How the Revision of the Construction Products Regulation Can Support Cities in Building Sustainably

Authored By:
Irene García, Built Environment Lead at Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance
Louise Coffineau, Senior Policy Advisor at Eurocities

The revision of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) will be voted in the European Parliament’s plenary on July 11. And it is not receiving the attention it deserves.

The CPR is one of the two most essential regulations to ensure the proper implementation of a low carbon Renovation Wave in the European Union (together with the Energy Performance Buildings Directive). As such, it has an extraordinary potential to dramatically cut down emissions from the construction sector, which to date remains largely unchallenged.

Construction products have an embodied carbon footprint of 250 million tonnes every year – the equivalent of almost 50 million homes’ electricity use for one year – and materials such as cement and steel account for 80% of these.

In the EU, construction materials account for 50% of all extracted materials, and 35% of the waste. However, if the EU is serious about becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, it needs to bring the construction sector into the transition.

Cities across Europe are already committed to this and taking big steps in this direction.

Here are some top examples:

Helsinki is steering construction through a carbon footprinting process. The city is currently developing a low carbon district based on energy efficiency, green planning, low carbon concrete, and where the buildings have been designed to be flexible and adaptable for future uses. From the get-go, the proposals’ carbon footprint were half of the business as usual ones (16 kgCO2e/m2/a).

Cities like Barcelona are resorting to biobased and low carbon materials to develop affordable housing. In 2022, the city built on a former cinema site 85 social dwellings. This has become the largest wooden-structured residential building in Spain. Amsterdam is exploring how bio-based materials can be used for insulation and boost building renovation of affordable housing. Bordeaux and Stockholm, to name a few, are adding requirements on low carbon materials  in their procurements.

Whereas other cities are encouraging the reuse of materials from construction projects. Either because they have not been used in the first place, or because their usage phase can be extended. Lille Métropole is refurbishing the former headquarters of renowned French high street brand La Redoute into a new home for digital start-ups. In total, 2.5 tonnes of waste and 19.760 kg eq. CO2 have been avoided so far. Tampere recently launched a circular construction competition for the development of a residential multi-story building in the Kissanmaa district. The selected project presented a main structure/frame with low carbon concrete, a façade of reused bricks and timber, reused windows, and outdoor structures of reused timber and concrete elements.

As implementers of the green transition, local governments are unquestionably using their competences in urban planning to implement sustainable requirements for their buildings and spearhead this transition. European cities struggle, however, when scaling sustainable solutions.

The revision of the Construction Products Regulation is a unique opportunity to decarbonize our built environment, and EU policymakers should consider the following in their negotiations:

Provide carbon footprint benchmarks. Today, builders and manufacturers do not have the incentive to increase knowledge, or to implement innovative solutions. But when they are asked to do so, as the aforementioned examples show, they are responsive and up to the challenge. They just need clear guidance and benchmarks of what it is required of them. “Increasing accurate, transparent, and accessible information, with standardised methods and labels for everyone will translate into more possibilities for the use of low-carbon materials”, indicates Miisa Tähkänen, from Green Building Council Finland.

Establish key environmental indicators (i.e. recycled content, limits on embodied carbon emissions and bio-based materials). This new structured approach to developing environmental and climate requirements under the CPR should include the obligation to disclose data all along products’ life cycle, with information not only on CO2, but also covering circularity and toxicity. “In Nantes, we build, renovate and transform the city in a way that fosters a circular economy, creates local jobs, and greener space for citizens. To continue and accelerate this transition, cities need to be supported and enhanced by an ambitious EU framework. Making available environmental characteristics of the products will ease the selection of the most sustainable option to design a better urban environment”, states Johanna Rolland, the Mayor of Nantes.

Introduce take-back schemes to the construction sector. To prevent landfill or destruction of unused construction products, suppliers could be incentivised to take back components and products not used in specific projects that could be suitable for other developments. “Amsterdam is already working hard towards closing the loop by reusing and recycling materials. However, like many other cities, we face major difficulties (such as the storage, exchange and insurance around secondary materials, accurate emissions data and no EU-wide database of low-carbon and biobased products, etc.) An ambitious EU framework for construction products and materials is needed by Amsterdam and cities like us to achieve our goal to become a fully carbon neutral and circular city by 2050 and ensuring a good life for everyone within our planet’s boundaries”, highlights Zita Pels, Deputy for Sustainability and Housing Mayor for sustainability and housing from the city of Amsterdam.

This gap in legislation is jeopardising the transition. It is the European Union’s duty to set the right framework to bolster green innovation in construction and enable cities and all stakeholders along the construction trail to move fast and forward in building sustainably.

Photo Credit:  Fabrice Caterini, Inediz


Amsterdam’s Action Network

The 15% ‘GasTerug’ Campaign
By Michael Shank

The What

Recently, an “Action Network” was created in Amsterdam in response to the energy crisis resulting from Russia’s war with Ukraine.

Early in the war, Amsterdam’s former alderman Marieke van Doorninck called for action to get off Russian gas, which created a community-wide effort—called 15% GasTerug, or GasBack.

Check out the video – titled “Only together will we get through the winter warmly” – that Amsterdam used to promote this campaign:

The Why

The Action Network’s aim was to reduce gas use across the metropolitan area by 15% by the end of last year and then to keep it reduced long term. The resulting network, which has already cut gas use by 11%, is packed with partners from the private and public sector. And it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach with tasks assigned across the network.

The How

The GasTerug effort has one team devoted to offices, another team for neighborhoods, and teams for companies and healthcare institutions, data monitoring, campaigning, and sharing knowledge.

In their words, it now “stands or falls with the partners in our network.” They’re in it together, and their success depends on everyone’s active participation.

The Who

In building this network, Amsterdam first brought together over 600 individuals representing businesses, churches, and Schiphol airport management to brainstorm ideas that could significantly cut gas usage.

This video below talks about how the 15% Gas Back Action Network was created:

The When

They did this in 28 days and created a tangible and targeted road map for community action, with regular reporting out on progress.  The model is so successful in Amsterdam that they’re now thinking about how to recreate similar networks and tackle challenges after this 15% reduction goal is met.

The Takeaway

The team effort across the whole of society, around a shared short-term goal that was responsive to the moment, captures many of the successful ingredients. Most people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and this network model creates that with a winnable goal that isn’t 2040 or 2050 oriented. It’s happening this year and there’s momentum behind it.

Check out their 15 tips to save on gas and electricity.

Read all about Amsterdam’s GasTerug Campaign here.

CNCA Welcomes New Director Simone Mangili

The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance is excited to welcome Simone Mangili as CNCA’s next Director!

Simone was selected through an in-depth global search with input from members, funders, and staff. Simone brings over 20 years of international experience in the local government and non-profit sectors, working with cities on climate change and other urban sustainability issues. He holds a strong commitment to embedding social equity in policy development and implementation.

Simone’s extensive experience ranges from strategic and resilience planning and urban redevelopment, to community engagement and green infrastructure, as well as food policy and circular economy initiatives.

Simone joins the CNCA team strategically positioned to lead the Alliance into its next chapter, supporting pioneering work across CNCA’s membership. “I’m excited to collaborate with the Alliance members and partners to advance transformative climate action through policy innovation, capacity building, and advocacy. Climate justice will continue to frame CNCA’s goals, building common ground across communities and geographies for equitable, climate neutral futures,” Simone said.

