David Cooperrider of CWRU’s Fowler Center for Sustainable Value wrote this article that was published in The Plain Dealer yesterday:

“A green economic engine can drive Cleveland’s future”

Sometime over the next 12 months, we will emerge from the recession. Clearly, it is not too soon, as a city, to aggressively and confidently close the book on what some have called “the quiet crisis.” Our collective attention for at least the next 10 years — our decade of determination — needs to be on building the economic engine of the future.

Bio-enterprise, advanced manufacturing, health care, universities and research centers, the arts, our new design corridors and our nonprofit leadership all will play a role. But threading across the city’s diverse economic portfolio is a powerful cross-connecting innovation engine: sustainability, the business opportunity of the 21st century.

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review proposes that virtually everything any business can do to go green today will make it stronger, more competitive and more inspiring to its customers, people and partners. The sustainability revolution has ushered in what historians call a moment of “basic innovation,” a decisive time that creates new industries, transforms existing ones and, over time, reshapes societies.

So when Mayor Frank Jackson invited the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value to help co-design and lead an unprecedented sustainability summit, and when he said with unflinching conviction, “The time is now for Cleveland, and I refuse to miss this opportunity,” we could not help but respond. We at Case Western Reserve University said “yes” for three clear reasons:

  • The race is on to be the country’s greenest city. A study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors reports: “An economy that shifts to generating 40 percent of its electricity from wind, solar, biomass and other fuels will generate 4.2 million green jobs by 2038.” Add the dramatic returns on private-sector initiatives such as IBM’s “smarter cities” and federal stimulus funding for everything from wind energy to green construction, and cities are poised to move faster than they have ever moved.
  • Everything is already in place for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio to take a “lead strategy” — not just try to keep up. A recent regional economic report guided by Blu Skye — a top sustainability firm with clients including Microsoft and Wal-Mart — concluded that Cleveland is uniquely equipped to become a leading sustainable economy because of its strategic location, freshwater advantages, advanced manufacturing expertise, social capital and more. Add to that the E4S (Entrepreneurs for Sustainability) network of 8,000 members, Cleveland State University’s focus on sustainable communities, world-class foundations and health care, and leading enterprises focused on the green economy — Eaton Corp., Parker Hannifin, Key Bank, Forest City Enterprises, NorTech and Fairmount Minerals — and Cleveland is a budding powerhouse.
  • Cleveland is taking the national lead on the kind of innovation that matters most but happens least — management innovation. One of those management innovations — described in a 2004 U.N. report as “the best large-group planning methodology in the world today” — is the Appreciative Inquiry Summit (AI) method. AI says it’s possible to connect and coordinate the efforts of thousands of people without building up a bureaucracy or creating a burdensome hierarchy. It’s not top-down or bottom-up, but engages the whole system.

Jackson saw AI’s strengths-based management philosophy as essential, and he liked its task focus: large-group methods for co-design, deployment and delivery. “The future will belong to those who do,” he declared, “not to those who just talk.”

There is not a city in America not seriously looking to revitalize, yet to date no other big city is ready to engage “the whole” the way Jackson is — and to publicly dedicate a decade to the sustainability-equals-innovation equation and the management innovation needed to carry out the task.

The headlines covering Cleveland’s 700-person, three-day AI Summit told the story of an extraordinary event. Indeed, the summit identified a series of upward virtuous cycles that can be established — how one good thing can lead to another.

For example, Cleveland’s offshore wind prototype becomes the first freshwater pilot in the world, attracting new companies and major stimulus funds. This reignites our region’s advanced manufacturing capability and positions Cleveland as the place for future research, testing and certification. Then, as increased scale drives down costs for wind’s clean energy, suddenly the GM Volt or Toyota plug-in Prius takes on exciting new importance. Industries and new infrastructures are born, such as battery-swapping stations, where exhausted car batteries are swapped in seconds for fully charged ones; this radically drops the cost per mile below that of oil and gas, eliminates air pollution and breaks our uneasy addiction to foreign oil. Cleveland becomes an icon as a central player in the establishment of a bright, green economy. This is but one example from the 20 powerful opportunity areas that led writer Charles Michener to call the summit “an astonishing feat.”

I think the summit was the end of “the quiet crisis,” and the most important outcome was the unleashing of a decade of determination. Building an economic engine to empower a green city on a blue lake is about big profits and big purposes. It’s not just about making Cleveland better; it’s about making the world better. And its magnetic outreach to you, to me, and to everyone in our region has just begun.

David Cooperrider is an adviser to Mayor Frank Jackson for the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative, and is the Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University. He is the management thought leader and co-creator of Appreciative Inquiry and the faculty director of the Weatherhead School’s Fowler Center for Sustainable Value.

I think that Cooperrider has done a fantastic job of conveying the importance of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit as well as the vital mental shift that needs to take place if Cleveland wants to come out of the recession as not only economically viable, but as a national leader in sustainability.

The current economic crisis is an opportunity.  Just as Lance Armstrong beat his opponents during the uphill portions of the Tour de France, Cleveland can also take this time of hardship to leverage our regional strengths and demonstrate the power of sustainable innovation for rebooting our economy.

If we play it safe, if we hesitate and hold back our money and our support from this new green economy that is already growing, then we will just be treading water.  And rest assured that other cities are swimming as efficiently and effectively as they can towards the Land of Sustainability.  We are currently well-positioned, and if we start swimming now–if we back up the promises we made during and after the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit with action–then we could be leaders.

Cleveland can become a Green City on a Blue Lake, and we can make it happen.