvanized metal roofing to avoid heat buildup


  1. Options for backyard composting.
  2. Choice of materials for recycleability.

Austin currently has slightly different programs for residential, commercial, multifamily and municipal buildings (setting standards with the construction of its new airport and other City buildings). The program also offers technical support and assistance for architects and builders, puts out educational publications for builders, promotional and educational materials for buyers, and offers financial incentives for builders and the public. The program has largely relied on using market forces to achieve critical mass and drive the standards into the mainstream instead of appealing to regulation to force it there.

In 1992, Austin had the only green builders program and the National Association of Homebuilders had little awareness or interest in promoting it; but today the NAHB hosts green building conferences and many similar programs are thriving around the country.

Integral to the program is the Green Choice program, considered one of the more successful utility-sponsored green power programs in the US, especially considering it is in the country’s fossil fuel capital. The program offers a choice to consumers to pay extra for energy from renewable sources (which in Austin would be wind, solar or biogas from a landfill) at 3.3 cents/KW-hour as opposed to standard fees of 2.8 cents/KW-hour for standard fuel sources (which rely on coal or natural gas). While of course these renewable sources can’t be singled out to provide energy to individual subscribers, the program operates so that the more subscribers pay for the program, the more green power sources will be contracted out, displacing conventional sources. The program also promotes renewable energy and provides low-cost loans for installation of solar panels, as well as offering rebates for improvements to energy efficiency (i.e., upgrades to more efficient air conditioners or other appliances).

For more information visit the Austin Green Building Program and the Austin Green Choice Program.

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USA – Texas (Austin) – Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Program

In the 1980s, Travis County in central Texas was growing, with most development in the periphery of Austin. The Balcones Canyonlands, a natural area of limestone hills, spring-fed canyons, caves, springs, and sinkholes (below which is an aquifer which supplies water to some 1.5 Central Texas residents) are home to unique species found nowhere else in the world.

When it became clear that the Fish and Wildlife Service would list species found in the area as endangered, such as two songbirds (the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo), some city and regional planners worried that enforcing the ESA (Endangered Species Act) would lead to an ad hoc checkerboard pattern of development across the county.

In 1988, the city of Austin and Travis County formed a steering committee that would create a plan for economic stability and that would protect certain species. A series of meetings were to begin a grueling, 8-year long process of public meetings with agencies from three levels of government as well as scientists, developers and environmental organizations. In 1992, Austin’s mayor supported a $US 22 million city bond, with which the Nature Conservancy acquired land, as the first step towards creation of the Balcones Canyonlands Nature Preserve which came into being in 1996. The Preserve is a multi-agency conservation effort which includes the Nature Conservancy Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority, the Texas Audubon Society, various government agencies and industry.

It works through acquisition of targeted land in the reserve deemed to be habitat of several endangered species or “species of concern.” The final goal is to acquire and manage 30,428 acres, approximately 80% of which had been acquired by 2002. Certain reserves have various levels of regulation and conditions, for example some are required to provide for maintenance, patrol and biological management, biological monitoring and research, as well as restriction of activities such as biking or hiking. Others are open to various recreational or development activities, including hunting or building. It is meant to strike a compromise between development and conservation. It works under a system of “incidental take permits,” where acquired land is given mitigation “credits” for infrastructure development; that is, development in the acquisition causing direct or indirect damage (or “take”) of an endangered species is “compensated for” by purchasing the credit which goes towards acquisition of other land in the reserve.

The Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Program (BCCP) was among the first of regional multi-species habitat conservation plans, which has served as a model for locally-based habitat protection programs that balances competing needs of developers and conservationists. It has had mixed reviews of its success. Restrictions on mountain bikers has drawn criticism from sport/adventure enthusiasts who say their impact is minimal and far less invasive than the construction of strip malls or subdivisions built close to the edge of reserves. Others say that development at the edges of reserves means the area of the reserve is much smaller than it appears, as a large buffer zone is needed between pristine and developed areas. (These songbirds, for example, need a 100-meter distance away from human settlement). Still others say that the BCCP was designed to allow development to continue, and that developers pay for the right to destroy habitat (much as the greenhouse credit trading critics say it allows industries to buy the right to burn greenhouse gases). For example, the BCCP allows “take” of 55% of black-capped vireo and 71% of identified golden-cheeked warbler habitat. The original habitat documents prepared by scientists identified a region more than twice the size of the current target.

But many environmentalists do concede that while it is far from adequate, the BCCP is better than nothing, and that it has potential to protect a large tract of land from being swallowed up by development characteristic of Texas. It has been praised as increasing badly-needed trust between developers and environmentalists, and built a strong relationship between the city and county staff. It has also set the wheels in motion to establish other land near BCCP boundaries.

For more information visit the the Austin Chronicle.

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USA – Washington State – Lummi Nation Marine Aquaculture

The Lummi Nation occupies some 12,500 acres of land and 8,000 acres of Puget Sound tidelands in the Northwest corner of Washington State, about 200 km north of Seattle.