CNCA is thrilled to welcome Simone on board as Director. Thank you for joining us in welcoming Simone to the Alliance!

-The CNCA Team

European Cities Launch Ambitious Effort to Reduce Embodied Carbon with Grant from Laudes Foundation

For Immediate Release
January 12, 2021

Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance’s Initiative Dramatically Increases Uptake of Bio-based Materials, Advocating City, National and EU-Level Policy Adoption


Today, the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA) announced an ambitious new effort to reduce embodied carbon and increase the uptake of bio-based materials in Europe’s built environment. CNCA’s launch illustrates the cutting edge of decarbonization efforts across Europe’s leading green cities.

CNCA’s initiative – funded by a two million euro grant from the Laudes Foundation – will foster the rapid and widespread adoption of low-carbon building materials and policies across city and national governments in Europe. The project will be implemented in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Eurocities and Bionova.

As part of its three-year campaign, CNCA’s vanguard cities aim to establish this work as a model for other regions around the world. The campaign will support up to 20 cities across Europe — including CNCA member cities Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Hamburg, Helsinki, London, Oslo, and Stockholm — that are ready to adopt ambitious embodied carbon and bio-based material policies and advocate for national-level policy adoption. CNCA will also build a coalition of cities, national governments, and industry that will advocate for EU-level policy adoption.

“Buildings and construction contribute 39 percent of global carbon emissions,” noted CNCA Director Johanna Partin. “The new construction projected to accompany global population growth is equal to building one New York City every month for the next 40 years. If this new construction is built with business-as-usual standards, the embodied carbon generated from it will equal more than six years worth of global fuel combustion emissions. If we want to mitigate further climate breakdown, dramatic embodied carbon reduction and increased use of bio-based materials will be essential in this fight.”

Current projects to address embodied carbon and emissions-heavy building materials are focused primarily on materials research/development and methodologies for measuring and reporting on embodied emissions. To make a significant dent in reducing emissions from building materials, however, the adoption of smart policies for regulating them at the local, national and EU levels will be required.

“The greenhouse gas emissions from buildings in Stockholm are very low thanks to the district heating system using mainly renewable energy,” said Stockholm Mayor Anna König Jerlmyr. “We now turn to the embodied carbon in building material, and we have for several years developed ways to calculate that. The next step is to set actual requirements for use in our city development projects, which would put pressure on the developers to use more climate-friendly building material. Using wood as building material is one important way forward.”

“For climate goals to be met, local, national and European policymakers need to adopt policies that reduce embodied carbon in construction to incentivise the adoption of low-carbon building materials like wood,”  said Leslie Johnston, CEO, Laudes Foundation. “Laudes Foundation is thrilled to play a critical role in catalysing this important agenda through its partnership with the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance’s coalition of public-sector representatives from key European cities.”

“By 2050 Amsterdam is a thriving city where everyone can prosper, while respecting the earth and the boundaries of our planet,” said Amsterdam Deputy Mayor Marieke van Doorninck. “By that time, our city will run completely on sustainable energy and we will have reduced our local emissions to zero and will have a fully circular economy. Our current consumption levels are depleting raw materials and causing significant CO2 emissions elsewhere. If we want nature and greenery to recover, we need to rethink the way we produce and consume. That means taking embodied carbon emissions in all types of products into account, ranging from building materials, to electronics, to clothing. To accelerate this, all of Amsterdam’s invitations to tender in the built environment will have to be fully circular in 2023, as well as all renovations by 2025. The procurement procedures will be fully circular as well. We aim to achieve this in the first 10% of projects in 2021.”

“To set the buildings and construction sector on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals, we need to understand the built environment as a system in which all actors have a role and responsibility to reduce emissions across the full life cycle of built assets,” said Roland Hunziker, Director, Sustainable Buildings & Cities at WBCSD. “Each actor, from material manufacturers to construction companies, architects, developers, investors, owners and end-users, can act in concertation with others. Carbon performance needs to become an integral part of the assessment during every transaction all along the value chain and cities are uniquely placed to demand this and integrate carbon performance into procurement and regulations.”

“Finding our way to climate neutrality means rethinking all aspects of how we design, make, use, recycle or dispose,” said Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General of Eurocities. “The built environment has a carbon heavy value chain, but many cities throughout Europe are already at the vanguard of making change possible. They are using their public procurement power to drive markets towards new ideas such as zero-emissions construction sites, renovating public buildings to reduce energy bills while improving health, comfort and wellbeing, and pushing for more renewable energy production. Now we need to share these ideas, and connect the dots between different, successful, initiatives to ensure that today’s vanguard cities help lead the way for all cities to become healthier, greener places to live in.”

“Vast majority of construction, and associated embodied carbon is driven by cities,” said Panu Pasanen, CEO of Bionova Ltd, a firm of embodied carbon experts. “Land use and regulatory powers make cities essential shapers of low carbon construction. Bionova is proud to partner with CNCA to speed up this transformation.”


About Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance

The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance is a collaboration of leading global cities achieving carbon neutrality in the next 10-20 years — the most aggressive GHG reduction targets undertaken anywhere by any city. While it is possible for cities to achieve their interim carbon reduction targets through incremental improvements to existing systems, achieving carbon neutrality requires radical, transformative changes to core city systems. CNCA’s mission is to mobilize transformative climate action in cities in order to achieve prosperity, social equity, resilience and better quality of life for all on a thriving planet.

About Laudes Foundation

Laudes Foundation is an independent foundation joining the growing movement to accelerate the transition to a climate-positive and inclusive global economy. Responding to the dual crises of climate breakdown and inequality, Laudes supports brave action that inspires and challenges industry to harness its power for good. Part of the Brenninkmeijer family enterprise, Laudes builds on six generations of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, working collaboratively to both influence finance and capital markets and transform industry with a focus on the built environment and fashion. For more information visit

Media Contact:
Michael Shank, CNCA Communications Director




Game Changers Deep Dive: Glasgow’s Climate Action Story

Glasgow’s Climate Action Story

By Gavin Slater, Head of Sustainability,
Neighbourhoods & Sustainability, Glasgow City Council

Overlooking the River Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Glasgow City Council.

The City of Glasgow has experienced constant change and evolution. In 1765, James Watt, while walking on Glasgow Green, conceived of the separate condenser to the steam engine and, thus, set about an acceleration of the evolution of the industrial age and inadvertently enabled the acceleration of climate change. In the years that followed, Glasgow became an industrial powerhouse.

The ripples from that one moment in time here in Glasgow lapped the shores of the entire world, changing it just as much as it transformed us.  Since then we have generated new ways of urban living, but with them has come the generation of the greenhouse gases that have come back to haunt our legacy. Now we look to atone for the sins of the carbon age and to open a new chapter in our city’s journey to a cleaner, greener future. Indeed, now we look once more to draw upon that native Glaswegian spirit of innovation and entrepreneurialism to create a new economy and society, one being forged in the crucible of the renewables revolution.

The Need for a Just Transition

Social justice and the just transition are at the heart of this approach.  The Council manages the most extensive programme of domestic energy efficiency support in the country in order to tackle fuel poverty and helps to provide affordable warmth for its most vulnerable citizens. Further plans by the City Government for an energy services company and more low carbon heating systems will contribute to this important agenda.

