City Climate Corner

Lexington MA: Efficient Buildings and Electrification

Episode Summary

Over a decade ago Lexington adopted a stretch energy code for buildings. Then about 20% better than the existing code, this stretch code was adopted statewide and eventually in 47 other states. Now Lexington has built several all electric buildings and is looking to do more. We interview Lexington Select Board Member Mark Sandeen about his and Lexington's years of leadership and learn how a small town can have a big impact.

Episode Notes

Over a decade ago Lexington adopted a stretch energy code for buildings. Then about 20% better than the existing code, this stretch code was adopted statewide and eventually in 47 other states. Now Lexington has built several all electric buildings and is looking to do more, including ban new fossil fuel infrastructure. We interview Lexington Select Board Member Mark Sandeen about his and Lexington's years of leadership and learn how a small town can have a big impact.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  0:02  

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. 

Abby Finis  0:21  

I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  0:23  

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

Abby Finis  0:29  

Hey Larry!

Larry Kraft  0:30  

Hey Abby! 

Abby Finis  0:31  

One of the major drivers of climate change is how we use energy in our buildings. And, I know that St. Louis Park has a decent amount of its greenhouse gas emissions coming from buildings. Can you tell us a little bit about what your buildings emissions look like and what you're able to do about that?

Larry Kraft  0:56  

Actually, about fifty-eight percent of our emissions come from buildings, and two-thirds of that is from commercial. Addressing how our commercial buildings insulate themselves, what energy they use, and how efficient they are is huge. It is one of our number one areas of focus.

Abby Finis  1:15  

What are you doing to reduce emissions?

Larry Kraft  1:18  

We are restricted by what is allowed in Minnesota. Anytime we are asked for some public investment or where a new building or remodel needs something special from the City, we require them to meet a Green Building Code, which is significantly more aggressive than the State's Energy Building Code. But, what we can't do we are precluded from having a different building code for any building. We can only do that if we have some investment or doing something special. For other things that we're doing, we've put a Benchmarking Ordinance in place to require buildings over a certain size to publish their energy usage on an annual basis. And, we are also now putting in place a Climate Champions Program that puts some incentives for them to take advantage of; utility incentives and other things to make their operations more efficient.

Abby Finis  2:13  

Yeah, you run into the same problems with existing buildings as you do with new buildings, and that you can't require these improvements to happen. There's a few cities in Minnesota, like St. Louis Park, that are trying to find these other avenues to go down to have an impact, have an influence, on the energy consumption in buildings, both commercial and residential. Today, we're talking to the town of Lexington, Massachusetts about what they're doing around building codes. They have a little bit more latitude than we do. How did you find Mark?

Larry Kraft  2:46  

Definitely jealous of some of the things they can do. I had crossed paths with Bill McKibben about five or six years ago and decided to send him information about the podcast, trying to get more folks aware of it. And, also ask him if he had some ideas of people to talk to in the northeast. He said, Mark Sandeen in Lexington is doing some great stuff. I researched Mark and lo and behold, discovered that he and I went to the same college, although he went a few years before me. We were even in the same fraternity. It's kind of fun to be introduced to someone I have a lot in common with by Bill. 

Abby Finis  3:24  

That's pretty cool. And, a reminder of how small our world is, right!? 

Larry Kraft  3:27  

That's right. 

Abby Finis  3:28  

Well, let's give it a listen.

Larry Kraft  3:30  

Let's do it. 

Start of Interview

Larry Kraft  3:33  

We are here with Mark Sandeen of Lexington, Massachusetts. Mark, why don't we just start with you introducing yourself.

Mark Sandeen  3:40  

My name is Mark Sandeen. I'm a Lexington Select Board Member. And, before I was a Lexington Select Board Member, I was Chair of Lexington's Sustainability Lexington Committee for about a year.

Larry Kraft  3:52  

You have been very active in climate for a while. And, as you mentioned, now on the Select Board, but can you tell us a little bit of how you got to where you are?

Mark Sandeen  4:03  

Well, I actually wrote my college entrance exam essay on that we needed to end our use of fossil fuels. I've been thinking about this for quite a while. But, in this part of my career, about 2007 I woke up and said I have two young kids and what kind of world are we going to have for these kids if their parents aren't actually doing something about climate? I quit a job in the aviation industry and said I'm moving into solar and started a solar company and been working for a sustainable future ever since then.

