About the Book

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There has been much written on the vision for carbon efficient cities, neighborhoods, new buildings, upgraded buildings, bicycle networks and transit systems (to name a few), but remarkably little about how we can change our frameworks so that all of these approaches can thrive and have a meaningful impact. The Carbon Efficient City focuses on how we get there. It is very deliberately not just about one of the things we need to do. It's about creating an economic and regulatory environment in which the DNA of sustainable buildings and cities can be successfully expressed. It's about all the signposts we need to re-align, and about changing the path of least resistance to what we really need it to be. It is a thorough revisiting of how our institutions are leading us astray and it is suggests a set of tools to help us fix them.

The importance of adapting frameworks

With new frameworks, our economy can function more efficiently in how it uses money and generates CO2. We can have more innovation, more choice, and more productivity. The Carbon Efficient City is a distillation of key principles from all the literature on lower carbon buildings and cities. In each chapter we identify where we are trying to go with respect to one component of the solution. Then, we look at how our existing economic frameworks would need to be adapted to make that vision possible in a massive and general way across the economy. Some of the systemic barriers we identify are small, in a why-didn't-we-think-of-that-sooner kind of way, but others are more politically challenging. Why include suggestions that may be politically prickly? Because just as surely as water flows downhill, money flows to opportunities that have low risk and good returns. If America wants to invest in insurance against climate change, we should buy the best insurance we can for the least amount of our GDP, and the way to do that is to set market forces, innovation, ingenuity and process efficiency to work on the problem. Perhaps more importantly, our dependence on burning fossil fuels is so entrenched that the kind of transformative change we need can only come from the innovation and massive scaling that is possible in private markets. To get the market to gnaw on this bone we need to take the (sometimes challenging) political steps that get capital flowing to the problem.

Ten strategies for building a carbon efficient economy

Both chaos and innovation are the seeds of success in the current technological space of energy efficiency. Both are critical. But we have been lacking a way to make sense of that chaos, to connect innovations and scale new technologies into mass adoption. The ten strategies described in this book point the way there. In summary, they are:

  • Create global measurement standards and accounting practices
  • Develop enabling economic and technical frameworks
  • Align regulatory mechanisms
  • Reduce
  • Reuse, restore, retrofit and build quality buildings
  • Focus on neighborhoods
  • Include spaces for nature
  • Foster on-site lifecycles for water and energy
  • Optimize transportation solutions on a regional scale
  • Innovate for delight

A concrete action plan

Each chapter explains one of the principles, gives examples of how it works and then gets down to the meat of the issue with specific strategies for achieving the principle. Most suggestions are assigned to institutions within the US economy, including governments, environmental nonprofits and private-sector businesses. Other experts have dealt in depth with the frameworks required for international cooperation - the focus in The Carbon Efficient City is on what can be accomplished within the boundaries of one nation.