Engagement with communities in the age of climate change is also particularly significant and the Council has helped to lead a pilot project called Weathering Change in the north of the city to grow local action in partnership with communities on climate issues. The city is also fortunate to have a unique global resource at Glasgow Caledonian University, called the Centre for Climate Justice, which works to support what Mary Robinson calls ‘a just transition to a safer world’.  It reflects the city’s outward-looking and internationalist perspective on this issue, as well as acknowledging the post-colonial legacy of Glasgow’s role.

The Roadmap: Assessing and Goal-Setting

Glasgow has since set about reinventing itself as an important member of the world’s leading cities in addressing climate change. In 2010, the city established the Sustainable Glasgow partnership, an innovative partnership between the public, academic, and private sector, tasked with supporting the city in achieving a reduction in its carbon emissions of 30% by 2020, based on a 2006 baseline. In 2010 this was visionary, and a step ahead of the 20% target for 2020 set by the EU and, by 2017 (data are always reported 2 years in arrears), Glasgow had successfully reduced reduced CO2 emissions by 37%, meeting and exceeding our target years in advance.

During the years that have passed since 2010, Glasgow has been very active in establishing various different measures with which we can tackle climate change, both through adaptation and mitigation.

In 2014, the city established its Energy & Carbon Masterplan (ECMP) which examined energy use in the city in great detail and utilised spacial mapping of consumption aligned to social metrics, such as poverty, to devise 33 actions that, if implemented, would reduce Glasgow’s CO2  emissions by 30% by 2020 on a 2006 baseline.

As of 2017, the city had successfully reduced emissions by 37%. The ECMP pioneered a number of approaches to energy planning, one of which was the development of heat mapping to visualise how much heat was being consumed and where. Initially this was done through the use of data bought from credit card companies and building surveyors.

We have come a long way since then: these data are now collated nationally, providing a much better visual of heat consumption and allowing much better planning of new heating systems that enable less expensive, and less carbon intensive, heat production, distribution and consumption for those most in need.

Furthermore, the council, working with internal and external partners, is assessing the risks of projected climate change to the city and the city council. Specifically, they are looking at the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment report for Scotland, 15 key consequences of climate change for Scotland, and the Climate Change Risk and Opportunity Assessment for the city region.

Flourishing in the Face of Climate Change

A climate adaptation action plan is being created that aims to address climate resilience in the city, ensuring that the most vulnerable in our city aren’t disproportionately impacted by impacts of a changing climate, such as flooding, overheating, food unavailability/high costs, or access to good quality housing and transport. The strategy aims to help Glasgow’s people, economy, natural environment and key infrastructure to flourish in the face of a changing climate.

The City Council is also one of the founding members of the Climate Ready Clyde Partnership managed by SNIFFER. Partners include Clydeplan, Glasgow & Clyde Valley Green Network, Local Authorities in the Clyde Valley, NHS GG&C, Transport Scotland, SEPA and Scottish Power Energy Networks. The council plays a role alongside other partners in developing a climate adaptation strategy for the city region.

The city has issues with fuel poverty, in which people spend more than 10% of their income on energy bills. This is often due to the perfect storm of low income households living in poorly insulated homes with inefficient heating systems. This is unacceptable and the council has been working hard with stakeholders to replicate the innovative district heating systems found all across Europe, particularly in Scandinavia.

Glasgow is now home to a number of innovative district heating systems that utilise gas CHP and air source heat pumps to deliver low carbon, low cost heating to help reduce the carbon impact of heating and to alleviate those in fuel poverty by providing affordable warmth, ensuring those in most need get the help they require.

Future district heating systems will likely be mostly heat pump driven, as electricity in Scotland has a very low carbon coefficient and heat pumps have such a high coefficient of performance. The developing Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy will identify where new district heating schemes will be placed to continue to minimise the carbon cost of heating in Glasgow.

In addition to district heating, the city has deployed renewable energy in a big way. Social housing in Glasgow is owned and operated by Resident Social Landlords or Housing Associations. Many of these have deployed solar PV to supply low cost and low carbon energy to their tenants and to reduce their carbon footprint. Again, the purpose is to provide alleviation of fuel poverty, a key principle of Glasgow City Council, as it transitions towards a sustainable future in a just way.

As well as solar PV, Glasgow City Council, in partnership with Scottish and Southern Energy, installed a 3MW wind turbine in the city, which is a major feat in a dense city situated close to an international airport. Revenue generated by this turbine is shared with a local community trust to be used to develop more local renewable projects and community benefit projects and ensure that the benefits are retained in the local area, an area which scores high on many indices of deprivation. This is another way in which the city is trying to ensure a just transition to a low carbon future.

Other projects are being developed with community groups that follow a similar model, with the council providing buildings that community groups can use to install renewables and benefit from energy sales.

Addressing Future Climate Risks: Floods and Food Systems

Another way in which climate change is affecting Glasgow specifically is in local flooding. Glasgow City Council is a lead partner in the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership (MGSDP –, a non-statutory, collaborative, partnership and NPF3 National Development, with the aim to Sustainably Drain Glasgow.

Collectively, the partners have delivered over £500M of projects to date, to reduce flood risk, improve water quality and enable sustainable economic development in the Glasgow region.

Working with partners, key projects that GCC has led successful delivery of include the White Cart Flooding Project, the Camlachie Burn Overflow, Toryglen Regional SuDS Pond, Cardowan Surface Water Management Plan and Glasgow’s Smart Canal.

With climate change increasing flood risks and impacts, the partnership continues to deliver projects, with GCC leading the design and construction of a number of surface water management projects across Glasgow, many with Glasgow City Region City Deal funding, that will reduce flood risk through the delivery of sustainable blue-green infrastructure.

GCC also has the role of Lead Local Authority for the Clyde and Loch Lomond Local Plan District, and is working closely with SEPA to develop the 2nd Flood Risk Management Strategies for public consultation at the end of this year (it may be pushed back six months due to Covid-19), with the aim of identifying further projects to increase resilience to existing and future flood risk.

The future of food is another pressing issue for the citizens of Glasgow. More and more people are becoming acutely aware of the impact of food production and consumption on the planet and are very concerned about how the city can address this in a way that is just and equitable.

Glasgow recently held an Inquiry and a Food Summit involving over 100 community and other food groups, and international representatives from the Milan Urban Food Pact Policy Partnership of which both cities are members. A co-design process has followed and a strategy and City Food Plan is in development with the umbrella body Glasgow Community Food Network.

Glasgow City Food Plan is an ambitious cross-sector piece of work that aims to transform Glasgow’s food system to one that is integrated, holistic, healthy, fair and sustainable. This draft strategy – called “Let’s Grow Together 2020-25– includes reducing carbon emissions. The Circular Economy features quite strongly throughout the plan and in the community and enterprise elements especially. Addressing poverty, particularly children’s poverty, is a key part of this, as exemplified by the Council’s Children’s Holiday Food programme.

The Council is working with GCFN to develop a partnership between six community food organisations around the city which will enable communities to participate in and lead on aspects of the upcoming City Food Plan.

In summary, all of these strategies and policies are designed to transition the City of Glasgow from its carbon based heavy industry to a sustainable, carbon neutral future, in a way that is just and equitable for all of the citizens of Glasgow.

Game Changers Deep Dive: Amsterdam Launches Climate Neutral Roadmap 2050

Launch Of Amsterdam’s Climate Neutral Roadmap: An Interview With Deputy Mayor Marieke Van Doorninck

Q: Many cities aim for climate neutrality in 2050 – what makes Amsterdam’s roadmap special?

