City Climate Corner

Fort Collins CO: People-Centered Climate Action

Episode Summary

Having met their initial goal of 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (from a 2005 baseline), officials in Fort Collins, Colorado, realized they needed to do something transformational to hit their next goal of 80% reduction by 2030. We interview Energy Services Manager John Phelan and Climate Program Manager Honoré Depew from the City of Fort Collins about how they are implementing their new people centered approach to climate action.

Episode Notes

Having met their initial goal of 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (from a 2005 baseline), officials in Fort Collins, Colorado, realized they needed to do something transformational to hit their next goal of 80% reduction by 2030. We interview Energy Services Manager John Phelan and Climate Program Manager Honoré Depew from the City of Fort Collins about how they are implementing their new people centered approach to climate action.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small- and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And, I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. Hey, Abby. 

Abby Finis  00:30

Hey, Larry. 

Larry Kraft  00:32

Welcome back from Europe. I missed you. 

Abby Finis  00:35

It's good to be home. Thank you.

Larry Kraft  00:37

So I was following you on our Instagram account. Hint hint if you haven't yet, take a look. There's some really cool stuff. But, how was it?

Abby Finis  00:47

Well, it turns out social media is hard. It was good. I had a really, really fun time going from Rotterdam in the Netherlands through several cities in Germany, and then down to Barcelona and documenting the whole way I have yet to upload the Barcelona but maybe by the time you hear this, there'll be some fresh Barcelona content. So that's super cool.

Larry Kraft  01:10

I especially loved seeing you so excited about it raining in Rotterdam.

Abby Finis  01:15

I know I was looking at the forecast. I think I mentioned it on the Preview too. I was like there's rain in the forecast. And then of course, it's one of those days where it's like it's cloudy, but it's not really raining. And we go to the things and kind of done with a day and then there's a major downpour. We took transit back to the water square, and we were able to film it in action. So that's pretty cool.

Larry Kraft  01:39

Okay, was anyone like looking at you two going, What are you doing filming? Here's the rain off. This part here gets so cool. I am geeking out on it. But I can see something going on.

Abby Finis  01:51

It's actually kind of funny when we were there in the morning there were like high school students who were tasked with a project to go around. And I don't really know exactly what their project was supposed to do, because I saw them with their little booklets and they're looking at things and I was like, oh, maybe they're taking up the waterpark, too. And so I went over and I was like, "Hey, do you speak English?" And they're like, "Yeah, a little bit." And I was like, "What are you doing?" They're like, "A dumb class." Like they're not into it at all. You know, it's like one of those things where you're like, whatever. My teacher told me to answer some questions about this thing. And I was like, but it's so cool. And they're like, Okay, lady. Yeah, definitely, we are geeking out more than people who perhaps didn't even realize that it was supposed to be this storm water feature.

Larry Kraft  02:35

Well, I'm excited to dig in and do some episodes on that over the coming months. Right?

Abby Finis  02:41

Yeah, I talk to a number of people in the cities and some folks at ICLEI, so I'm super excited to bring them on and have some official interviews and chat with them about what I saw and what they hope to do going forward.

Larry Kraft  02:56

So cool. But this week, we're going to Colorado. 

Abby Finis  03:00

That's right, Fort Collins. 

Larry Kraft  03:02

Pretty interesting stuff about an evolution. I mean, they're one of the early pioneers on climate action, but how they're evolving their work is fascinating.

Abby Finis  03:12

Yeah, I think we're starting to see some better examples of cities, really turning the page on community engagement, and how they involve community members. And I think with climate action, you can't just rely on the city and what the city's able to do. It's got to be an all in effort. This is a really great example of bringing people into the planning process and the implementation process in a real way that hopefully, will garner a lot of success because they have a pretty ambitious goal to reduce their emissions 80% by 2030 from, I think, 2005 levels. 

Larry Kraft  03:48

Well, let's do it.

Abby Finis  03:50

Let's do it.

