Innovative Low-Carbon Urban Infrastructure: A View from Vancouver

Marc_books-Oct08Marc Lee is a Senior Economist with the British Columbia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and researcher with E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative. Marc joined the CCPA in 1998, and is one of Canada’s leading progressive commentators on economic and social policy issues. Since 2008, Marc has been the Co-Director of the Climate Justice Project (CJP), a research partnership with the University of British Columbia, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. 

The narrative on climate change this fall is a familiar one: global greenhouse gas emissions hit another record high last year; extreme weather events are causing record damages; and yet we face an impasse in global negotiations for a new climate treaty, and a relentless push for ever more fossil fuel extraction – seemingly because there is no alternative. On the other hand, demands for action at events like the Peoples’ Climate March, and the growing calls for divestment from fossil fuels, there is a growing movement joining the climate scientists in their call for humanity to change course. But this movement needs more good news stories to counter-balance the gloom, and to start reimagining a sustainable and equitable future.

Around the world cities have asserted a leadership role in wrestling with climate action. Where I live, in Vancouver, British Columbia, my federal and provincial governments are deep in denial, enamoured by fossil fuel riches, but my city aspires to be the greenest of them all. Cities ostensibly have a more limited policy toolbox than senior governments, yet decisions on land use planning, buildings and urban infrastructure can have a powerful long-term impact on their carbon footprint.

My case study looks at Vancouver BC’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility, and its repurposing of district energy as a key ingredient in urban planning and greenhouse gas mitigation.  At its core, district energy is primarily the use of centralized boilers to provide heat and hot water to multiple buildings. It’s comparatively technocratic and boring, with appeal among engineers and energy economists. And it’s old, with examples of steam systems (powered by fossil fuels) in downtowns across North America going back more than a century. Continue reading…


An Unexpected Journey to Something New in Cleveland

By Jonathan Ramse, I-PhD student in Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. As part of a team with two colleagues, Julia Poznik and Ruchira Sen, Jonathan has been investigating the role of multiple anchor institutions as stakeholders in economic development as a researcher with E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative.

It has been apparent for some time now that the economic theories and policies considered business as usual have simply failed. But this is no reason to give up hope quite yet. Meet the new economy! There are numerous innovative models, business and strategic plans, community organizers, and agricultural and waste management techniques that are breaking new paths into a better world. This movement of innovation is not centrally planned and not coordinated by a set of power elites, but is springing up organically in different locations across the country and the world. One of those places is Cleveland, Ohio where the Greater University Circle Initiative (GUCI) is shaping a new way of thinking about and a new way of doing urban economic development.

The GUCI is the focus of our team’s case study. The journey there was not one we expected. Like most everything, the research process is buffeted by uncertainty and unexpected turns. As our research team set off to better understand innovations in Cleveland, our intent was to study the Evergreen Cooperatives. However, we found that doors we thought were open to us were in fact closed. Our timing was off as Evergreen was about to embark on a significant internal assessment which made external review unwelcome. This required a little “on-the-fly” adjustment for our team as we shifted the scope and focus of the project to the GUCI. The GUCI is a multi-anchor institution based development model that encompasses Evergreen in addition to several other projects. As a whole, the initiative attempts to align the interests of three wealthy institutions with the impoverished neighborhoods that surround them. Continue reading…


A Role for Online Platforms in the Future Economy

By Anders Fremstad, Ph.D. candidate in economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and researcher with E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative. Anders’ current research focuses on the economics of cooperation and the sharing economy.

The “sharing economy”, which is receiving a lot of attention, is built on a simple technology: online platforms. The internet makes it easier for people to buy a used couch, borrow a power drill, or find a place to spend the night. In economic terms, online platforms reduce the transaction cost of borrowing, lending, buying, selling, and giving stuff. This future economy innovation allows people to better allocate durable goods, so that they flow more freely from people who aren’t using them to people who could put them to use.

There is little data on the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the sharing economy, but established platforms have already transformed the way people consume some goods. Consider Craigslist’s impact on the market for secondhand goods. Craig Newmark first launched Craigslist in San Francisco in 1995, and the website now serves hundreds of locations and the vast majority of Americans. Craigslist changed the way people find jobs and apartments, but its greatest impact has probably on how people buy, sell, and give away used items. Continue reading…


Community Supported Agriculture & the Future of Farm Livelihoods

By Mark Paul, Ph.D. candidate in economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and researcher with E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative. Mark’s current research focuses on the link between sustainable agriculture and development. 

