May 14, 2008

Pioneer Valley Sustainability Network
Meeting Notes—May 14, 2008
El Mercado, Holyoke

Members Present: Erin Baker-Industrial Engineering UMASS; Lynn Benander-Co-op Power; Tom Benjamin-VHB Consulting; Jeff Brown-Ridebuzz; Marijoan Bull, Westfield State College; Patrick Dufour-South Hadley; Larry Ely-Pioneer Valley Relocalization Network; Ben Ewing-UMass, Amherst; Barbara Fingold-River Valley Market and Bart’s Homemade; Dan Finn-Business Alliance for a Local Living Economy (BALLE); Patty Gambarini-PVPC Environmental Planner; Nancy Hazard-Worldsustain and Greening Greenfield; Julie Johnson-Hitchcock Center for the Environment; Paul Lipke-Sustainable Step New England (SSNE); Craig Marden-HAP Green Affordable Housing Program; Jono Neiger-Permaculture Guild and Conway School of Landscape Design; Ethan Roland, Apple Seed Permaculture; Joanne Sunshower-Shutesbury Planning Board, Nonprofit Development Resources; Eduardo Suarez-Holyoke Planning Network; Kathleen Szegda-Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition; Rick Taupier-The Environmental Institute UMASS; Eric Weiss-Hilltown Resource Management Cooperative

Action Items

  • Work with Paul on shaping June 17th workshop with Roberto Cremonini. (Joanne Sunshower, Eric Weiss, Patrick Dufour, and Nancy Hazard)
  • E-mail art contest flyer to all members. (Patty)
  • Get the word out about the Network’s Art Contest on Sustainability.  Deadline is June 20th.  (All members)
  • Attend June 17th network building workshop with network expert Roberto Cremonini, scheduled tentatively for 10:15-1:15 p.m.  Location tbd, but we’re looking in the central valley, e.g. Hadley/Noho (All members)
  • Attend June 25th Sustainability Art Salon at the Academy of Music in Northampton, 6:30-9 pm (All members)
  • Attend next PV Sustainability Network meeting on Wednesday, July 30th,
  • 8 a.m. to be hosted by Lynn in Greenfield at 324 Wells Street  (All members)
  • Send out e-mail to all members that only has information on how to access indicator survey. (Catherine)
  • Set up series of network meetings for coming year and set agenda for September meeting. (Eric, Erin, Rick, and Catherine)

Summary of Discussion
Following the informal networking between members, network chair Eric called the meeting to order.  The meeting began with each member sharing a brief overview of their organization and their work on sustainability—see pvsustain website for background information.  If you have not yet submitted your information to the web developer, please email for a member input form.

Network Building Workshop—June 17th
On June 17 the PVSN will have a network building workshop with Roberto Cremonini of the Barr Foundation, who also has been working with Boston Green and Healthy Building Network, originally coordinated by Sustainable Step New England.  In shaping the June 17 workshop, Paul asked network members to think about what they’d like Roberto to address.  He said this will be a good opportunity to think about and talk about questions like those that Eduardo had asked during the informal networking: Who are you (the network); and why isn’t there more minority representation?  Paul asked for volunteers who might work to help shape the workshop with him.  Joanne, Eric, Patrick, Larry and Nancy (if she has time) agreed to work with Paul.  Paul then invited members to brainstorm about what issues Roberto might address.  Topics/questions that came up were:

  • What level of product do we want to produce or is the network just about connection?
  • What are decision making processes that go along with the workings of a network?
  • What things can we do to define ourselves?
  • How do we maximize successes of network members as we go forward?
  • What should the goals of a network be?
  • How do we make things easy?
  • In network development, do we expand first and try to be as inclusive as possible from the start or do we invite others once we have been able to deepen our development?  What are the upsides and downsides of these approaches?
  • How do we manage different interests and levels of knowledge within the network?
  • What are some best practices and pitfalls of networks?  Can he tell us some stories about this?
  • What type of participatory process is there, and what kind of weight and respect will our thoughts get?  Who gets to define importance?  Who gets listened to?
  • How do we develop benchmarks to sustain development?

Paul asked for a show of hands of how many thought they would attend the June 17th workshop, including how many others folks they thought they might bring along: 30 total.
Lynn suggested that in advance of the workshop with Roberto she thought it important for the network to push further on the question of who we are.  Paul suggested that subcommittee meeting time could be used, perhaps by combining some of the subcommittees.  After some discussion, the network agreed to form two smaller groups, one group to discuss goals and intent of the network and the other group to discuss messaging (how to talk about sustainability with the larger public). 