Start of interview

Larry Kraft  03:53

Today we are speaking with John Phelan and Honore Depew, from the city of Fort Collins, Colorado. Welcome to City Climate Corner. Let's start with introductions. John, can you go first?

John Phelan  04:07

My name is John Phelan. My title is Energy Services Manager and Policy Advisor for Fort Collins Utilities. Fort Collins has a municipal utility so we provide electricity, water, wastewater, and stormwater. And on the electricity side, our team manages all of the efficiency and conservation grid flexibility, distributed renewable solar programs. We work closely with Honore's team on carbon accounting, and are very involved in building codes as well. So we're fortunate to have really a lot of connection points with the community around these issues of climate energy and waste.

Larry Kraft  04:43

Fantastic and Honore?

Honore Depew  04:45

My name is Honore Depew. And my pronouns are he/him/his and I'm the climate program manager for the City of Fort Collins. We're a city a little under 180,000 in the North Front Range about an hour north of Denver. And my department is The Environmental Services Department, which has an Air Quality Division, waste reduction, recycling division, and then a climate team, and I get the privilege of heading up the climate team. And we're interestingly inside a larger surface area focused on the triple bottom line of sustainability, which includes a department focused on economic health, often called economic development in other places. And then a department focused on social sustainability including issues around housing and homelessness and childcare and grant making. And then my department environmental services, formerly called sort of the three legs of the stool. Now we like to think of it as a woven braid of sustainability.

Larry Kraft  05:40

Love the positioning. Before we go too far John, can you start by sharing what life is like in Fort Collins?

John Phelan  05:47

Life in Fort Collins, many people when we say Fort Collins, they kind of not quite sure where it is. So we say - hour north of Denver and then might mention, Colorado State University is very large land grant university here in town and the rams are the team mascot and some people go okay, I think I might have heard of that. And we'll say, well, it's also the home of New Belgium Brewing Company. And then most people go oh, okay, now I know what you're talking about. So we've got a very highly educated population here, and we've been growing rapidly 180,000 now. Twenty years ago, when I moved here, it was around 100,000. But we have a wonderful wild and scenic river that flows through town. 

John Phelan  06:28

Some of the names for Fort Collins are beer bikes and bands, strong music scene, thriving downtown, some amazing choices that were made probably thirty plus years ago in terms of maintaining a really vital downtown core. And some of the planning issues it really resulted in a great community. At the same time, we're a small city now, not a small town. So those growing pains and lots of influx of people and interesting values mix. Colorado used to be pretty firmly on the red side of the equation and is now quite purple or if not blue, in a lot of ways. And that transition has created a really diverse set of viewpoints and practicality here in town.

Larry Kraft  07:11

Beer, bikes, and bands. Abby, I'm feeling like a City Climate Corner road trip.

Abby Finis  07:19

Don't they have like a fat tire festival that they go around to different cities doing?

Honore Depew  07:23

Tour de Fat.

Abby Finis  07:25

Yep, that's the one.

John Phelan  07:26

Coming back this year after a couple year hiatus, come on out and in September and enjoy the fun and zaniness.

Larry Kraft  07:35

Honore, anything you'd like to add?

Honore Depew  07:36

Our community has undergone changes and is facing some important choices that have to do with how we manage for population growth. And all of that affects our decisions that are made in the environmental realm and are driven by it. And the fact that we have people who really moved here because it felt like a small town sometimes are challenged to think of this as a growing small city. 

Climate Action & Fort Collins

Abby Finis  08:01

I hear you on the challenge of population growth and balancing that with, you have a long history on climate action and planning. How do you both reduce your aggregate emissions as well as per capita, and also meet the needs of this growing population? I found it really interesting that I think I read eighty percent of residents support climate action, and you hope that that comes with the new residents as well. But why is climate action something that's so important to residents of Fort Collins?

