Sustainability solutions take many different forms. Reflecting that, this Tenth Anniversary issue of The Solution Journal is different from any of the previous issues. The Solutions Journal has never before focused an issue on a single location. This issue is devoted exclusively to sustainability solutions in and around the city of Denver, Colorado.
Why Denver? It’s a medium-sized city of about 700,000, located where the American Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. Its population is young, diverse and well-educated. It’s a capital city, specifically the capital of the State of Colorado. It’s an international city, with one of the busiest hub airports in the world. It’s an academic city, with several large academic institutions nearby, including the University of Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University and the U.S. Air Force Academy. And it’s the center of a region of high-tech institutions like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Denver has many advantages, but it also has many challenges. As American cities go it is relatively remote. Its central inland location puts it far from deep-water ports and other population center. It takes nearly a full day to drive to any other city of comparable size. Its relatively poor soils and semi-arid, four-season climate limit what can be grown nearby. It can sustain long-term prosperity only through careful attention to sustainability of the basic resources upon which that prosperity depends.
Despite these challenges, Denver’s historic attention to sustainability has made it one of the fastest-growing and most prosperous cities in the United States. At the core of its sustainability success lies a culture of collaboration. In Denver, businesses work well with government and with each other. Non-profits thrive. Neighborhood and community organizations are numerous and engaging. Denver is a city where newcomers are welcome and can advance quickly, while families going back many generations remain to provide a sense of continuity.
This issue reports on many separate initiatives. Some involve energy and greenhouse gas reduction, areas where Denver has enjoyed notable success. Some involve water, always a challenge in a region that is dry to begin with and is subject to serious droughts even as the population grows rapidly. Indeed, water issues cut both ways in Colorado; sometimes we have too little, and other times we have too much; both challenges are addressed in this issue.
The issue also highlights how the Denver community collaborates so successfully. One article discusses the close relationship that Denver has developed with its investor-owned utility, Xcel Energy. Another describes the relationship between those two entities and Panasonic, which will result in the development of a new “smart city” near the airport. Another article discusses how Denver works internationally to bring in Israeli technology and experience to solve nearby problems. There is also an article on the 101010 initiative, which brings ten serial entrepreneurs together for ten intense days to develop private business solutions to ten of the most wicked sustainability challenges that Denver and other cities face.
Collaboration in Denver does not stop at our border. As our Mayor, Michael B. Hancock, points out in his article, Denver strives to set a good example, while recognizing that it cannot solve global problems like rapid climate change on its own. Denver works to export its successes to other cities, and in turn to learn what’s working for them. Such intercity cooperation and coordination is always important, but particularly so during the present time, when the U.S. federal government has abandoned climate leadership. This is why I welcomed to opportunity to be the guest editor of this issue; because the issue provides us with another opportunity to engage the rest of the world in Denver’s sustainability model.
The Solutions Journal represents an ongoing effort to inform the world about what works in sustainability. It celebrates success, and also promotes replication. I hope that this unique issue, which tells the story of how one very special place is addressing sustainability on multiple levels, will serve to inspire other cities to aim for a similar level of innovation, engagement and commitment. Ultimately, sustainability can only be achieved through a sustained and coordinated global effort.