Report of goals and intent group (see Appendix A for discussion notes)
Lynn reporting back to the larger network said that the goals and intent group came up with 5 operating assumptions that could serve the network:

1) We are broad network of organizations with many areas of focus related to a common vision.
2) Our network facilitates relationship building, and educates itself and others about what member organizations are doing in support of our vision and mission.
3) We are not aiming to operate by consensus – to all agree on things.
4) We work in self-selecting small groups on specific, concrete projects.
5) The network helps project groups form and function, and also supports and promotes the projects and programs of member organizations.

For a mission, Lynn reported the group had pulled together the following:
The Pioneer Valley Sustainability Network’s mission is to be a broad-based Network that builds mutually beneficial partnerships to promote a sustainable, just, regenerative future for our region. We bring our vision into being through collaborative support and action on specific projects in service to our communities in response to their needs.

Regarding the definition of sustainability she said it had been suggested that rather than spend time coming up with a definition, we draw on existing definitions.  Sustainable Step and the McDonough principles had been suggested.  Ethan suggested including these in the meeting notes (see Appendix B). 
Lynn also reported that the group had brainstormed possible projects for the network to take on.  These entail:

1) Municipal Resources – provide support for municipalities on becoming more sustainable and helping the people in their town – form a group that can review new building/business proposals with the lens of sustainability
2) Support for individuals on becoming more sustainable – a trusted source of information on best practices, action steps, results
3) Policy advocacy – campaigns to adopt sustainable policies at state and local levels – campaign to bring information from people in our communities into the municipal planning process and into the planning commissions
4) Community voice – host conversations with people in our community
about what sustainability means here – educate people – build consensus

Additional things to think about she noted are:

  • Do we need a public persona? If so, what kind?
  • How often do we want to meet as a whole group?
  • How will we expand participation to include and listen to people of color, economically challenged, etc.

Report of messaging group
Reporting for the messaging group, Erin said they had defined three major questions that need to be answered:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the message?
  • How do we get the message out effectively?

She explained that the message could be based on what the network defines as values and indicators.  She reported that the group had settled on the idea of working with “economy” and “ecology” as the root derives from the Greek word for “house.”  It provides something good on which to build noted Erin.  The group agreed that the concept of sustainability is complex and that there is a need for something simple.  Ethan noted that they had also discussed the possibility of getting some traditional marketing help. 

Future meeting dates
Erin asked whether the same meeting schedule might work for the network in the coming year.  She explained that typically the group met quarterly on the 2nd Wednesday of the month in the morning.  That would mean a meeting in each September, November, February, and April.  Eric said he thought that as the grant moves on, he can see the need for meeting more frequently to ensure continuity.  He noted that the current challenge is that—aside from the June 17th workshop—there is not meeting until September.  Paul asked, How do we keep the interim conversations going.  Do we need to meet this summer?  Members agreed that a summer meeting would be worthwhile.  A meeting was set for Wednesday, July 30th, 8 a.m. to be hosted by Lynn in Greenfield. 

EPA Grant Effort Updates
Ben Ewing, UMass Masters Student—Decision Support Tools
Ben walked members through a powerpoint showing a decision support tool that is being developed for the Hitchcock Center.  Called the Alternative Combustion Comparison, the tool includes the annualized costs of installation and operation, total costs that factor in environmental damage and educational value, and CO2 emissions.  The Hitchcock Center is planning a new building.
Members had some suggestions.  Paul suggested looking at EPA’s clean air interstate rule for stationery power plants.  He also noted that RS Means is a good source of information for construction cost estimation.  Lynn said that waste is important to consider. Jeff said transportation is another important consideration.  Daniel said that information from the Cambridge Energy Alliance could be very helpful.  Rick asked whether Erin and Ben are trying to determine specific applicability of decision support tools.  Erin said this is a mini-preliminary application of what the larger decision support tool might look like.  It will be important to add uncertainty about carbon prices to this tool as well. 
Ben noted that Carnegie Mellon has a Building Investment Decision Support Tool, which is intended for companies thinking about renovating or purchasing an existing building.  He noted that the CM tool is much more driven by financial considerations such as staff turnover, salary retention costs, etc.  In contrast, he noted, the network’s tool will look more at fuel costs, electrical use, carbon footprint, environmental impact, depending on what indicators are chosen. 
Erin suggested that rather than use “return on investment,” they are using “net present value.”  Eduardo noted that the UN uses “human development index,” a powerful indicator.  Paul said he thought it would be useful to have comparisons between conventional v. net present.  Avoided health care costs would be huge.  Ethan asked if there are any other decision making support tools that are close to what Erin and Ben are producing.  Ben did not know.