Stretch Energy Code

Abby Finis  4:38  

Once you made that pivot and started doing some more climate action in Lexington, it sounds like one of the first major successes was looking into what a Stretch Code is and getting the City to adopt that. What is a Stretch Energy Code and why is that so important?

Mark Sandeen  4:57  

What happened was we had a bunch of have friends who were getting together saying what can we do individually? We all went in on this thing called a low carbon diet, which is we went and insulated our houses and did all that kind of stuff. At the end of that, after about six or eight months, we said, well, that isn't moving the needle. And one of my friends said, "Mark, in order to move the needle, you got to change the building code. Because, if just three or four people at a time are doing this, nothing's gonna happen." 

Mark Sandeen  5:30  

It turned out that at that time, the State of Massachusetts was considering something called the Stretch Energy Code. The idea was that local towns could opt into a slightly higher, slightly better energy code than the current baseline code. And, in 2009, when this was going on, the Stretch Energy Code that was proposed was about twenty percent better than the Basic Energy Code. The basic idea was that anybody doing a new construction or renovation would have to do that to higher performance from an energy efficiency perspective.

Abby Finis  6:09  

Sometimes when cities have that opportunity, or looking to advance building energy codes, they get pushback from developers or other stakeholders. But, you were able to get the City to adopt this Stretch Energy Code. What happened there? 

Mark Sandeen  6:25  

Yeah, Lexington is a town. So we're the Town of Lexington. 

Abby Finis  6:29  

Right! I know, East Coast, okay, towns. We're gonna have to change this podcast to Town Climate Corner, I think, for this episode.

Mark Sandeen  6:41  

The thing that we focused on was, not only was this a good thing to do from a climate perspective, from an emissions perspective, but it was also the smart thing to do from an economic perspective. What we showed was that every scenario that people could imagine that building knew better, that they would actually be better off economically, as well as health wise, as well as resilience wise. We also focused on comfort, because a house that's built energy efficiently, is going to be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. 

Mark Sandeen  7:20  

But, to your point, you asked a question, which I kind of didn't get around to answering, but the question you asked was, did we get any pushback? And yes, we certainly got pushback from builders. Builders said, "We're not sure that we're ready for this right now. We're not sure that you should put this burden on our shoulders to step up." Our answer was that we went and found builders in the area that were already exceeding the Stretch Energy Code. In fact, I had a benefit of that somebody was building a house directly across the street from me. That beat the Stretch Energy Code by ten or fifteen points. He came to Town Meeting and said, "Hey! I can do it." It sort of made it kind of difficult for other builders to come and say they couldn't do it. If somebody else was coming to Town Meeting saying, "Hey, I did it! And, not only did I do it, but my customer is exceedingly happy. And it was easier than I thought."

Abby Finis  8:26  

It's always great to have those champions. Can you clarify? Does a Stretch Energy Code cover both residential and commercial? Or just one or the other? 

Mark Sandeen  8:33  

Yes, it does, with slightly different standards. But, yes at the time, both of them were about twenty percent better.

Abby Finis  8:39  

What are some of the outcomes that you've seen in new construction in the community?

Mark Sandeen  8:45  

Well, the interesting thing was, at the time we were doing this campaign, we spent about a year on this campaign and people said, "Why are you doing this Mark? Lexington is a small town, you're going to put a year of your life into this. And, even if Lexington adopts it and implements it perfectly, what difference is it going to make? Is it really going to move the needle in the global scale of things?" And the answer I said to him at the time was, "Well, the reason I'm doing it is because it's the right thing to do. And it's the highest leverage thing that I can do right now. It's the moral thing to do."

Mark Sandeen  9:19  

But, the interesting thing was, Lexington passed this Stretch Energy Code unanimously. The Building Commissioner made it his pride to implement this. We implemented this so well that it became a model for Massachusetts. And then the people in Massachusetts at the state level took this Stretch Energy Code national. Within three years, forty-seven states across the country had adopted this twenty percent better Stretch Energy Code, based on the example that Lexington and other communities in the State of Massachusetts have said that this was doable and worked.