A: Cities are making a major contribution to climate change. Aside from the great responsibility, we also have more opportunities to take action to fight it, as there are lots of people living in close proximity. And we get a nicer city in return – not only for the current generation, but also for the generations to come. Cities are particularly unpleasant places to be in the heat and in the massive rain showers caused by climate change.

In 2050, Amsterdam will still be a great city in which to live and work. A healthy, prosperous and green city for everyone. And it will also be a city without coal, gas or oil, and it will have been free of polluting cars for twenty years. A city where energy is used economically, energy is generated sustainably, and raw and other materials are reused in a never-ending cycle.

The Amsterdam Climate Neutral Roadmap 2050 shows that this energy transition is possible, that it will bring opportunities, and that work in the city is already well underway. But the Roadmap also shows that the transition will be complex and risky.

The Roadmap marks the start of an irreversible, flexible process. The city is engaged in intensive cooperation, experimentation, data-gathering and learning. We’ll update the Roadmap every year in the future, including the climate budget.

Amsterdam is an ambitious and green frontrunner. We want to cut carbon emissions by 95% in 2050, compared to 1990, and to phase out natural gas completely in the city before 2040. As a step on the way, we’ll cut carbon emissions by 55% in 2030. Meanwhile, the Dutch government is aiming for a 49% reduction. We are ahead, and we hope that the government and the EU will follow us.

The Roadmap identifies four transition paths with accompanying measures: the built environment, electricity, mobility, and harbour and industry. We have made detailed calculations for all of the measures in Amsterdam, in order to lay a solid foundation for the coming years. In principle, these measures will lead to the intended 55% cut in carbon emissions in 2030, in ten years’ time.

The climate budget is our monitor and our steering instrument. Annual monitoring allows us to keep a finger on the pulse, so we can make adjustments and come up with new measures if necessary. We reflect on the past and look to the future.

For a compact, historical European city such as Amsterdam, the energy transition is a major challenge. Lots of space is needed to generate, save, store and transport energy – and such space is scarce in a growing and increasingly densely-built city.

With the Roadmap, Amsterdam is showing that the energy transition is possible in a compact city.

The energy transition is not only a technical transition; above all, it is a social transition. In our vision, it will only succeed if we view the energy transition as a social transformation, we adopt climate justice as a guiding principle, and we work together.

In order to kickstart the movement in the city and maintain it, the municipality is playing different roles. We are working from the top down and the bottom up, and focusing our efforts and resources on the four transition paths.

Q: How does this fit in with the Amsterdam Climate Agreement?

A: The Amsterdam Climate Agreement marked the start of the New Amsterdam Climate platform. Almost 200 initiatives in the city are taking joint responsibility for building a climate-neutral city, and the movement is growing. The platform provides an overview, inspires people, and helps them to join in.

The Amsterdam Climate Agreement was established in 2019. We organised approximately 700 discussions, meetings and events across the city. We’re making inventories of what’s already happening and what has been planned. This bottom-up movement forms the basis of the Roadmap. Without initiative-takers in the city, without frontrunners, there would be no movement. The municipality is directing the process and has translated the overarching strategy into a roadmap. 

Q: This year has been christened the year of the sun — how can the municipality be so confident that it will happen, and what project-related success have you had so far?

A: Amsterdam has a lot of roof surface, and we want to use this space optimally to generate sustainable energy. In the longer term, electricity can be generated on roofs for 400,000-500,000 households.

The advantage of solar panels is that installation is technically straightforward, and this also tends to be a profitable investment. Between 2012 and mid-2019, the number of solar panels in Amsterdam grew by 54% each year. If we maintain this growth of 54% in the coming years, we will meet the target of 250 MW in 2022. Growth will not be automatic, by any means; it will require a programmatic approach. Our aim is that no roof should remain unused.

We have opted for an approach whereby we inspire citizens and remove obstacles, so the opportunities created by solar energy generation can be used more effectively. The key parties for the generation of solar energy are the owners and users of buildings in the city. 

If we don’t succeed in persuading the large roof-owners, in the longer term we’ll want to make the use of commercial roofs mandatory – but we’ll need the Dutch government and the EU for this.

We also need more support from central government for large solar projects. The autumn 2019 round of the sustainable energy subsidy (Stimuleringsregeling Duurzame Energie, SDE+) was heavily oversubscribed last year. As a result, 6,000 solar projects across the country were turned down. This could jeopardise our ability to meet this year’s climate targets. For Amsterdam, it could mean a potential decline of 62 MW in 2020. We are encouraging SDE+ subsidy-holders (whose applications have been approved) to redeem them and not allow them to expire. 

Lots of great projects are underway in the city. There is considerable support among Amsterdam’s citizens. Solar panels have been installed on eighteen schools in Amsterdam Nieuw-west, in partnership with the municipality. These schools have jointly installed 6,000 panels, and fifty other schools are in the pipeline.

Three hundred and sixteen solar panels have been installed on the roof of the Hermitage Amsterdam. This is generating a considerable amount of electricity, comparable to the energy consumption of around thirty households. The Hermitage is the first monumental museum building in the Netherlands to install solar panels. Its monumental status made the process somewhat longer, but not impossible. Much more is possible than you’d think.

In addition to the solar energy programme, Amsterdam also has ambitious targets for generating wind energy. In the summer of 2019, we had 38 wind turbines with an installed capacity of 66 MW. After the summer, sixteen small wind turbines were removed. Ten large wind turbines will be installed in their place by 2022, bringing the total to 77 MW.

An illustration from the Roadmap of the different parties involved in transforming the city from fossil-fuel dependency to using 100% renewable energy.
Q: How are you keeping Amsterdammers on board with your far-reaching plans?

A: If we do nothing, the citizens of Amsterdam will be hit hard by the consequences of climate change. Around the world, floods, changing temperatures and drought are having a big impact on societies, public health and the economy. When areas become uninhabitable due to a lack of drinking water or the inability to cultivate food, the prospect of war and refugee flows increases.

There is great support among Amsterdam’s citizens. Around 70%of citizens support the transition to sustainable, clean energy, and feel responsible for playing their part in the transition. This is shown by research by the municipality’s research department. Almost 60% of Amsterdam’s citizens think that climate change will have a major impact on Amsterdam. Only 5% of citizens think that climate change is exaggerated. Just over half of Amsterdam’s citizens have already taken sustainability measures. We are responding to this with the Climate Agreement and the New Amsterdam Climate platform.

We will also work to raise awareness among citizens, in order to highlight the urgency of the task. When it comes to saving the climate, there’s no time to lose. The steps towards the future need to be taken today.

Q: How does the notion of climate justice impact your ambitions? What is Amsterdam doing to ensure that the benefits and opportunities presented by the energy transition are the same for everyone

A: Greenhouse gas emissions are causing a fall in the quality of life around the world. Despite having the smallest share in global warming, poorest countries are being hit the hardest. The same is true of our children and the generations to come. In our city, the consequences of the energy transition are not equal for everyone, either. Some residents or neighbourhoods are more vulnerable or will benefit less from the opportunities offered by the energy transition. The Municipality of Amsterdam wants the energy transition to be a fair transition.