Honore Depew  08:33

We have a really long history of working in the climate space. Fort Collins first adopted a Climate Action Plan in 1999. Our city council and our community have reaffirmed support for being real leaders in the climate space. In 2015, our community adopted some of the most aggressive local government greenhouse gas reduction targets in the country, if not the world. And since then a lot of other communities have come up and adopted similar carbon neutral by 2050 an eighty percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. And we've had a zero waste goal since 2012, of trying to get to zero waste by 2030. As well as the one hundred percent renewable electricity commitment made by our city and the other partner cities who co-own our power delivery organization, Platte River Power Authority,

John Phelan  09:22

There's a component of other threads that directly or indirectly connect to climate in people's minds. N Natural areas and natural open spaces. We've been self taxing ourselves for many decades and have a really robust, Natural Areas Program and people are here because they love the outdoors. They love being in the mountains or on the river. Maybe not is always a formal connection in people's minds about how that connects to a climate action. As we dig into more detail on our current plan of Our Climate Future, many of the things people articulated about why it was important to them, our quality of life and a thriving, healthy environment is really in the DNA of Fort Collins, and is part of the reason that support is so high that eighty percent level, it just simply makes sense.

Abby Finis  10:08

Honore, you gave a little bit of background on some of the past history of climate action in Fort Collins. What are some of the highlights and successes that you've seen?

Honore Depew  10:18

Well, certainly achieving the 2020 target, which was a twenty percent reduction below 2005 levels. At a community wide level, we were twenty-one percent or so below that target. And that really represented the culmination of a lot of work done at many different levels, not just by the city, but certainly spurred by the leadership of our community, through their elected officials aligning resources with their strategic objectives and policy priorities to try and reduce emissions. But then also leadership in the community, there are many companies that have really strong environmental commitments. And that work closely with our utility to try and identify ways to reduce energy. That 2020 achievement was a big deal. And we recognize that it's one stepping stone towards a much larger transformational target of eighty percent drawdown by 2030. 

Honore Depew  11:16

The more recent achievement we'll get into this more is reshaping and expanding our policy and program directives to be more inclusive. For years, our city and others have been really focused singularly on mitigation with important and continuing to be important intent to reduce our emissions. But increasingly, it's clear that we also need to adapt, we need to be more resilient, we need to recognize that changes are already here and are going to continue to accelerate in terms of climate change, making it hotter and drier in particular here. And then increasingly, the nexus with equity with recognizing the importance of putting people into the center of our planning work and making sure that transformations improvements in our community are just and equitable and don't leave other people behind.

John Phelan  12:08

Setting that eighty percent goal by 2030 was done back in 2015. It was a very early very ambitious goal triggered by some thinking we did with some partners. Rocky Mountain Institute was part of that saying what is possible? And then setting firm goals around that what is possible thinking rather than what's practical and what are we sure we can achieve. That set into motion many other things, including achieving a 2020 goal, and even things like if you'd asked me eight years ago, that we would be announcing the closure of all of our coal plants that we are part owners of, and have benefited greatly from. And from a nuts and bolts criteria pollutant perspective is the best coal plant in the state of Colorado, and we're gonna shut it down long before the end of its life. Those kinds of decisions would have been inconceivable, even in that 2015 timeframe. And yet, we've built the not only commitment here in Fort Collins, but also listen neighboring communities that also are part of that organization. And it's happening, it's firmly in the plans now. And those are remarkable changes.

Our Climate Future - plan development

Larry Kraft  13:19

Honore started talking a little bit about the new people centered approach to climate with this plan, Our Climate Future. And we are especially interested in digging into some of the implementation plans. But we need to start with how did it come to pass? What drove the city to move in this direction?

John Phelan  13:38

As we started the refresh process for a number of our plans, we kind of had a nominal five year cycle, like we need to update the energy policy, we need to update our climate action plan, we need to look at our zero waste plans. Part of it was initially like we're planning to do all these at the same time, we're planning to go talk to the community about these interrelated issues of sustainability, climate, energy and waste. Why are we doing this all separate? Let's pull it together and combine it. 