Abby Finis  10:04  

That is quite the ripple effect. I know that Minnesota has been looking to Massachusetts as an example. Minnesota is a state where there isn't local authority over energy code. They've been looking at options for Stretch Energy Code or the most recent iteration is to advance and accelerate the Statewide Code. What advice do you have for cities and states where they don't have that authority? What's the best path forward?

Requiring all new buildings to be 100% electric

Mark Sandeen  10:29  

I was just at the State House this week testifying on behalf of the Town of Lexington saying, "We want you to do something we call a Home Rule Petition." The Home Rule Petition is this idea that the town is ready to go faster and further than the state is ready to go. Instead of trying to do a statewide initiative, give us the keys to the car. Let us be your test kitchen. Let us try this out and see if we can repeat the Stretch Energy Code success that we had ten years ago. But, now with saying that all new buildings need to be all electric.

Abby Finis  11:12  

We could down a rabbit hole around electrification as well and cold climate heating solutions. Are people open to that? I have heard some rumblings out of Massachusetts of moving toward electrification and banning natural gas. Where are you at?

Mark Sandeen  11:26  

Absolutely! My theme in Town is "electrify everything." We passed this request for Home Rule Petition 175 to seven, that's ninety-six percent of all town meeting members said, "Yes, we want to be able to give us the keys, let us drive the car, let us drive an electric car." And, we had to deal with the people who said that we live in a cold climate. How are we going to heat our houses with heat pumps in a cold climate? What we did was we looked at the climate in Massachusetts, which is a little bit warmer than Minnesota, but not that much more than Minnesota. We found that the current generation of heat pumps go down to minus fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. There aren't really that many hours in the year that go down to minus fifteen degrees. We showed that you could actually deliver cold climate heat pumps for new homes at a lower total cost than putting fossil fuels.

Abby Finis  12:35  

Technology just keeps getting better and better. I'm gonna ask another question about things we can't do in Minnesota.

Larry Kraft  12:43  

We're very jealous, by the way.

Community Choice Aggregation

Abby Finis  12:44  

I know we are, I know. As you electrify you want to get the electricity cleaner and cleaner. I know that there's a couple of pathways that you have here. Community Choice Aggregation is something that you can do in Massachusetts and you can't do in Minnesota. For people who aren't familiar with Community Choice Aggregation, can you explain how that works and what's going on in your community?

Mark Sandeen  13:07  

in 1997, Massachusetts passed a law. They said, "We're going to restructure our utility industry." And, before that, our utility industry was vertical. They generated all the power and they delivered all the power. It was a big monopoly, a big vertical stack, and that was getting out of control. Massachusetts in the 90s and business people said, "We're moving out of state if you don't get this under control from a price perspective." What they did was they divided generation from distribution. They said, "We're going to make sure that all generation of electricity is purchased competitively, is bid out competitively, and that anybody who wants to has a choice of where their electricity gets generated." 

Mark Sandeen  13:55  

They set that up in 1997. And, at that same time, they put in place something called the Municipal Aggregation Law that allows individual towns throughout the state to pool the demand of all of the electricity customers in their town, and go out to bid as a block for that electricity. That went along for decades with only a handful, four or five, ten, municipalities doing this, because at the time, the only reason people were doing it was to beat the utility on price. It's hard to do that on an ongoing basis. 

Mark Sandeen  14:36  

About 2013 or so, we went out to the Town Meeting and said, "We want authority to do Community Choice Aggregation." Our theme was we believe that we're going to be smart enough not only to buy cheaper electricity, but to buy one hundred percent renewable electricity. Our theme was "cheaper and cleaner." We got close to unanimous support from the Town Meeting, the Select Board, and the Massachusetts authorities, the Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Public Utilities, to allow us to do that. We launched that program in July of 2017. Since that point in time, we have over 10,000 customers in Lexington who are getting 115 million kilowatt hours of one hundred percent renewable electricity every year. We're doing it at a savings to our customers in Lexington. We are now at about three million dollars savings to our customers. At one point we were saving them twenty dollars a month. That was sort of our high point, people remember that. Not only were they given us one hundred percent renewable electricity, but I could go out and have a drink with a friend.

