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Ask Simple Questions

Ray Hoffman, Seattle Public Utilities

e deal with everything that comes or goes to your house in a pipe or a can: drinking water, waste water, storm water, garbage and recycling. Rather than focusing on one specific project I'd like to raise some issues that you're all familiar with about what it takes to stay in this game in the long haul.

We're dealing with paradigm shifts which means you have to be ready to answer the questions:

" For transportation, when the revolution comes, will your bicycle be ready?
" For storm water, will your cistern be in place and be full?

So what are we dealing with here? We're asking simple questions. We're setting achievable but aggressive goals. We're working from all angles and not taking no for an answer. If we don't succeed the first time, we try, try again and we walk the talk and we put our best foot forward.

You have to ask the simple questions. For Seattle, our recycling program got birthed out of the following question: How much can we recycle if we spend the $100 million we're planning for our burn plant on waste reduction and recycling?

What would it take to use the same amount of water in the Seattle regional area 10 years from now as we are using today, assuming that growth is going to take place?

For Seattle City Light, our energy utility, what would it take to meet the Kyoto standards for carbon mitigation? And for storm water management, why don't we deal with rainwater at its source?

Out of these questions come answers and out of the answers come achievable goals:

" 60% recycling which the city has met in the residential sector, but we have a long way to go in commercial and what I'll call construction, demolition and land clearing debris.
" At 1% water conservation goal, 14 million gallons a year over a 10 year period, 1.4 million gallons a year at an annual expenditure of $5 million and you don't even know it's going on.

Your standard of life will not change at all. We will save a whole lot of water at a price that's a whole lot cheaper than developing a new source of supply.

Carbon mitigation program -- well, what we found out is because we're largely hydro up in Seattle, it would take virtually nothing to meet Kyoto. So that lead to, "Well, why not do it all?" To mitigate our carbon footprint given our energy portfolio would require one half of 1% of the annual city light budget. It's over 600,000 tons of CO2 and we can do that for a tune of $3 million at a very large electrical utility.

he goal here is if you can do it all, do it all. Work the issue from all angles. If you're not making progress then one of these angles isn't being worked and this is something that happens. You can start anywhere -- outside in, the activist or the stakeholder calls the mayor top down, the mayor calls the director, the director tasks the staff ... bottoms up, staff briefs the mayor, director and inside out staff works with the stakeholders.

Wherever you're located, you have to look and see that all four of these things are in play because if they're not, chances are, it's going to take you a lot longer to get to where you're going.

Don't take no for an answer. "We don't have the money" doesn't mean you can't do it. It means find the money elsewhere. You have to cultivate allies. Just because your boss doesn't like your idea, doesn't mean that someone higher up the food chain won't and it's OK to talk to somebody higher than your boss when you have a good idea and plant those seeds. It's ok to talk to elected officials and tell them about your ideas.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. We tried to do a model conservation home, we were told we couldn't because it was against the state lending of credit which only allows money to go to the poor and infirm. So out of that limitation we said OK, we'll make a model conservation home and we'll sell it to a qualified low income family. We met our goal, we had to be flexible, but it was a great thing to do.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Residential food waste collection has been on the table in the city of Seattle for 10 years and it hasn't happened. Cross your fingers, this time next year 90,000 households will have bi-week collections. You have to build a business case using the triple bottom line. It's not enough to say that it's good for the environment. You'd better be able to present your case effectively using the triple bottom line.

Things to keep in mind:

" Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
" Don't be all or nothing, that's a recipe for failure. Take what you can get and come back another day and get some more.
" Be ready to compromise.
" Steal shamelessly, but always give credit for where you got the ideas.
" Good ideas are everywhere, try not to reinvent the wheel.

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