John Phelan  14:08

We were also just understanding over time that we can't just focus on mitigation. We're learning from other cities around the country around the world from urban sustainability directors network, about the nexus between mitigation, resilience and equity. And so we decided to just embrace that. And it was a glimmer at the time when we started it. But over time, it became very clear that if we want to be successful, we need to engage a far broader part of the population in our actions. So it's not doing it because equity is a nice thing to do. It's doing it because if we want to be successful in transformational change, we need a whole lot more buy in and ownership and agency within the community to be successful.

Larry Kraft  14:56

What did the process look like to develop the plan? And then I know that there's these 13, big moves, and next moves, what are those?

John Phelan  15:06

I think one of the most powerful things we did is we went upstream so to speak. And in our initial community engagement, this was all pre pandemic, we were, first of all going to where people were. So we're not inviting people to a city meeting room at 6pm on an evening, but out in the community and a whole variety of different. And we asked them, "What does sustainability mean to you?" It was a very general question. We also asked, what barriers do you see in us reaching those important outcomes that matter to you in the community? And those coalesced into the 13 big moves that have components in there that may not always be part of a typical Climate Action Plan; healthy local food, or easy ways to get around town. And we worked on very plain language in those. But fundamentally, if we stay within that framework, then we're doing what's important to the community. 

John Phelan  16:06

So we had thousands of interactions in that process. Some very deep and very detailed, and others very quick. We were building upon some work that was done in a previous city effort of inviting community members to be our ambassadors. So we had at the time, they were called our OCF ambassadors. And they were compensated, and they were in place because they could reach into communities that may not have the trusts to talk to the city. So we were able to pull information and share daily lived experience from groups that we wouldn't normally hear from. And that has continued to be a core as we move forward of how we not just hear from other parts of the community, but make them part of the process. We sometimes use a dining table analogy, it's not just who's at the table, but who's setting the table, who's deciding on the menu, who decides who gets to sit where around the table that should all be in partnership with community and not defined by us as this capital C city.

Honore Depew  17:16

This was a joint update of our energy policy, our road to Zero Waste Plan and our climate action plan. We knew that it had to be a big effort. And we really needed to make sure that we were doing things differently if we were going to center equity as an outcome, we also need to center it in process. A transferable lesson learned is around plant ambassadors. Recognizing that not everyone wants to come to a city meeting, even as John said, if we go out as staff into the community and meet people where they are, that's great, but it doesn't always create the space where people can really speak their mind. 

Honore Depew  17:51

And so finding cultural brokers, trusted community partners, community consultants, plan ambassadors, lots of different names for these types of relationships, people who can take a meeting in a box, take some material into their own living room, or their workplace or their school, and have conversations with their peers. And then bring back information to help set the shared vision for the future, which is so important to make this really reflective of the community's values and ideals. That's really important. And as much as possible, and when appropriate to compensate those people for their time is a really important thing that we did. 

Honore Depew  18:30

And I would recommend other local governments explore that there are ways to do that even if you hear some resistance from your purchasing department or your legal department, you can work through those issues and find ways to compensate people for the labor that they contribute to developing these plans. And for us, it was a pretty long process. I mean, eighteen months, three phases. We started with understanding community priorities, then moving into strategic planning, and then actually writing the physical plan. Over one thousand people participated throughout that time. And just to underscore, we didn't ask people, how do we reduce greenhouse gas emissions? We asked people, what do you imagine a future state of our community to look like? What do you think 2030 should look like? What's important to you? And that's how we got these big visionary, transformational ideas for these big moves.

Larry Kraft  19:25

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Larry Kraft  19:42

I love that they're in plain language too. That resonates. What are next moves because I think there's big moves and next moves?

Honore Depew  19:51

We did borrow this framework from Portland, Oregon, we all learn from one another, rolled up into big moves are implementable next moves.