Abby Finis  15:55  

Like it's on me. It's on my solar. 

It's interesting you say that, because it's just reminding me that I was doing some research around 2013 for a Minneapolis study and looking at Community Choice Aggregation. Almost every single example was trying to beat the cost of the utility. There are a few that were doing green energy too. Not too much longer later that we're seeing Massachusetts and California Community Choice Aggregation has blown up. It's not a premium anymore, right? People are saving money and getting cleaner energy.

Mark Sandeen  16:27  

When we started this, there were about twelve communities in the Commonwealth that were doing this. A lot of people asked, "How did you do this? Help us figure out how to do this." We put together with a local organization called Massachusetts Climate Action Network, MCAN, Massachusetts CAN, a structure for making this possible. We rolled this out across the state. We are now at this position where there's something on the order of sixty percent of all the electricity in Massachusetts is delivered through residential electricity, I should say, is delivered through these municipal aggregations.

Rooftop solar and Community Choice Aggregation

Abby Finis  17:09  

That's awesome. It's so much growth in such a short period of time. There's a question that I've been grappling with and talking to cities, and if one hundred percent of your electricity is met with clean energy, why is it important to have local solar? Because, I know that you guys have a fair amount of local solar that's been installed as well.

Mark Sandeen  17:30  

The original reason we were doing the solar is obvious, people want to do as much renewable energy as possible. But, the real reason sort of behind the scenes why we wanted to start with solar in Lexington, was we wanted to build credibility. Essentially, we went out and told the Town, "We're going to put up this solar energy system. And, not only is it going to save you emissions, but it's going to save you money." We promised the town that we would save about $100,000 a year. What came out of that, was after the first year, we were saving the town $156,000 a year. What ends up happening is they start to believe that there is something that is good about the sustainability stuff that goes beyond the long term emissions reductions, but actually has a direct benefit. And, then when we said we want to do this again in 2017, we said we put up twice as much solar on the local composting facility, it was a closed landfill, and said, "We're going to save the town an additional $200,000 on it." But, it turned out we were saving about close to $400,000 a year on that. 

Mark Sandeen  18:43  

So between the two of them, we started delivering $600,000 a year to the town. Now that's real money in anybody's budget. Once you start proving that, not only is this good for the environment, but it's good for the bottom line, and that you can trust that when we say we're going to do something, it's going to work out well for the Town, then you can get enough credibility to start taking on bigger projects.

All electric schools

Larry Kraft  19:13  

I'd like to shift a little bit. As we talked before, Mark, I was impressed with the breadth of other governmental and non-governmental organizations that have been part of this and key to the success. Can you start with the schools because I think some really interesting things have happened with the school district there?

Mark Sandeen  19:33  

When we start to think about this idea of electrifying everything, well first you need to start generating as much electricity as you can on site and you want to start buying as much electricity as you can that's one hundred percent renewable. Now that you have one hundred percent renewable electricity, what do you do with it? When we developed our Sustainable Action Plan in Lexington, what we found out was that buildings and Lexington were responsible for sixty-six percent of all the emissions in Lexington. Our other idea here is is that you want to focus. Put your energy on to the highest bang for the buck, so to speak. And so we said, "We need to figure out how to do buildings effectively." What we started to do is say, "We want to look at how we can develop netzero school buildings and netzero municipal buildings. Wow do we do these buildings that are all electric?" Because, originally, we said, "If we're able to purchase one hundred percent renewable electricity, and we can design a building, that the heating system is one hundred percent electric, we will have a zero emissions building." 

Mark Sandeen  20:45  

Here's a fun story. We have a new school that has just been built. But, about five or six years ago, we were starting to think about how this was going to be designed. It's 110,000 square foot elementary school and houses 645 students. It's a pretty big building. It's a three story building, it's got a gymnasium, it's got cafeterias, it's got all kinds of things in it. 