Rick Taupier—Sustainability indicators
Rick handed out a list of the indicators that had been selected through the on-line voting (See Appendix D).  Out of the 98 indicators, he explained, these are the 20 that received one-third of the votes.  People were instructed to vote for not more than 18 indicators.  To date, only 14 people have voted.  There was discussion among members that they had missed the opportunity to vote.  A request was made that the information on how to access the survey be resent in an e-mail to all members.  E-MAIL SHOULD INCLUDE ONLY THIS INFORMATION. 
Rick said it will be up to a smaller group to figure out measurability of these indicators.  Biological diversity for example…how will this be measured?  Members suggested that the Fish and Wildlife Service has some good indicators.  Eduardo noted that the list does not include indicators related to poorer, more urban communities such as gentrification, occupational health, workforce development.  Paul noted that the plan for progress has a set of metrics and maybe these ought to be augmented.  Rick noted that the plan for progress has economic indicators, but that it does not address equity.  Rick explained that the list of indicators ought to be regarded as a continual iteration.  As others join the dialogue these indicators could change.  We want these to be equally applicable to urban, suburban, and rural contexts.  Eduardo noted that occupation health relates to all contexts.  In the rural context, for example, there will be agricultural workers who are exposed to the harms of pesticides, fertilizers.  In the urban context, you have 4 blocks from here the demolition of a building where they are not following any OSHA protocols.  Rick said he likes occupational safety.  It’s very powerful, he noted.
Joanne said the voting in the survey seems to contradict what happened at the meeting where we were thinking expansively.  This seems to be a contraction.  Rick said that 20 indicators/data points presents a certain practicality that we can’t have with 98 indicators.  Joanne and Jeff both suggested that the network have all 98 indicators available to them as they talk to their communities to see how they respond.  Lynn noted that the idea is to keep voting in the first round to a limited group and then do a weighting, and perhaps intelligent selection (including urban indicators if they are eliminated), then send the list out to a larger audience. 
Rick noted that in July he will be in Mongolia with herders learning what they think about sustainability.  He offered to present a slideshow to the group when he returns.  Eric said they would add to possible agenda items.

Patty Gambarini—Sustainability Arts/Invention Contest
Patty encouraged members to get the word out about the contest.  She distributed flyers for their use and promised to e-mail flyers to members.  She also asked that all members mark their calendars to attend the contest event on June 25th at the Academy of Music in Northampton. 

Event Announcements

  • Balle (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) Conference in Boston, June 5-7, 2008.  (Daniel Finn)
  • Sustainable Investment Summit, June 11, 2008.  For invited foundations, nonprofits, bankers, investors.  Subscribed with 60 attendees.  (Joanne Sunshower)
  • 2008 Regional Sustainable Energy Summit, June 20-21, UMass Campus Center.  See: for more info. (Lynn Benander)
  • Western Mass Permaculture Guild annual regional gathering on July 4th, 2008, at Tierra de Opportunidades, Holyoke. (Jono Neiger)
  • Ridebuzz looking for office space, preferably in Northampton, Hadley area. (Jeff Brown)