John Phelan  20:00

There are a whole range of strategies or tactics you might employ to reach efficient emissions free buildings, for example. And yet those are going to change over time and need to be nimble and flexible, yet very specific in a short timeframe. So envisioning that these 13 big moves really shouldn't change that much over time. But the next moves are the opposite, they need to be flexible, and they can't wait for five year timeframes to make adjustments. We're imagining a two year cycle to really clearly identify the commitments we're making in next moves. 

John Phelan  20:37

The intent also that provides a level of activity where we can invite other partners to take leadership positions. So not all of these are appropriate for the city of Fort Collins to lead. In certain cases, we may have a specific convening role or partnership role or support role, or maybe no role at all. And yet, it's important for the community to take ownership and drive these outcomes. So that led to another level, which is an implementation where you break down to really think about, who are the partners that have the ability to make an impact here, and who can lead versus provide support. And that's where we're at now is really kind of wrestling with that, because it's really hard to figure out, sometimes there's a historical bias towards, well, the city's gonna take care of this, right? The city's gonna lead. We're trying to break that down and say, "Well, maybe, or maybe not." Let's have conversation about that.

Honore Depew  21:40

And as you look through the plan, and examine the next moves that roll up into the big moves, each one, of course, has an estimate, if possible to quantify greenhouse gas emission reductions and a broad range estimate cost investment. But what's really interesting in this plan, and we've seen some other communities too, is trying to identify and describe the potential impact on resilience, and then also the potential implications for our equity commitment. And so when you go through the tables, you can see that there's actually a little description in those different categories.

Abby Finis  22:16

Is this engagement effort, new to the city, in terms of of your approach, or is this kind of a standard practice for Fort Collins?

John Phelan  22:26

It was building upon some prior efforts, this was a step change in that process. We did take the plan ambassador idea from a prior planning effort, but the level of engagement, the extent to which we tried to take the information we heard from the community, and embedded directly in the plan, we talked a lot about moving away from survey type information. And hearing those exact words from community members. We actually captured and tried to characterize direct quotes. Thousands of them without trying to summarize them into short, simple components. That experience was new. Sometimes hearing the average across a whole survey or a whole bunch of people, you lose the critical components that are really important to people.

Honore Depew  23:20

And one of the outcomes was this commitment to shared leadership and community partnership. That's actually one of our featured big moves. We saw that being reinforced through the process of planned development, and then being a really important element of implementation. We can talk more about that if you'd like.

Our Climate Future - implementation

Abby Finis  23:40

Yeah, let's talk about implementation. You have this massive effort to bring in the community get buy in and get people's ideas. How does that translate into implementation and having people be a part of making the change in the community?

Honore Depew  23:56

I would say it's messy. And it's important. We continue to rely upon community leaders, some of whom have been involved for multiple years. Including acting as plan ambassadors during planned development, others who have joined more recently. Of course, like any city, we have a history of having advisory boards and this is a little different, what we've developed as a way of implementing and following through on the commitments to equity and to shared leadership and community partnership. 

Honore Depew  24:26

We've developed a Community Consultant Program, which enhances that earlier effort continues with compensation for community members. I think the standard is about $500 stipend, expecting people to put in half a week's work over the course of several months or a year roughly estimating compensating people around $25 an hour of their time not using taxpayer money saying, yes, we want to invest in building capacity and bringing voices into the actual process. Not just city staff taking things out into the community, which is one part of engagement, but saying no, we really want co leadership on this. We've asked people and created agreements with community leaders, to sit side by side with staff members and bring their ideas and help co lead the process. And like I said, it's messy. 

Honore Depew  25:17

We are trying to unlearn some things around how historically we do our work, which can sometimes be exclusive. It can sometimes be very rooted in a white dominant culture that's very focused on precision, timeliness, the written word, and some members of our community say, hey, take a more inclusive approach, change your systems change the way you communicate, the way you hold meetings, sometimes. We're trying to learn and grow together to make sure that we're reaching our goals and trying to really reach these important targets. But that's the what we're also trying to change the how we do those at the same time. John, what else would you bring in there?