Mark Sandeen  21:12  

We went to the architects and the local building folks and said, "We want this to be net zero." And they said, "Impossible! It's impossible to have a net zero building that's a three story building. There just isn't enough roof space in order to handle that." And we said, "Well, why is that?" And they said, "Well, because you got all these air handling units and ventilation systems all over the roof. There's hardly any roof space left over." We said, "Well, what if we did a ground source heat pump? You know, would we have room on this roof?" They said, "Well, sure! If you did a ground source heat pump, that would be wonderful. And you would have lots of space on the roof. But, you still couldn't do a net zero building because you could only have about a third of the space." We said, "Well, what if we designed our building to be super efficient from an energy efficiency, from an envelope perspective? Could we design the building so that it's EUI, energy use intensity, sorry, for the technical terms, its energy use intensity was, say thirty percent better than building code?" And they said, "Okay, we'll go off and see what we could do." And the design team came back and said, "Well, we started working with a goal of thirty percent, but we came up with fifty percent." 

Mark Sandeen  22:35  

Because, once they started going down the path of looking for ways to save energy, they found more and more ways to save energy. Now, we have a building that's fifty percent better than code that's being powered by a ground source heat pump. And they said, "Well, we still don't have enough room on the roof." We said, "Well, don't we have parking lots?" And they said, "Yes, in fact, we do." And so what we have now is we have a net zero school, once the solar is interconnected, which should be in a month or two, we'll have a net zero school that's generating two-thirds of all of its energy from the parking lot and one-third of all of its energy from the rooftop. The only way this could happen was because we were doing ground source heat pumps. 

Mark Sandeen  23:19  

The other part of it people would say is, "Well, that's going to be way too expensive. How are you going to pay for all that?" The interesting thing is, is that by putting the solar up on the rooftop, we lowered our cost of electricity. And, one of the things I haven't mentioned yet, is this is our first energy storage building. We put in a pretty large battery, along with our solar. And what that does is it allows us to lower our peak demand for the building. That turns out in Lexington to be about forty-five percent of our electricity costs so we can cut our electricity costs. And, what we found out is that we could develop a net zero building that not only had zero emissions, but was lower total lifecycle cost for the town. So when people ask, "Well, how long does it take to pay off?" We say, "From the very first day you turn the building on, the first hour you turn it on, we have better cash flow than if we designed to conventional building."

Larry Kraft  24:19  

That's great!

Mark Sandeen  24:20  

I should mention, that's not the only benefit of this building! You're so into this world that you probably are thinking, "Well, how do you deal with health?" Because almost everybody thinks as soon as you start talking about building a net zero building, "What's the impact on the health?" And, we said when we put our policy in place, that health comes first. We are always going to prioritize for health and what that meant was high levels of indoor air quality and increased ventilation. We ended up with a building that was designed for health. When we got COVID, we turned the building on in February of last year, and we operated for seventeen days before we had to shut down for COVID. But, this was our best building for having healthy air quality in turn. Now, we've done this for another school building a preschool building. And, we have now designed a fire station, a visitor center, and we are in design on a police station that are all electric buildings.

Young people and Bill McKibben

Larry Kraft  25:28  

We often, in discussions we're having, as part of this podcast, the things that are being done for climate or clean energy, have so many other co-benefits. Sometimes, it's even better thinking about the benefits and the co-benefit being the climate side of it, because it's just doing the right thing on so many levels. Can you also talk about,  there have been some interesting impacts from young people in the Sunrise Movement that you told me about?

Mark Sandeen  25:56  

You may or may not know that Bill McKibben went to high school in Lexington. His mother still lives in the town next door, and is still quite active in Lexington. He comes back to Lexington on occasion to see family. And, one of those trips he came back, he went and talked to the high school and said, "If we're going to make a difference in this world, the high school kids need to stand up." So Bill McKibben planted that seed and with that seed, Lexington High School, six months later, set up a climate strike. And basically, we had the entire football field filled with kids who've left Lexington High School and other schools in Lexington and we had schools from other neighbors coming in. Our politicians at the state level came to that event and said, "We are going to do something for climate because we hear that four or five or six or seven hundred kids have said that they would rather be out here striking than in school, because they need to know that our adults are doing something for climate." 