We have translated this into three aspects:

  • First: the City Council believes that the strongest shoulders must bear the heaviest burdens. The basic principle of our policy is that low- and medium-income households should not incur extra living expenses as a result of the transition to clean energy.
  • Second: in addition, we want all citizens to have access to decision-making processes relating to the energy transition.
  • Third: the transition to sustainable and clean energy will lead to the disappearance of certain jobs, but at the same time it will also deliver new, ‘green jobs’. We will help people to find ‘green jobs’.
Q: Why should businesses follow this plan? What extra incentives are there to make the shift?

A: Like all great challenges, this transition will lead to opportunities and innovation. Opportunities and innovation are good for business. We’ll see that over time, the companies that are unable to adapt to the changing environment (client preferences, social debate, stricter regulations, the increasing cost of energy and raw materials) will be less successful. The extent to which companies are able to keep developing will determine their success. Companies in Amsterdam’s harbour, for example, see major opportunities for capitalising on the growth markets for sustainable electricity, sustainable heat, green hydrogen and various sustainable fuels.

The Municipality of Amsterdam is taking its responsibility seriously by playing a leading role in the transition. But we cannot make the difference alone. We also expect other parties to take up their part of the challenge. And we’ll help the city’s businesses as much as we can. For that reason, the Roadmap includes supportive measures for companies that want to develop sustainably and go beyond existing legal norms.

Various financial facilities are also being made available, such as subsidies and loans. If parties fail to take action or do too little, the municipality will ultimately turn to regulations. We certainly see a role here for the EU, too, and we are keen to work together.

Q: Is there anything else you feel that I should know about Amsterdam’s ambitions in this area?

A: We are keen to work with other cities and the EU to achieve our ambitions. At present, we are trying to do this by inspiring, stimulating and facilitating. But this has its limits. If we don’t succeed in persuading parties, we will need legislation (and a level playing field), and that will also need to come from the EU. Take the incorporation of solar panels into buildings, for example, but also guidelines on new heating technologies, such as low-temperature waste heat (aquifer thermal energy or waste heat from datacentres). A lot of new infrastructure will be needed for this. We still need to design the new heating system: what role will the grid operator play, and what’s the situation regarding fair prices for consumers or new forms of governance?

The Climate Neutral Roadmap is primarily about the energy transition, but we’re also working on a strategy for the circular economy, which we will present later in the spring. Here, too, we see many areas where the EU can and should play a major role with a view to product design, an equal playing field for used materials and much more. I’d like to see the circular economy reflected in the green deal, and I hope we can work on this together.

An illustration of the Roadmap’s energy transition journey. Read the full Roadmap here.

Game Changers Deep Dive: NYC’s Strategy to Dismantle & Replace Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

NYC’s Strategy To Dismantle & Replace Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

By Daniel Zarrilli, Chief Climate Policy Advisor & OneNYC Director, Office of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio

From left to right, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio (center), with Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Bill McKibben, Co-Founder of
Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office / Benjamin Kanter

New York City Doubles Down on the Green New Deal

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City recently launched the second wave of NYC’s Green New Deal, expanding on the success of legislation passed last year with the City Council to retrofit the largest buildings in the city and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In his annual State of the City address, de Blasio set out the following ambitious commitments:

  • End the use of fossil fuels: By 2040, we still stop using natural gas and other fossil fuels in large building systems in New York City, starting in government buildings. This will accelerate the transition to clean heat and very low emissions buildings across the five boroughs. Working with lawmakers, we will ensure that new permits for building systems are aligned with our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • Stop new fossil fuel infrastructure: We are not just transitioning our buildings, we are transitioning our city away from fossil fuels by stopping any new infrastructure, such as power plant expansions, pipelines, or terminals that expands the supply of fossil fuels in our city. The Mayor signed an Executive Order codifying this policy on February 6, 2020.

Ramping Up Investment in Clean Energy

In addition to ending our reliance on fossil fuels, we are ramping up investments in clean, renewable energy. That includes:

  • Major wind investment:  Off-shore wind is coming to our region. To accelerate its growth, with our New York State and Empire Wind partners, we will equip the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park as a new hub for staging, installing and operating turbines across the tri-state area. We’ll create 500 green jobs and support clean wind power that would reduce emissions equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road.
  • Doubling solar power: Solar power saves homeowners money on their electric bills, but the up-front costs continue to hold people back from installing rooftop solar panels. New York City will launch a new program to defray those upfront costs, letting homeowners pay for them over years out of the savings on their energy bills. We can help install solar panels on 50,000 one-to-four family homes, doubling the amount of solar power produced in New York City and creating 5,000 green jobs.
  • Bring hydropower to NYC: This year, we will secure an agreement to bring more zero-emission hydropower to New York City, which will help run City government operations on 100 percent renewable energy.
  • Make ALL city vehicles electric: The City will rapidly convert or replace thousands of cars, trucks and buses to operate on electric power. By 2025, 4,000 vehicles will be converted or replaced to electric, and by 2040, we will work to make the entire City fleet—every garbage truck, every ferry, every ambulance and every police cruiser fully electric. The first electric school buses will hit the streets this year.

Major Milestone in Divestment  

Not only do we need to take bold actions to tackle emissions and invest in renewables, we also need to stop financially supporting the companies responsible for the climate crisis. That’s why the de Blasio administration is moving to divest billions of dollars from fossil fuels. Last month we announced the selection of advisers to evaluate options and recommend divestment actions to three of our five pension boards, making New York City the first city in the nation to take this major and necessary step to address the financial and environmental risks of fossil fuel holdings.

The City pension funds are on track to have actionable plans to divest from fossil fuel reserve owners by late 2020.  The expectation is that the pension fund boards will be able to adopt a plan and begin execution in 2021.

Toolkit and Divest/Invest Forum

In addition to the progress mentioned above, the City is working to leverage our national and international partnerships to inspire other municipal leaders and governments to take similar actions, scale up their climate actions, and help to create a more inclusive economy for everyone. As such, New York City launched a toolkit in close partnership with the city of London and C40 Cities.

From March 16-18, 2020, city leaders will come together in New York City to share their progress and experience in divesting from fossil fuel companies and increasing investment in climate solutions.

New York City has been taking step after step aggressively to protect us against climate change, to do our share. Cities all around the country are doing the same. Join us!

Cutting Emissions by Reducing Food Waste

Game Changers Deep Dive: Cutting Emissions by Reducing Food Waste

By Michael Shank and Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo

Michael Shank is the Communications Director for CNCA, and Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo is the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Michael Shank attended the Vatican City conference mentioned below, which was hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The article was first published in TIME Magazine and is reprinted below and updated to reflect post-conference timing.

Food Waste Might Be Finally Getting the Focus It Deserves

From Washington D.C. to the Vatican, world leaders are stepping up their efforts to reduce food waste. In Washington D.C. last month, the US government announced a new Food Waste Reduction Alliance to formalize federal agency, food manufacturer and restaurant association collaboration to reduce food waste 50% by 2030.

Trash basket filled with thrown out food. Photo via Getty Images/iStockphoto / Peder77

And in Vatican City last week, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences hosted a major summit on reducing food loss and waste, putting the issue front and center for the Catholic Church. This builds on Pope Francis’s mantra that “to throw food away means to throw people away” and the Catholic Church’s teachings to ask for daily food for all – that it’s a moral obligation to ensure that everyone has enough food, which includes avoiding food loss and waste.