I certainly don’t earn a fair wage, but it’s farming. It’s labor of love

– CSA Farmer

CSAboxesCSA farms are expanding at a rapid pace, with operations in every state and a six-fold increase in farms since 2001, but it is questionable whether this innovative farming model is delivering the goods. Proponents claim CSA are an active process of re-embedding market exchanges in social relations, with benefits to the local food economy that include the availability of healthy fresh local produce, sustainable agriculture production, increase in biodiversity, regional economic development through sustainable supply chains, and a vibrant community space that promotes the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and leisure. But is the CSA delivering on these promises? Continue reading…


Future Economy Initiative – Sheeran

By Kristen Sheeran in regards to E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative:

Meet the new economy; it’s not the same as the old one. It’s true that communities throughout the United States are still affected by the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis: foreclosures, unemployment and high inequality are just three of the symptoms. But there’s also something else afoot: an array of innovations taking place nationwide with the potential to change economic life as we know it. The E3 Network is proud to announce the Future Economies Initiative, devoted to carefully documenting, describing and analyzing these innovations around a common framework and set of research questions. Continue reading…


Our Kristen Sheeran Talks Climate Change and Resilience with Al Jazeera

What would it take to create a truly resilient solution to climate change? Our Director, E3 Economist Kristen Sheeran discusses the long standing implications of global climate change on Al Jazeera.

Ecotrust and E3 network’s Kristen Sheeran Talks Climate Change and Resilience with Al Jazeera from Ecotrust on Vimeo.


Fixing old water and gas pipelines would create far more jobs than building Keystone XL

By Brendan Smith, Kristen Sheeran, and May Boeve

In the coming months, President Obama will decide whether to approve the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude tar-sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. We know that the pipeline would greatly aggravate climate change, allowing massive amounts of the world’s dirtiest oil to be extracted and later burned.

The payoff, say supporters such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is a job boom in construction industries, which are currently suffering from high unemployment. Earlier this month, Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue called on the president “to put American jobs before special interest politics.”

If you believe headline-grabbing challenges such as Donohue’s, the president is painted into a corner on the KXL pipeline — trapped by a stagnant economy and an ailing environment.

Continue reading…


Our RFP is out! Let’s talk “Future Economy”

The E3 Network is awarding grants to economists to apply an analytical framework to case studies of future economy innovations – emerging models of sustainable enterprise at the level of the firm, cluster, industry, community. Grant recipients will apply the framework to a case study of their choosing and submit a report based on their findings. The report will be included in a collection of case studies edited and produced by E3 Network. E3 Network will complement the case study analyses with photography, video, and other story telling support to create a rich online media presentation of emerging economic innovations.


Really Radical Economics

By Julie A. Nelson, originally posted on openDemocracy

Transformation doesn’t require an alternative “social economy,” because the economy we have is already social. We just need to recognize and act on that fact.

Credit: http://www.darkroastedblend.com. All rights reserved.

Socially equitable. Ecologically sustainable. Personally and spiritually satisfying. What sort of economic transformations are needed to achieve societies like these?

Many writers including Gar Alperovitz, David Loy and David Korten argue that the current economic system of global, profit-oriented, individualistic, and greed-driven corporations and markets must be dismantled, and replaced with a “new economy” of local, well-being-oriented, cooperative, and compassion-inspired communities.  You’ve probably read articles along these lines – or perhaps you’ve written them.

This isn’t another. Continue reading…


Future Economy Initiative – Goodstein

Guest post by Economist Eban Goodstein in regards to E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative:

Future Economies Project, Starting Now

Back in 2009, I had the chance to interview two Oregon policy experts about the emergent green economy in that state. The interview is here:

Angus Duncan and Dave Van’t Hoff (starting at minute 3:15) talked to me about the vibrant industry clusters in Oregon that have developed around energy efficiency, solar, biofuels, wind power, sustainable forestry, green building and design.  Add in craft beer brewing, light rail, great fair-trade coffee, and urban chicken-raising, and you get—well—the backdrop for a popular, offbeat TV show. Continue reading…