John Phelan  25:57

To the building, understanding awareness and support not only with the community, but also with our colleagues internally, the city, nothing has stopped. It's not like we pause everything. Let's develop our climate future. Now we're going to start everything over again. Many of the initiatives and programs and services that are aligned with our energy climate waste goals have continued on. So how do we take the existing activities we have, and evolve them into best practices, so they are more inclusive, so they do bring in community members? Versus something we're starting from scratch and inviting committee members in to help design. There's a commitment to try to be comfortable with ambiguity and a certain amount of confusion. 

John Phelan  26:43

So for staff members internally, some people are already really bought into that. And other people are like, I don't know what you're talking about. Equally on the community side, we've recognized there's a big need to build capacity. So we have community organizations that might be well positioned to lead some of these efforts, yet, it's not in their history or their expertise. Spending some time on that capacity building piece we're also learning about, say, as Honore said, it's messy, it's exciting, we trip over ourselves, and then have to go back and try again. But I think the commitment is very strong there and again, that the outcomes will be better. We're not doing this just because it's a cool thing to do. 

John Phelan  27:24

Reaching our 2020 goals, we didn't really have to challenge how things work. And now as we really reach for transformational changes into our eighty percent reduction, and onto carbon neutrality, there are fundamental transformational changes in how things work, how we govern, how we operate, how we live our lives, potentially. So we got to be ready for that.

Community Consultants - what they do

Abby Finis  27:47

I saw that the community consultants, there's a call out for people to sign up for that right now. I think, actually, if you're listening to this right now, it might be a little late because it closes today. Honore, you talked a little bit about the expectation around the time commitment. But what are you asking folks to do if they sign up for that? Or is that something that will be determined with them?

Honore Depew  28:09

We've invited people in to co create and help implement in a number of different ways trying to match with the skill set and interest and experience that people bring. Primarily thus far at a strategic level, because we are still figuring this out as we go along. How do we translate these aspirational goals and these transformational big moves into something tangible? And so we've invited community consultants to help us at that strategic level, we have sometimes a monthly meeting, we have sub teams or sprint teams, folks who will maybe huddle up for a shorter period of time and really focus on things like okay, how do we communicate this vision? Or how do we really enhance our community partnership work? The open call for additional community consultants that you just mentioned, Abby is specifically for supporting on the implementation of specific next moves. Programs that are either underway, or are starting up that are led by staff across the organization, and could use individual contributors and viewpoints from activated community members. So that's a very tangible way in which those people will be able to have real direct impact on the way a program or project is developed and implemented.

Larry Kraft  29:28

Can I ask you to give an example or two of what you're hiring someone for? What's the project? What would some of these people do?

John Phelan  29:39

Funny, Larry, I was about to say we have two examples that are more tangible and specific. Two efforts in our next moves from the original plan. One was to recreate reenvision a sustainable business program. So Fort Collins had a program for many years called Climate Lives that engaged local businesses in climate friendly activities. It sunsetted couple of years ago, yet there was a strong desire to have that type of program. And it was one, we realized, maybe that's a great one where we should be a participant in supporting of it, but we don't have to own the program. And so we put out an RFP, and we hired a local nonprofit, to lead the effort to design the program. They may or may not run it in the long run, but we hired them to design it. And they're running the process of engaging local businesses to find out what's important to them, what they want to see in it, what are the values and results in standards might be, and we're a participant, and we are seed funding that effort. 

John Phelan  30:42

Very similarly, we wanted to reform. We used to have something called the Climate Advisory Committee, it had been in place for quite a few years. It was similar to a traditional advisory board. And we wanted to reenvision that with a real focus on equity. So again, we put out a call for proposals to have people design that committee for us leading that effort. And so we hired a different local nonprofit to do that on our behalf. So those are a couple of examples where we're able to use a traditional city process RFP, hire somebody for a scope of work, to design something that we would have done and managed in the past. The other example that Honore's point recently made, we have a committee member that is really excited about electrification. We're designing some electric cessation programs. They can sit next to our engineers on my team, and help understand a resident or committee perspective in designing those programs so that they can be more successful and effective.