This doubling-down on food waste by world leaders is heartily welcomed. We’re wasting too much food, money, opportunities and resources. Around the world, roughly one-third of all agricultural land produces food that is lost (in the production phase) or wasted (in the retail and consumption phase). That’s more than 1.3 billion metric tons of edible food. And the entire supply chain is responsible, from poor climatic conditions to produce damaged at farms to improperly stored food to eating habits and more. When this food goes uneaten, we waste the water and energy needed to produce it, harvest it and bring it to market. And the economic, social and environmental impacts of this practice are devastating.

Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts

Economically speaking, this costs our communities dearly. Industrialized countries are losing $680 billion and developing countries are losing $310 billion. The financial hit to our economies, of this lost or wasted food, runs nearly $1 trillion dollars. To put this financial loss in perspective: If we wanted to deliver clean water and sanitation to the world for a year, it’d cost only $150 billion. What a preventable waste, then, that could free up new monies for essential poverty-alleviating projects, which is the focus of the next section.

Socially speaking, the food wasted could feed the world if we better managed the food supply chain. The Food and Agricultural Organization found that “consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)”. What an incredible waste, then, especially when over 800 million people go hungry. We must do better. The World Bank estimates that just a 1% reduction in post-harvest losses could yield gains of $40 million each year, the majority of which would go directly to small farmers growing the food while helping local economies. That’s a win-win socially and economically.

Environmentally speaking, if food waste were a country it’d be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the U.S., a fact reiterated by a senior UN climate official attending this month’s international Zero Waste Summit in Istanbul. The carbon footprint is formidable. Food waste and loss contributes to approximately 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. To put that in comparison, that’s equal to the apparel industry, which also contributes 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and greater than the airline industry, which is roughly at 2.5 percent of global gases. Food is the low-hanging fruit, then, in the carbon-reduction agenda. It’s much easier to tackle immediately.

What We Can Do to Reduce the Impact of Food Waste

How do we save our economies, societies and environments from the deleterious impacts that come with food waste and food loss? A good overhaul of the food system is needed but let’s start with a few concrete next steps.

First, we need to change social norms that exacerbate food waste. It’s too easy to waste food as there are no consequences for throwing food away. That needs to change. We can all shop smarter and stop over-serving ourselves and others. Big portions lead to big waste. Our shelves – whether at market or at home – don’t have to be stocked full all the time. And with better access to daily or weekly local farmers’ markets, it’ll be easier to get what you need for the next few meals, avoiding the waste that comes from stocking up for weeks. Additionally, let’s eat more ugly fruits and vegetables, which are tossed out for cosmetic reasons. The preference for a straight carrot versus a crooked one is part of a norm that generates high percentages of food waste. These norms are changing, thankfully, and there’s a growing market for ugly fruit. But more is needed.

Second, we need to rethink arbitrary expiration dates in places like the United States. Most people don’t realize that these dates are set by companies, not health agencies, with the intention that you buy more food. The lack of federal standards leads to vast inconsistencies, and often means food that could still be eaten ends up in the trash instead.

Third, our local governments, which are often responsible for the collection of household scraps, can play a major role in reducing food waste. In San Francisco, for example, which has a zero waste goal by 2020, they’ve diverted waste from the landfill by over 80 percent, and they’re transforming food waste into compost and selling it back to farmers. That’s good for soil health and its ability to retain water, and it cuts down on irrigation as well as fertilizers and pesticides. San Francisco’s approach to food waste as a resource – which is what cities in the global south, like Rio de Janeiro, are also doing by salvaging food waste – is a win for the city, its economy, its farmers and the environment.

Fourth, we need better refrigeration to prevent food spoilage. Many countries don’t have the capacity to keep food cold when it’s stored or transported. If they had the capacity to build a “cold chain” – with the necessary refrigeration along the way – a lot less food would be wasted when moving food from farm to market. Countries that already have refrigeration need to significantly increase their energy efficiency so that this expansion is done sustainably elsewhere.

This, and more – like switching to plant-based diets – is the way forward, which is why the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance helped co-found the Cool Food Pledge to scale up climate-friendly foods. It’s good that global leaders are finally putting this front and center on their policy agendas. The world is watching, and now it’s time for us to stop wasting.

12 Ways to Improve Climate Change Communications and Campaigns


Why 12 Ms?

Environmentalists have long depended on good data and sound science to determine the direction of their advocacy agendas. Climate change campaigns are an excellent example of this. They’re reliant on rigorous modeling, and the science-based estimates and forecasting that follow, to substantiate and legitimate any advocacy effort.

This strategy makes much sense. When advocating for a low-carbon agenda, to prevent further warming of the planet, it’s essential to have solid data on how much carbon is left in our budget (i.e. how much carbon we can still spend or use). Without good data, for example, “2 Degrees Celsius” has little meaning. Thanks to our scientific community, however, we know now that warming above this temperature limit, from pre-industrial levels, would make life inhospitable and eventually uninhabitable.

Here’s where some environmentalists often stop short, however, thinking that the data alone will win the day in transforming the hearts and minds. In fact, there’s been an over-reliance on data in advocacy work, ignoring the myriad ways in which people absorb information, transform thought and self-motivate action. A better approach, especially in a “post-fact world” where science is readily dismissed by some federal governments, would be to mimic the model of a political campaign and to remain in campaign mode for the immediate future.

There are a dozen ways in which the climate community could more effectively amplify its message and improve upon its ability to motivate Americans to act. A dozen ways, as this article shows, to move away from data dependence and toward concerted campaigning. These twelve tacks, if taken in total, can move us closer to climate coherence, where attitudes (in which the majority believes climate change is happening) align with behaviors (in which the majority is doing something about it). Currently, there’s little coherence. Climate attitudes are strong, while climate behaviors are weak. These twelves tips, then, taken together, are, at minimum, a must-try. The days of defaulting to data only are over. Let’s begin.

#1 Messages

There’s too often the assumption that the environmental message (e.g. the seas are rising rapidly and polar bears are imperiled) carries the strongest weight and that there’s inherent impact on the publics when using an ecological frame. The same mistaken assumption applies to messaging with moral overtones, as if there’s an implicit ethical agreement with the audience. Similarly, appeals on the heels of a humanitarian disaster assume some semblance of collective compassion in response. Yet, these are not always the most reliable messages. Not everyone considers themselves an environmentalist. Not everyone operates from a moral framework. And not everyone is so quick to be compassionate, especially when isolationism is trending.

What often reaches the most people are economic, health, security and quality of life messages. And when it comes to climate, we have many. We know how devastating climate change and its causes are to the economy; as an example, governments spend over $5 trillion dollars annually on direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies. We know that free energy – the sun and the wind – brings a formidable return on investment ($10 trillion every year by 2050, with a $19 trillion boost to the world GDP). We know that fossil fuels are killing us, with 7 million people dying prematurely every year due to air pollution. And we know that climate change is a serious security risk and threat multiplier, a matter on which the rich world’s defense ministries agree, imperiling people everywhere due to droughts, rising sea levels, heat waves and hurricanes. And all of this affects quality of life.

This is what most people care about – their pocketbook, their health, their own mortality and, more generally, their quality of life. It’s a selfish sensibility but it’s a dependable one, versus the expectation that an audience will be compassionate enough to care about the environment or anyone else. Messaging, thus, should prioritize economic, health, security and quality of life frames. It’s what resonates.