Mark Sandeen  27:15  

As a result of that strike, the high school kids and the Sunrise Movement in Lexington, submitted a Town Meeting Warrant article that said we're declaring a climate emergency and we want the Town of Lexington to commit to be net zero by 2035. Now, you can imagine what the adults think about that. But, it's a motivating force. We talk about it everyday. How will we go. And we talked about it in the State House on Monday, that our kids have asked us to move at a much faster pace than the adults have been comfortable with.

Larry Kraft  27:59  

I love that! It's young people as the moral authority, "Hey, no excuses - you have to do this." 

Mark Sandeen  28:06  


Sustainable Lexington

Larry Kraft  28:07  

So Mark, I know you've been very involved with Sustainable Lexington and then you made a shift to join the Select Board. Can you talk a little bit about the role Sustainable Lexington has played and then your decision to run for Select Board?

Mark Sandeen  28:20  

Sustainable Lexington is an appointed committee of the Lexington Select Board. The way government works in Massachusetts is that the Select Board sets policy for the town. There's a Town Manager, who is the sort of CEO of the town, who implements that policy. Then, there's Town Meeting that provides the budget and approves the laws. Sustainable Lexington is appointed by the Select Board to provide advice. It's an Advisory Committee on what should we be thinking about and where should we be going. It's incredibly helpful to have a body that's an official government body that's chartered with developing programs and creating initiatives to make a difference in the world. Sustainable Lexington had a unique charter, not just to review things, but to actually create programs and launch programs for the town. 

Mark Sandeen  29:15  

The interesting thing is that when many people hear about organizations like Sustainable Lexington, they think of grassroots community groups and there's plenty of those. We have a group and that's called LexGWAC, Lexington's Global Warming Action Coalition. What happens is, you can get this sort of policy direction from the Sustainable Lexington Committee, but then Mothers Out Front, LexingtonGWAC, and the Sunrise Movement all come together and do community outreach and education and campaigns and what ends up happening is the Sustainable Lexington Committee will make a recommendation. We should do Community Choice Aggregation and one hundred people will come to the Lexington Select Board and say, "That's a really good idea!" It's kind of an unbeatable combination.

Running for Select Board

Larry Kraft  30:07  

And, then you decided a few years ago to run for Select Board. Talk us through that and what you hope to accomplish there.

Mark Sandeen  30:13  

Well, the goals for the Town or the policies for the Town are set at the Select Board level. When we are doing these things like we're buying one hundred percent renewable electricity, when we're deciding what we do with these larger questions of how do we build our buildings in Town, those are decisions that get made at the Select Board level. As you can imagine, the easy work is putting up some solar panels and getting some revenue from the solar panels. And there's, it's maybe a little bit harder to launch a Community Choice Aggregation program, but again, it's energy. It's not all that threatening to a lot of folks, right? But, as you start to actually have to make real change, if we're going to electrify every one of the houses in Lexington, if we're going to electrify every one of the buildings in Lexington, you need leadership at the top who is going to say that's got to happen, as opposed to having their arm twisted into it. So, that was the idea. That's what I ran on is that you're going to have a sustainability voice at the Select Board.

Larry Kraft  31:27  

I also remember in chatting with you before that, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but part of the thing that I remember was that you also recognize that what you do in Lexington doesn't stay in Lexington, that it has ripples outward. And, so that by things you're doing there, can have outsized impact.

Mark Sandeen  31:47  

It turns out, that one of the most effective lobbyist organizations in the state of Massachusetts is an organization called the Massachusetts Municipal Association. That is an association that's made up of elected leaders of Select Boards and City Councils in Massachusetts. One of the things that you might think about is every one of these programs, every one of these successes that I've talked to you about, have been enabled by state initiatives. We had a Green Communities program this, I told you about the Community Choice Aggregation that was based on a state law, all the net zero stuff was all based on programs and initiatives that were created at the state level. If we're going to get more action at the state level, you need to have influence from the Massachusetts Municipal Association. 

Mark Sandeen  32:41  

One of the first things I did after I became an elected Select Board Member is I joined the Massachusetts Municipal Associations Policy Committee on Energy and Environment. And so now, what we're doing is setting policy at the state level, and also getting the word out from towns that have been leading in particular areas of climate, how we can replicate that throughout other places in the state. So what happens in Lexington doesn't stay in Lexington. And, by the way, what happens in Cambridge doesn't stay in Cambridge, we bring that to Lexington. And, what happens in Boston doesn't stay in Boston, we bring that to Lexington. What happens in Brookline doesn't stay in Brookline, we bring that to Lexington.