Appendix A
Discussion of Goals and Intent Group
Lynn’s report came out of a discussion that Paul kicked off by saying that the network ought really to be about the coalescing of groups. 
Jeff asked what is it as a group that would be of value, what is the output?  Is it working on projects and attracting outside interests as a group?  Eric said that he thought that the network helps to provide an identity from which to work, but that the network is about the information that we all know about and can get out to the public.  Jeff suggested then that the network is an aggregation of information and support for events. 
Larry indicated that he thought the network should not be about sustainable economics, but rather peak oil and global warming and helping to make the transition.  He noted that sustainability has that mixed connotation between economics and peak oil. 
Lynn proposed an agenda for the discussion.  She suggested that if we define our assumptions, then we could proceed with a definition of sustainability, come up with possible outputs, and then identify communication networking tools.  Paul suggested that working out a definition of sustainability could take up tremendous time.  Instead, he proposed, the network could work from the two major existing definitions, perhaps the Brundtland Commission and Natural Step. 
Paul said that discussion about the network begs the question: how public are we?  What kind of persona do we need?  There may be no reason to have a public presence.  The work to support a presence implies an infrastructure that I don’t think we want to create.  It may be better to support and promote the existing organizations rather than create a new one. 
Joanne noted that the network is already in the process of evolving and that perhaps at the beginning now it is more introverted so that it can go deep and then later it can broaden and not be exclusive.  Eduardo suggested slashing the idea of exclusivity.  Paul said it is worth thinking about how we manage the process of engaging more people.  What are the obstacles?  Is geography an obstacle?  Lynn noted that founding members tend to shape membership.  She and Catherine, with the meeting being held in Holyoke, did some additional outreach.  But it is difficult for people to make room in their schedules to participate.  Lynn noted that it really is about the personal invitations that people get.  She suggested the network put together an outreach subcommittee to work on this.  Eric followed by saying that he sees outreach and education as two different things, and that he senses some hedging about the mission.
Eduardo said he thought the network need not differentiate between economic, social, etc.  Paul agreed and said that to survive he thought the network ought to be loose and organic enough to let people come in and out over time.  He noted the broad label of sustainability does not do enough to bring people in.  It has more to do with working with folks on issues and projects that address their needs.  He explained that his mantra has been, “non champion, no progress.”  You need a champion for anything to get legs, and you need critical mass for anything to get done.  Jono added, so sustainability will be defined by what we do.  Eric agreed, but said it would be good to work from the existing definitions as suggested by Paul.  Paul said he has a disposition toward the Natural Step definition and the McDonough principle. 
Lynn said a proposed a mission might go as follows:
The Pioneer Valley Network is a broad coalition of organizations that works to promote sustainability.  Others suggested that the network promote sustainable development; or a sustainable and just future.  Lynn noted that there are three possible options now.  Jono added that he thought the word regenerative might be used instead of sustainable.  Looking back to meeting notes from November 14, 2007, Lynn said possible outputs for the network might involve:

  • support for municipalities to make decisions about sustainable development (this would include coming up with sustainability reviews for development proposals—along the same lines as wetlands review);
  • serve as a resource for homeowners/residential decision makers;
  • advocate for sustainable policy.
  • Looking back to those same notes, Paul said that the mission might include something about, “collaborative support and action on specific projects in service to our communities in response to their needs.”

Eric suggested sharing these lists with the rest of the group, but then circulating it to the coordinating committee to further refine before using it with Roberto.  I think keeping it small at first with the steering committee and then putting it out for broader comment will work best.
Eduardo noted that he thought there is a political difficulty and weakness in working through PVPC.  How can our communities bring these issues up to PVPC when it is an agency that has an interest in the continuation of the same, the status quo.  Jono noted that maybe the question has to do with “poor leverage points.”  Where can we get the most change for our effort? he asked.  Eric noted that PVPC’s involvement has been supported by the EPA grant and that the grant will end.  It will be up to the members to keep the network going.  Patty noted that she understood Eduardo to be talking about communities in the sense of interests and endeavors throughout the Valley, not municipal governments.  She noted that PVPC’s clients are typically the municipalities themselves and that the work might need to come from two directions.  From the communities to the municipalities and from PVPC to the municipalities. 

Appendix B

Definitions of Sustainability are:

  • The McDonough Principles:
  • Waste Equals Food: make certain the “leftovers” become food for other processes
  • Rely on Current Solar Income: reduce use of hydrocarbons; sip rather than gulp energy
  • Respect Diversity: design for impact on all life forms and parts of the earth, i.e. what will the birds think of this building?
  • Care for All the Children: act as a steward for those of every generation, place and culture.

-William McDonough, Univ. of Virginia School of Architecture

More technically, the Natural Step Framework states:

  • In a sustainable society, nature’s functions and diversity are not subject to systematically increasing:
  • Concentrations of substances extracted from the earth’s crust, e.g. fuels, metals and minerals,
  • Concentrations of toxic and/or persistent substances produced by society,
  • Degradation by over-harvesting or other physical means,
  • And in that society, basic human needs are met equitably worldwide.

Authentic human needs are: physical needs, protection/security, affection, participation, identity/meaning, leisure, creativity, understanding, freedom and transcendence. These are true across culture, time and are non-substitutable: i.e. we cannot substitute leisure for participation.

Karl Henrik Robert and John Holmberg, The Natural Step, based on the work of Manfred Max-Neef

Appendix C

Notes from message group discussion?

Appendix D

List of Indicators—coming soon.

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