The Lummi people have lived in Northwest Washington for about 12,000 years and there are about 4,000 members of the nation today. Fishing, especially salmon, has been the basis of their culture and survival, with ceremonies and folklore centered around salmon and salmon fishing. According to Lummi legend, a deity known as the Great Salmon Woman tells them that if they only take the salmon they need and protect the spawning areas, the salmon will thrive; this teaching has shaped their relationship with the salmon and its habitat throughout the generations.

The last decade has seen dramatic drops in salmon stocks all over the Pacific Northwest, with two of the four salmon species considered endangered. This has been due to logging of headwater areas, small dams on salmon streams, ground and water pollution from industry and agricultural wetlands, and inappropriate development of wetlands. The Lummi Nation maintains the largest Native American fishing fleet in the Pacific Northwest, and the most extensive fisheries protection program in the region. Many of its highly qualified tribal fisheries technicians and specialists were trained at Lummi Community College or Lummi School of Aquaculture. The fisheries department has an annual budget of 3 million dollars and overseas one of the country’s most successful productive salmon hatcheries in the US.

The goals of the program are to sustainably manage fisheries stocks, including protection of salmon spawning habitat, conducting salmon counts in many small river tributaries near Nooksak Basin, monitoring the return and harvest of salmon and increasing production of hatcheries, pursuing new and stricter laws to protect salmon habitat, and launching an aggressive public education campaign to better inform the public of the importance of salmon as a sustainable source of livelihood. It also manages an extensive shellfish hatchery in the Puget Sound tidelands.

The Lummi Nation is also represented on the International Salmon Commission, among whose goals are to regulate activities of offshore driftnet fisheries. It is a model for involvement of indigenous peoples in planning and management of natural resources, both local and internationally, and its traditional values, such as “generational time” (the impact of today’s policies on distant future generations) and management practices have great potential to influence fisheries management policy at the state or national level.

The Lummi Nation also has launched a variety of social programs such as a mobilization against drugs, education and youth programs, and a wellness program aimed at improving physical and mental health.

For more informtaion visit the Lummi Indian Nation.

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USA – Various locations – Phytoremediation

This emerging technology is marketed under various names like “Wastewater Gardens” or “Living Machines.” It is also commonly known in industrial ecology as “phytoremediation” or “bioremediation.” But the underlying principles are similar: a system whose design is to facilitate natural processes “doing the work” of cleaning up wastewater, restoring degraded ponds, streams or wetlands, treating sewage, or more controversially, toxic waste sites.

The use of wetlands to treat wastewater is not a new idea. The Chinese and Egyptians, for example, used them, but the concept of actually constructing a wetland was first attempted in 1904 in Australia. The technology became more developed in the seventies and eighties as part of the emerging fields of industrial ecology and ecological engineering. The goals of these fields are to optimize natural processes to perform industrial functions with reduced costs both to the economy and environment.

The system relies on the use of specially chosen native species of plants and non-pathogenic microbes specifically targeted to the system in question. With a diversity of regions and applications, experts are refining their systems especially in bioregions which have other successful projects which have served as models. The systems have been used in the US, Mexico, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

Generally the sites are used for more benign types of wastewater and sewage treatment, but they are also being used to clean up oil fields, abandoned mines, weaponry testing sites, fertilizer spills and other sites contaminated by toxins. The potential of using them for “remediation” of dangerous zones caught researcher’s attention after sunflowers grown hydroponically on floating styrofoam rafts were used to “vacuum” radioactive waste in Chernobyl.

Specifically chosen plants act as “pumps” which draw and concentrate pollutants from the soil, and stimulate the growth of chemical-degrading bacteria. The plants can then be disposed of. This is seen as a less expensive alternative to removing or transporting soil or waste materials. On the other hand, there are concerns over whether animals and insects feeding off these plants would then reintroduce these toxins to the food chain. It also might discourage corporations from using cleaner industrial processes in the first place as they could use the process to justify creating toxic pollution.

These systems may have their greatest potential in the developing world, where sanitation services are not keeping up with growing rural and urban populations. Warm climates are ideal, as vegetation grows easily year round. Their potential, as with alternative energy, could represent a shift towards “decentralization and diversification” of wastewater services, with systems introduced for apartment buildings, schools, hotels, or small factories, which would remove dependence from and take pressure off of a distant, centralized, and costly treatment plant.

Like conventional wastewater treatment, the systems generally operate on several levels, where sewage (blackwater) first enters a sealed primary holding tank, where bacteria reduce the waste by 65-95% in a good system. Then it passes into a wetland cell, or layered garden, a bed of gravel with specially selected vegetation on top. Additional third gardens sometimes are designed which receive the wastewater that can be used for non-drinking water purposes such as irrigation or toilet flushing. Well-designed systems have met EPA and European Health Authority standards.

The costs are an estimated 5-10% of ordinary maintenance and operation costs, and can be designed to rely on gravity, thus reducing/eliminating the need for energy. They can reduce the amount of fecal coliform bacteria by 99% without the use of any chemicals, such as harmful and expensive chlorine.

For more information visit the U.S. Geological Survey.

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