Abby Finis  33:31  

It's great. Cities can continue to borrow from one another and learn from both successes and failures. What advice do you have for other cities?

Mark Sandeen  33:41  

I don't know if this happened to you this week or not. But this week, we were breathing wildfire smoke in Massachusetts. We had AQI levels in the unhealthy level and we're three thousand miles away. My thought is there is no "away" anymore, right? When those wildfires are influencing my health and Lexington, there's no away anymore. A lot of people get depressed about that. For me, the only thing that works for me is by doing something, by rolling up my sleeves, because every time you have a success on one of these small local areas, it ripples out to the rest of the world. And it's a positive way that you can maintain your healthy mental attitude going forward. So, roll up your sleeves and get started and you're going to find lots of other people that are ready and willing to help. Every time I've rolled up my sleeves. There's been 100 other people that can't wait to start working with you on these projects.

Larry Kraft  34:48  

Mark, thank you so much. Inspiring words to end on. 

Abby and Larry debrief

Larry Kraft  34:55  

Alright Abby, what did you think of that? What what are your takeaways?

Abby Finis  34:59  

I think my biggest way is really that jealousy that some of these other states allow their local governments to have more latitude in what they can do. That local authority is really, really important. And, enabling cities to participate in Community Choice Aggregation, allowing them to go further with their building energy codes, being able to address those emissions head on, I think it's fantastic that they're able to do that. Hopefully, through these examples, we can, as Mark mentioned, have that ripple effect not only to places where they have that local authority, but also to places where we don't have that, but we can start to see the benefits of the direction they're headed with. Their building energy codes with Community Choice Aggregation, some of these other things, and hopefully that will open  up some doors for states and local governments and other areas as well.

Larry Kraft  35:51  

I would love to have those things in our toolbox in St. Louis Park. The other thing that's interesting is him talking about this is something that he wrote his college application on which he's a few years older than me, so it's forty plus years ago. That impact of someone that cares deeply about this, sticking to it, and really pushing and thinking out of the box and organizing with other people, how much impact over time individuals can have.

Abby Finis  36:22  

Yeah, I think the message here with such a momentous youth movement right now, isn't that it takes forty years necessarily to get these things done, because they've really been done in a relatively short period of time in the last decade or so not the last forty years. But, sticking to it and continuing to push, he mentions rolling up your sleeves digging in getting getting into this. For anybody out there who's frustrated, just showing up matters, pushing cities, towns to do more, it all matters and it accumulates. I think that we're making progress. We're making it in both small and big ways. That left an impression on me as well.

Larry Kraft  37:06  

Yeah, anything he said to his anytime he stood up and pushed for something and looked around for help, he found it. There you find other people to help and they have fallen behind his leadership. I think that's also important. And, then the youth impact of the Sunrise Movement there, and how they're providing some extra impetus and extra aggressiveness to what's going on there.

Abby Finis  37:34  

Yeah, I think it's pretty cool and don't let up. They have some pretty major successes and they have electrified a number of buildings, they have a fair amount of solar, they're one hundred percent renewable, they have Stretch Energy Code, but are you carbon neutral yet? Are you carbon zero yet? No, let's keep pushing! So I think that the youth are always the good at serving as that reminder to keep on pushing.

Larry Kraft  37:59  

And then maybe our last point of this is, Lexington is not a big town, big city. I'm making sure I'm saying town since we're in the northeast here. It's about thirty thousand people or so. But, they've changed things for themselves, but they've also made a big difference around Massachusetts,

Abby Finis  38:20  

Beyond Massachusetts even. They're influencing the Building Energy Code at the state level and other states are looking at Massachusetts. That's bigger than just the state, right?

Larry Kraft  38:32  

Maybe that's a good reason that we have this podcast focused at smaller cities and towns. 

Abby Finis  38:37  

Exactly! Ideas come from everywhere. 

Abby Finis  38:42  

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  39:06  

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft. Edited by me. Music by

Abby Finis  39:12  

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  39:14  

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