#2 Messengers

When it comes to climate messengers, we desperately need more diverse and charismatic ones. While this is changing slowly but surely, we don’t need more white men on the front lines of the movement. While a few well-placed white men have done much to move the ball forward on climate campaigns, for example, it’s time for them to step back from the spotlight and support others stepping up. The ‘look and feel’ of the environmental movement isn’t always looking and feeling like the whole of society. But it must if we want the majority to come on board the movement.

There’s also a tendency among some subnational actors to go it alone, forgoing the opportunity to rally messengers, or surrogates, on behalf of the message (remember, we’re in political campaign mode). This happens either because city and state officials don’t have the time to recruit surrogates, and offer some much-needed surround sound, or because they’re not automatically thinking and operating as if they’re in political campaign mode. Regardless, it’s essential to approach every climate project with surrogates on standby – from the business, financial, labor, health and security communities – ready to rally.

#3 Mainstream Majority

When communicating with the mainstream majority, it’s time to let go of the ego that often drives esoteric talk. It’s time to use the lingo that most people use. There is absolutely no need to be grandiloquent in our descriptions of global heating or the technological solutions needed to solve it. We do a serious disservice to the climate movement when we do so. If you look at the most often used words on Facebook, for example, they’re overwhelmingly monosyllabic. The onus is on us, then, within in the climate community, to meet the mainstream majority where they’re at.

We must become adept at the art of translation. Every time we engage the public, we need to be our checking multisyllabic meanderings at the door and speak clearly and succinctly. If we fail to bring along the publics, and fail to use their frames and phrases, then national policy, under new and unfriendly leadership, too often runs ram shod over past progress. Lock in public attitudes, engaging them with their frames and their phrases, and you lock in the policy.

#4 Mass Media

Egocentric tendencies also abound when it comes to working with the media. Many climate advocates want to work only with elite media outlets. This is not uncommon. In the western press, for example, the New York Times or Financial Times gets held up as the gold standard for opinion publishing and anything less is unsuitable. Too many advocates aim for elite newspapers and ignore the papers with mass distribution to the moderate middle and what’s frequently read by the mainstream majority, including what might be considered tabloid. This is a serious oversight. We need to be in the newspapers that are getting read in the diners and hotels across our countries, as well as the local community papers, because that is what people are reading. The same goes with local television and radio as well. Follow the viewership. If we really want to reach the masses, we must be in their media.

#5 Me

Now we are getting into some less frequently tread but equally important frontiers. When it comes to our individual role in any of this climate messaging, it’s critical to walk the talk when leading publicly. The public wants to see consistency in our communication if they’re going to do as we do, say as we say, talk as we talk. Any shortfall, no matter how small, is picked up, torn apart and fed to the media critics. That means throughout our climate advocacy efforts, we’re choosing low-carbon lifestyles.

That means that we’re using mass transit, choosing a plant-based diet, opting for sustainable and organic fashion, flying less, powering and heating our houses with renewable energy and more. Do this and our message sticks. We shield ourselves from the kind of criticism that befalls other highly public climate leaders when their houses are too big, their cars are too heavy emitting, their plane travel is too extensive, etc. Fail to fully confront a sustainable walk and it’ll bite us, as the audience is often ready to pounce and poke holes in any climate action agenda. Let’s make sure we don’t give them any more motivation or material.

#6 Memes

This is an easy one. Make sure that any climate message coming out of our cities is made into a meme for sharing on social media. It may take a minute, but it’s a must. If we can’t translate a meaty message for the myriad social media vehicles out there, we haven’t tried hard enough. Everything and anything can be ‘meme-ified’. And if you’re getting stuck on this M assignment, or don’t know what a meme is, simply ask your in-house millennial or check out the examples here. This is helpful practice in learning to distill a complex message into a basic concept, something hashtag-able. And it’ll undoubtedly help us in other aspects of our communication, too. So, #TryIt.

#7 Moments

This is an obvious one but it’s too often overlooked. As a climate communicating community, we need to do better at tracking the news cycle, seizing the press moment, weighing in when an issue is trending, and responding within the hour/day to a news item. When we wait, the better-staffed and better-funded fossil fuel lobby, and its paid deniers, comment in our absence. Cities need to be able to pivot quickly with a quote or comment if we want to be a part of the story. We can’t wait until tomorrow or next week to weigh in, nor can we afford to let bureaucratic political protocol get in the way of our ability to effect meaningful change. Seizing the press moment may mean circumventing the scheduled status quo. It’s time for the unconventional, or as Al Gore put it in his latest film, it’s time to #BeInconvenient. And that may mean acting immediately, even if it inconveniences our day, dinner or other predetermined endeavor.

#8 Movement-Building

This point concerns the many alliances and compacts and networks out there working on climate change. There are many. The real question is how to best make use of their collective bargaining power. Imagine the might mustered if all subnational groups out there came together under one effort, one campaign, one language. By coordinating communications, the climate threat could be well-emblazoned on the brains of the public citizenry. Frankly, any coordination would be an improvement. Imagine a monthly drumbeat of memes coming out of the climate community. One month could be all about sustainable diets, another month about zero waste, another month about sustainable fashion. Focusing the world’s attention on one action, using the momentum of the entire subnational climate community (since that’s one we have more control over), and building a monthly momentum, using social media and messaging campaigns to support that action. The impact could be mighty.

People want to be part of a movement, as we’ve seen with the student movement globally. It’s attractive. They don’t want to go it alone when it comes to climate action. So, let’s give them a movement. Let them know they’re not alone.

#9 Multiples

Repeat, repeat, repeat. And then repeat some more, especially with climate science and climate action. Keep it simple, then drumbeat the heck out of it. It may seem elementary, but it’s the very thing that’ll create a connection for the consumer, constituent or costumer. There’s lots to be done on the climate front, almost too much for most people. So, to avoid overwhelm or anxiety, keep the ask clear, concise and constantly reiterated. People need to hear it a half-dozen times from the messenger before it starts to sink in. Don’t be afraid of repeating. We do this all the time when it comes to other threats, such as terrorism. We shouldn’t be afraid to do this with our climate campaigns. It should be in every speech, every press event, every action taken, and every campaign.

#10 Mirroring

Find ways to reflect back what your community is doing – on your website, in your communication materials, in your speeches – so that they feel affirmed and featured in their climate action and so that they don’t feel alone while doing it (to our movement point earlier). Build out a page on your website that solely features – using pictures, video, testimonials – the incredible climate action and activities that your community members are taking and doing. Feature a citizen of the week or month and provide positive accolades online and in print material and speeches so that they feel affirmed and validated for doing the right thing. The more they see themselves valued by the city, the more people will want to do the work and reap the same positive reward.

#11 Magic

The art of distraction. It is what magicians do all the time. And it is what GEICO, an insurance company based in the U.S., does brilliantly in its commercials (watch some here). Much of a GEICO ad spot’s air time isn’t spent selling insurance, it’s spent entertaining and distracting the viewer. Only at the end does the ad make the ask clear. Climate advocates could take a lesson from what’s trending in the advertising space. Too often we lead with the ask, the sale, without first entertaining the viewer with a little magic, a little fun. The public wants to enjoy the experience so let’s give them something to enjoy. We don’t have to always lead with what’s serious and substantive. We can tap into the sarcastic and sardonic, and even sexy, to sell our climate wares. In fact, we need to. That’s what people are looking for.

