May 4th, 2017


Co-Founder and Executive Director, Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy

Mayor, Benicia, CA

Former Executive Director, Sierra Club

City Council Member, Cupertino, CA


Cities around the country are reshaping their economies for a greener future – with or without support from Washington. Local businesses and political leaders in red states and blue states are growing their economies, cutting carbon pollution, and preparing for the challenges of climate disruption in their own communities.

Carl Pope is former Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and co-author (with Michael Bloomberg) of a book about how cities are cleaning up their regional economies. “We don't give cities enough flexibility and freedom to work with their residents and their businesses to solve these problems,” he says, “even when the solutions are phenomenally lucrative.” 

Pope is confident about businesses and local politics embracing clean energy, even in the face of federal backsliding. The bigger challenge he sees is figuring out “how to make sure that as we move from the 20th century economy to 21st century economy, we bring communities and families and workers along with us. That is something,” he warns, “we are terrible at.” 

As the mayor of a small city in a conservative part of the San Francisco Bay Area, Elizabeth Patterson is acutely aware of this challenge. Though her city’s largest employer is an oil refinery, she sees the transition to a post-fossil fuel economy as an opportunity. “There really is a disconnect for a lot of people about the importance of the refinery for the city’s economy,” but she notes that “it's because of that disconnect that we have a lot of support for our climate action plan.”

Patterson’s city is the first in its county to achieve its 2020 clean-energy goals. In addition, Patterson encourages her constituents to pursue the kinds of green residential projects that she chooses for her own home, such as a laundry to landscape greywater system. “Using a bully pulpit for a mayor is a really powerful tool to make a change,” she says, “and so I use that as often as I can.”

Diane Doucette, whose Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy works with businesses leaders in numerous states, is similarly focused on adjusting messaging of clean energy. “The economics of clean energy are there,” she says. “A lot of people haven’t used them but using them to people who care about the economics really makes a lot of sense.”

She recalls explaining the cost-saving benefits of energy efficiency to a conservative Tea Party House member. Though her goal had been simply to not get thrown out of his office, he became intrigued enough to consider sponsoring legislation in the House. “He went back to the district,” she says with pride, “wrote an op-ed about the benefits of energy efficiency and talked about local chambers [of commerce].”

For Rod Sinks, who sits on the city council of Cupertino (where Apple is headquartered), the politics of clean energy play out very vividly at the local level – especially when it comes to transportation. “I hop in my car because it's convenient,” he notes. “If there [was] an electrified vehicle that would take me to a shuttle stop a mile or two from my home and that would whisk me up to the train that would get me to the city and I never had to have that car leave my driveway, that’ll be a big improvement in my life.” 

Everyone on the panel agrees that a great deal can be accomplished without (or in spite of) federal intervention. As Carl Pope puts it, “Americans are gonna figure out ways to get the benefits of cleaning up their environment whether the president wants them to or not.”