Advice for other cities

Larry Kraft  31:46

The last thing I'd like to ask you both then is advice for other cities. And this all sounds fantastic. But I imagined to some cities that may be smaller, thinking about an eighteen month process can sound imposing. So can you give advice in general and advice in terms of how someone might move forward? Even if it's not the full blown thing that you've done? What are things you've learned that people could pull into more of their everyday work?

John Phelan  32:14

There's elements of leading up that are also important here. We haven't talked a lot about that. But trying to secure some better understanding at leadership and decision making level, whether it's the city council or directors of various parts of the organization to build the understanding of climate mitigation, equity and resilience together that we're working on these, I think is a piece. And so that's sort of our principle, I think that's important. And hearing from other voices, period. There's lots of different ways to hear other voices, we did it in a systematic and very large and comprehensive manner. But the idea of listening to the daily lived experience and members of your community, from different demographics, different life situations, figure out how to do that that works in your community.

Larry Kraft  33:11

You mentioned leading up, John? 

John Phelan  33:13


Larry Kraft  33:14

Can you go a little bit more into that?

John Phelan  33:17

Something we often talk about at our level of honor, and I kind of sitting in the middle, sometimes we're really trying to coach and help our senior leaders within the organization or our elected officials on the why behind this. It can not always be clear why it's critical to hear how somebody has to wait ninety minutes to catch a bus to go to work and how that affects the rest of their life with their kids and their job and other things compared to if we had a more frequent bus service. I mean, that's something that somebody's telling that story, that personal story, you're never going to get that through a survey or some other method. Taking those exact words and translating those personal lived experiences. I think a lot of times we just want to know, do I have more than fifty percent of the sport to do XYZ policy or whatever. And by making it personal, it's really powerful. So the power of storytelling is one aspect that just having our leaders to understand that's the piece we need to not lose as we go through our policymaking is thinking about that storytelling piece of it.

Larry Kraft  34:23

And Honore, advice you have? 

Honore Depew  34:26

Ah, I wish I had an easier way of putting something in a little jar. But I would say you know my learning so far in this process in this role, it builds on what John was speaking to. Historically, local government creates silos. We have different structures, be it organizational structure and your org chart or be at funding structures through your budgeting process that sort of isolates and separates different swim lanes. And at the heart of climate work, is understanding that it's not a separate swim lane. And you have to help your community leaders, your elected officials, your leadership, and also the people whose day to day lives are affected by the policies and different decisions that are made and local government have to really help everyone understand how connected these things are. 

Honore Depew  35:16

For example, right now, our council has been talking a lot about updating our land use code. And we have found that to be such an important linkage between all of these different aspects. We know that as we try to accelerate towards our 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goals, it's only going to be achievable if we make huge strides in the reduction of the use of petroleum, huge strides in the reduction of natural gas, and of course, electricity. But we're lucky in our community to have a pathway towards one hundred percent renewable electricity. And how do you reduce petroleum and natural gas use? Well, you figure out how to arrange ourselves differently on the landscape so that people can work live play nearby, they can walk, they can ride electric bicycles, they can take transit, right? And if you think of transit as a separate swim lane, then it becomes something that has to be subsidized. But if you see it as an intrinsic part at the heart of your climate work, to make your community both more accessible and equal, but also to reduce vehicle miles traveled and emissions, then it becomes part of a larger story. That complexity can turn people off. But I think it's our work as local climate leaders to be able to find compelling ways to tell that story in simple terms, so that people understand the connection between these different parts. 

John Phelan  36:34

Honore, you just reminded me one other thing that I should have mentioned earlier. Given the framework that we've heard from the community on what sustainability means, it's our job to frame our efforts into the structure that makes sense to the community, not the other way around. So it's not that we should be convincing the community of the importance of installing distributed batteries, we just need to understand how that makes their life easier and better and simpler and benefits them. That's the framing piece, it's our job to frame it in ways that makes sense to the community. And last bit is just be ready for ambiguity and a little bit of discomfort. I do a lot of coaching with staff on that. It's okay, that we don't know how exactly this is going to turn out or how exactly we're gonna do this. Trust the process and just be ready to roll with it. And it's all going to be it's going to be better than we thought.