#12 Mimicry

Now, for our last M. A final check on our campaign before launching. The ultimate litmus test for any outreach campaign should be “how would I or my friends or family respond?” to such a campaign. What we, ourselves, like on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, for example, and what the public tends to like, should guide our communications work. Too often we pursue and plan press work that fits a prescribed mold – i.e. what’s been done in the past and what we think we should do – yet it often fails to resonate with the public. If we honestly vet any outreach plan using our own lens (i.e. would we attend such a conference or call to action?), we’ll come a lot closer to efficacy. By mimicking what and how the masses communicate and activate, we make clearer the clarion call for climate action because it’s in a language that they’re already using and understanding.

More Ms…

There are many more Ms out there, to be sure. Hopefully, while reading this, another M came to mind that was missed above. Like “Metrics” for measuring progress, or “Money” for making progress possible – both equally vital to a campaign’s success.

There’s a 13th M that I’ve discussed before. I’ve talked about “Meet-Ups” to encourage cities to meet with reporters and build relationships with the press. Ultimately, all of this above rests on relationships. That’s especially true when it comes to working with the press. A reporter is much more inclined to run with a story if there’s some pre-text, some history, before the press pitch. Subnational leaders, and mayors especially, should be sitting down with the climate reporters and overviewing their city’s emissions and waste reduction strategies, not shying away from identifying the challenges as part of that process.

We need to be a lot more honest and transparent with public storytelling regarding what’s working and what’s not working. There is a tendency among some subnational leaders to wait until a project or product is perfect before going to the press. But that often prevents or precludes the opportunity for reporters to be a part of the process and to translate that process for the public. Meeting up regularly, for coffee or lunch, will help bridge this gap and reframe reporters as allies not antagonists (as some leaders view them) in this work.

But these 12 Ms above will get us started and get us a little closer to capturing the attention of the publics that we’re trying to motivate and mobilize. If every climate campaign going forward integrates at least half of the ideas above, we’ll see a stronger environmental movement emerge. One that tracks closely to what the publics find compelling and one that finds itself more powerful among policymakers and the press. This is all very doable. None of the Ms are out of reach, even for cashless campaigns. All 12 Ms are manageable. Now it’s time to move on them.


How Hamburg Regained Control of its Energy Utility

Taking The Power Back: How Hamburg Regained Control Of Its Energy Utility

By Anselm Sprandel, Director-General for Energy and Climate, Ministry of Environment and Energy, City of Hamburg

A Case Study on How to Remuncipalize a Utility: How the City of Hamburg regained control of its utility and the tools to advance the city’s climate protection and energy transition agendas.

Background on Hamburg’s Privatized Past

In the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Hamburgische Electricitäts Werke (Hamburg Electricity Works or HEW) was sold to the Vattenfall Group to balance the city’s budget. The selling of city assets to balance budgets was not uncommon at the time. Many cities have done it globally but many more are reconsidering their options and returning assets to city control.

Wind and solar are part of the green power supply of Hamburg Energie. 

At the time of Hamburg’s sale to Vattenfall, HEW comprised electricity and district heating operations as well as gas supply through its subsidiary HeinGas. (The sale took place before the unbundling, reorganization and regulation of the German electricity market, and the gas operation was later sold by Vattenfall to the E.ON Group.)

The sale was controversial politically and socially. Not only was Vattenfall’s poor corporate image problematic for the public, but so was the construction of the coal-fired power station in Hamburg’s Moorburg district. People quickly realized that privatization was a mistake and that the city had lost a great deal of influence as a result.

In response, the municipal company “Hamburg Energie” was established in 2009 to provide households with green power and be active in the renewable energy sector. And in 2011, the City of Hamburg negotiated with electricity, district heating and gas grid companies to take over a 25.1 per cent share. The movement to remunipalize had the foothold it needed to succeed.

The Return of the Utility to City Control

Two years later, in 2013, there was a referendum on the energy networks, initiated by stakeholders in Hamburg. The referendum called for a complete public buy-back of electricity, district heating and gas grids, with the binding goal of a socially just, climate-compatible renewable energy supply under democratic control.

They won. The referendum was a success. And so the Hamburg Senate began implementing the referendum decision by drawing up contractual agreements with Vattenfall and E.ON. The following year, 2014, witnessed the complete remunicipalization of the electricity grid, and the takeover took the form of a share deal and included the acquisition of the workforce.

Opportunities Offered by Remunicipalization

With the remunicipalization, the City of Hamburg now has energy companies that fully cover the energy value chain. It consists of the following companies:

  • Electricity grid: Stromnetz Hamburg GmbH (formerly Vattenfall-Gruppe)
  • Gas grid: Gasnetz Hamburg GmbH (formerly E.ON-Gruppe)
  • District heating : Wärme Hamburg GmbH (formerly Vattenfall-Gruppe)
  • Hamburg Energie GmbH: (for the production and sales of renewable energies)

The city of Hamburg once again has important tools at its disposal to advance climate protection and the energy transition in Hamburg. As the owner, the city can control the development of the energy supply in the interests of consumers, security of supply, climate protection and the energy transition.

An energy company owned by the city is the best protection against excessive prices, as public companies are not geared toward maximizing profits. Additionally, synergies with other public companies can be pursued, and the city has access to favourable financing, which also has a positive effect on consumer prices.

Next Steps

The binding goal of a socially just, climate-compatible renewable energy supply under democratic control is next. The real work is ahead. For example, sustainable strategies must be developed and implemented for the following:

  • Customer advisory boards
  • Climate protection strategies in energy companies
  • Renewable energy expansions
  • Energy poverty solutions
  • Role modeled approaches for the industry

The next strategic steps will be to develop a heat and energy supply concept for Hamburg that takes into account the areas of electricity, district heating, gas and important innovation topics, such as sector coupling in order to advance climate protection and energy transition in Hamburg.

Concrete decarbonization measures must also be implemented. Coal is one of the clearest decarbonizing opportunities here. The Hamburg Coal Phase-Out Act, which passed in June of this year, requires municipal energy utilities to shut down coal-fired power plants by 2030 at the latest. The Wedel coal-fired power plant is to be shut down by 2025 and the HKW Tiefstack by 2030.

Energy supply companies owned by the city will no longer be allowed to purchase coal heat, effective immediately. With the acquisition of the district heating company, the City of Hamburg now has the opportunity to replace the coal-fired cogeneration plants, which is good for climate protection and good for social justice.

Planning for the replacement of the Wedel coal-fired power plant is now in full swing. The Wedel coal-fired power plant will be replaced by a combination of renewable or climate-neutral heat sources (waste incineration, industrial waste heat, and waste heat from a sewage treatment plant process) and a gas-based combined heat and power solution.

Preliminary planning for the replacement of the Tiefstack coal-fired power plant will begin in 2020 as part of a participation process for which a committee of experts is planned.

Lessons Learned for Remunicipalization Efforts

A recommunalization project is demanding. A few of the many tasks and topics that are needed and necessary:

  • Time, patience and money
  • Project management skills
  • A competent team within a public administration. Ideally, this team should have direct access to the mayor
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Consultants for legal, corporate law, business management issues, company valuations and due diligences

If your city is interested in discussing further how we remunicipalized our utility, what pitfalls to avoid and what additional best practices to employ, please reach out to us as we’d be happy to share additional lessons learned and tips for making the process as seamless as possible.