Learning Life Renewable Energy

Day 1 of Sustainable Cleveland 2019

Today was the first day of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit, hosted by Frank Jackson in downtown Cleveland. It was a mix of speakers, round-table discussions, breakout sessions and the usual other summit/convention type activities. We are continually reminded that this is not just some conference to be forgotten but instead acted upon later on. Time will tell if that comes to fruition and as I wrote before will require input from everyone in the community, including you Clevelanders out there reading this.

To start, here are some neat facts I learned today:

  1. Van Jones, from the department of sustainability for the white house, reminded us that only 80 Billion dollars of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act were slated for “green” technologies. If you do the math 80/787 = 10.2% of the stimulus dollars are going towards renewable energy jobs and upgrades. Not enough.
  2. Peter Senge, author of “The Necessary Revolution” and professor at MIT, told us of a new(ish) EU initiative whereby cars made by European manufacturers must also be recycled by the same manufacturer. Imagine what kind of dramatic shifts in material usage and intelligent recycling will take place in order to preserve profitability and allow for (valuable) reuse of materials.
  3. Ray Anderson posed an interesting idea from an unknown book (as of right now) of designing systems and manufacturing environments using nature as a model. What would the byproducts of the process be reused as by other organisms? How can the process be optimized to use just enough energy, just as nature intends it? If there are materials pulled from the ground for use in the process, how are those same materials replenished at a later time?
  4. Jeff Baldassari, of The Taylor Companies (furniture), told us how his company has reduced waste throughout and optimized their process to a point that their entire monthly refuse hauling cost is only $1000.
  5. Dr. Senge also told us that we require an 80% reduction in carbon emissions to reduce global warming so it does not cross an irreversable threshold of run-away heating. More interesting, he told us about a project by MIT, an open source piece of software that allows the general public to better visualize what kinds of reductions we need in order to hit theose targets and how much collaborative action is required in the future. More info at

Aside from the speakers we also began the Appreciative Inquiry process, using techniques refined by our moderator David Cooperrider. We’re still in the “discovery” stage of the AI 4-D cycle (below), basically a time to figure out who is there, what individuals are good at and what in the past has worked well and can be built upon. The entire philosophy of the method is to focus on the positive aspects of change (what could be) instead of waiting until things go wrong and trying to fix them (what was). While it can produce some ideas for how to really enact the change, I am only expecting this summit to be a motivational type of event; an event that really makes people want to keep going with developing community and talking to their government leaders.

And although I have enjoyed my time so far, I’d like to point out some things I’m a bit skeptical about and questions that are yet unanswered:

  1. Will this really work? I believe my skepticism is based on the fact that we haven’t done anything yet. I’m told that happens on day 2 really, so I’ll have to find out more tomorrow.
  2. One of the things pointed out in some pre-summit literature is that to really drive change in a region, you need a critical mass of contributors in a given sector of a given region (i.e. wind turbine development in NE Ohio). Even if we do have some of the highest concentrations of engineers in the country (according to Van Jones), are they capable of working on renewable energy type systems? More importantly, are they driven to work on those types of applications? Finally, will there ever be enough business interest in those industries that would bring even more people into the region?
  3. Can we walk the walk? As a group of 700 succesful leader-types gathering at a conference/summit on sustainabilty, will we be able to go home each night and practice sustainability and not just talk about it? To be honest, I do what I can on the simpler side of things (CFLs, recycling, etc), but there needs to be more action and accountability by us first before we can ask others to do the same.
    • As a corollary, I wonder if it is ever possible to ask human beings–especially those that aren’t interested in the ideas we are working on–to consume less/sacrifice/etc. I know that we can be told to do something (reluctantly, I’m sure). I know we can be pressured into doing something because of super high taxes or prices. But the question is: can we drive people to realize that the typical American lifestyle is dangerous to the environment and can we make them care about it? I think this is a major hurdle and a topic I hope is brought up again and again at the summit. I’m skeptical that the general population will care about some of these issues; that is, until sea levels have risen past their doorsteps.

So far I have met some wonderful people, which if it came down to it, would be reason enough for me to attend this summit. Making connections with people that are enacting change in Cleveland really allows me to step outside the bubble of my world and to see what is important to others. In some cases technology doesn’t factor into their thought process at all, something that is hard for me to imagine. On the same note though, some of those I have met and am sure to meet more of are spectacular at working with people, something that is also not my strongest suit. I think there can be a mutual exchange of ideas among all of us that will allow me to grow as a person and as someone that will hopefully be able to drive change in my hometown.

What about you? Do you have any questions about the first day of the summit? Are you attending the summit and have somehow found this page? What is your take on the summit thus far? Let me know in the comments!

By Chris Gammell

Chris Gammell is an engineer who talks more than most other engineers. He also writes, makes videos and a couple podcasts. While analog electronics happen to be his primary interests, he also dablles in FPGAs and system level design.

9 replies on “Day 1 of Sustainable Cleveland 2019”

The book was Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Jenine Benyus. It is on Amazon here: I agree that it is easy to be skeptical when it comes to trusting others to do their part, but without hope, what else have we got? Besides, it takes leadership, even if it is only in small ways that we lead by example that change begins to happen. We need to do all we can, and hope to bring others along as we go, because if we do not, then NOTHING will be done! I am excited to see what tomorrow will bring along. See you there!

[…] Let me tell you, even though I was excited from the energy in the room at Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit last week, this event really topped it. Perhaps it was just my perception. I was trying to explain why this was a big deal to me to my girlfriend later in the evening and this is what I came up with: Even though the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit was full of people with energy and great ideas, this was different. This was a group of people all in the same room that spoke the technical language, that knew or were involved in the research behind some of the technologies being discussed…and were still super excited about sitting there. It gave me hope when I had been previously disappointed that there weren’t more engineers at the summit. […]

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