Schwarzenegger Institute Fellow, Rhett Paranay’s take on the US-China Green Innovators Forum

The USC Schwarzenegger Institute is proud to have student fellows who are doing significant research on important policy areas. Rhett Paranay is a USC Price Public Policy Graduate student who is in the first class of Schwarzenegger Student Fellows and the following is his perspective on the Green Innovators Forum:

On Wednesday, December 17, the Schwarzenegger Institute hosted the US-China Green Innovators Forum in a roundtable discussion lead by Terry Tamminen and Bonnie Reiss, a presentation by Dr. Dan Mazmanian, and concluding remarks from Governor Schwarzenegger. The Forum hosted Chinese industry leaders across several fields, including real estate development, energy, technology, and low-carbon and sustainability advocacy. Through sharing ideas and aspirations about the future of green building technology, energy, improved leadership and training, and communication, the forum was able to generate dialogue about the future of Chinese sustainability and ongoing opportunities to improve. As a graduate student immersed in urban planning and policies that shape the future composition and development of cities, I was keenly interested in learning about how these dialogues and positions had emerged in Chinese contexts.

Some prominent items of real estate discussion included challenges of retrofitting older buildings at a scale significant enough to help shape future development. In addition to concern that green building materials may have higher upfront costs, discussants also noted how the rapid pace of Chinese suburban development has complicated opportunities to retrofit. This pace of development has also placed increased pollution and strain on local water ecology. As one Forum participant noted, the majority of companies were more interested in ROI than how to mitigate their environmental impact – as a widespread attitude and standard among construction and development, this has created an important opportunity for policy leaders and industry leaders to collaborate on new approaches and innovations in addressing low-carbon efforts.

Conversation indicated that new real estate development can be enabled as a solution that protects environments while also supporting economic growth. This approach is deeply rooted in my values and interpretations of how spaces are appropriated and subsequent impacts across stakeholders, and I was grateful to hear of this perspective as a new administrative ideal as well. Examples of note included USC and Sun Valley, where large cisterns had been installed underneath sports facilitates and urban parks to collect rainfall and conserve water, and parking lots roofs shaded by solar panels that reduce heat while producing energy. In these approaches, development practice is better linked to new standards of sustainability design, and can work towards changes in industry practice that can be better disciplined with demand management and incentive structures to reward environmentally-conscious development. In this discussion of new approaches, food had also become a topic of inquiry during the Forum and its multiple relationships with communication and water. A statement about increased Chinese consumer demand for organic food and cattle production led to awareness of water stability and how to ensure the right policies of food distribution can satisfy demand and environment considerations. With nearly 30% of global greenhouse gas coming from industrial meat production, these facts resonated with the Forum participants and how I’ve come to view consumer-side impacts on conservation – in addition to the actual savings, it is the intrinsic value of commitment to change can be efficacious in low-carbon efforts across China

Media and the video gaming industries were also cited as possible stakeholder in low-carbon advancement through emission awareness and education. As they currently use many high-energy displays and create heat dissipation issues, media involvement in sustainability can both reduce their emissions and better work to inflame the public about ongoing changes in personal conservation practice. In addition, the gamification of public resources and behaviors has become popular with current youth and young adult generations, and can create new opportunities to educate about environmental policy and conservation impacts. I can appreciate how universities are uniquely situated to address this possibility, as they can couple relevant environmental research and game design centers for novel solutions in communication.

  Remarks from Dr. Mazmanian and Governor Schwarzenegger helped situated the multiple, intersecting topics of discussion by addressing political contexts and ideals that shape ongoing policies. Dr. Mazmanian’s presentation, “California Policy Logic,” drew attention to need for a cross-sectoral basis for climate action. In linking industry groups, academia, and public leadership, cities, states, and provinces will be at opportunity to ensure the right policies and programs are implemented. The importance of establishing clear policy goals and timelines, ongoing performance monitoring, and relying on markets to create political constituencies for change were cited as critical in the development of Californian environmental policy. Other central themes of the presentation included the need to create regulations that signal the importance of safeguarding environmental assets while also creating approachable new markets for entrepreneurs, and the inextricable link between politics and science that informs environmental policy development. I’m grateful to have studied these topics at Price – I can appreciate how, without an awareness of the political landscape in which policies are researched, forged, and implemented, the extent of public-private partnerships in environmental protection is difficult to fully describe and address.

In concluding the Forum, Governor Schwarzenegger’s remarks included optimism that Chinese development industries can benefit from the mistakes the United States made, and that they can continue having marked economic growth without concern of future built environments as constituting ecological hazards. This is especially the case in a country like China, where multiple micro- and individual-level efforts in low-carbon behavior can have significant macro-level impacts over time. Both of these efforts are linked to ongoing education of parents and their children to ensure that these sustainability-focused discussions and actions can be sustained as generational practice beyond a temporary motivation. As a student, S.I. Fellow, and citizen, I value these attitudes to create long-lasting approaches.