Larry Kraft  37:32

Hey, I want to thank you both so much. This has been a really thought provoking conversation.

Honore Depew  37:39

Thank you so much for having us. It's been a real pleasure talking with you.

John Phelan  37:42

Thank you so much, and wonderful work.

Abby Finis  37:45

Thank you both, and congrats on hitting your 2020 milestone and good luck on 2030. 

Abby and Larry debrief

Abby Finis  37:53

All right, what do you think, Larry?

Larry Kraft  37:55

Well, I've got a lot of stuff. I need to cut it down. And we're gonna be here talking for a whole nother episode. One of the first things was just I appreciate it when you ask them, Hey, what are some of the successes, because it's a slog, doing climate work. Looking back and seeing the progress that's been made, I mean, the comment he made about decommissioning all their coal plants, there's some really significant achievements that are really nice to hear.

Abby Finis  38:20

Yeah, I agree. And we've talked about this before, of just stacking up the accomplishments that cities have had and kind of crawling toward that tipping point of bending the curve on emissions. And it's really awesome that they met their twenty percent reduction goal by 2020. They're on track, they're moving forward making progress. And now they are realizing, okay, well, we did that. But it's going to take a whole community effort to really not only meet our emissions reduction targets, but also to adapt to climate change. And to be a more resilient community. What I thought was really cool is just, we can stack plans on plans on plans, right? And so they have these different plans. They're like, well, you know, they're all connected. What if we put them together and this people centered plan that really intentionally involves the community, both in the development and the implementation?

Larry Kraft  39:12

Yeah. And not only is it the right thing to do, but their realization that to actually hit their bigger goals, the city can't do it on its own, right? You need transformational change need to think about things differently. That really resonated with me. So it's an argument for why it's good to have these aggressive goals because it does force you to think differently.

Abby Finis  39:33

Yeah, and thinking differently, not only in how you're going to do it, but how you're going to bring people on board. And not just for climate, I think for city projects in general. We've had the standard practice of well, there's a meeting, you know, 630 show up at City Hall. The same people show up and you get the same kind of opinions. And there's really been a lot more innovation I think in communities to go out to people. To have ambassadors to build that trust in communities, and you get way better responses, right? You get much more diverse set of opinions and visions for things. And so I really like that approach of, we don't rely necessarily on the surveys and the numbers that come back, we'd like to see more qualitative storytelling aspects. It's good to reinforce just this message of, it doesn't all have to be graphs and charts, it can come from the heart or the head of what people are thinking and seen and want for the future of the community.

Larry Kraft  40:31

Right, I really liked the point of sometimes the survey is useful, right. But by averaging things across, you lose the richness of the specific comments. And so they talked about maintaining those specific quotes exactly what someone said. And then both of terminology leading up to make sure that their leadership and elected leadership really understands the lived experience that people are feeling. I think, Abby, you said it really well, that it's great for climate stuff, but it's really in anything and how we engage.

Abby Finis  41:03

And they're carrying it through to implementation. They are continuing to post positions for community consultants, these ambassadors who can work with them on implementation and be compensated for their time. I'll be curious, you know, to see how that works. What do they come up with with folks and how does that translate to the broader community?

Larry Kraft  41:27

Yeah, what did they say? The approach is messy, but important? 

Abby Finis  41:30

Yeah, and they're right. We don't have all this figured out. And it's kind of learning as doing the more we can get people involved, get people on board and drive climate action. It's going to be messy, but we're in it together.

Larry Kraft  41:44

Yeah, absolutely. Great stuff.

Abby Finis  41:49

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  42:12

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft. Edited by me. Our production assistant is Maggie Morin. Music by… 

Abby Finis  42:21

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  42:23

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.