Aspen’s renewable legacy

Before the world knew the phrase ‘climate change’, Aspen snow resort in the United States was busy setting a goal to get 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy sources.

It was the 1990s and the municipal City of Aspen wanted to invest in building its own hydro power dams and solar and wind farms.

Aspen Mountain in autumn or fall - showing leadership on climate change

Aspen Mountain in autumn/fall

Fast forward to 2015 and that goal was achieved – ahead of the world’s snow resorts.

It was a continuation of setting records. In 1880, Aspen was the first city west of the Mississippi River in the States to have electrified street lights powered by hydroelectricity.

Aspen, regarded as one of the best and glamorous snow resorts, attracts celebrities and tourists from around the world.

Renewable energy mix

Ashley Perl from the City of Aspen explains the municipal city owns two hydro dams, a solar farm and wind farms, and is currently building a community solar farm.

  • hydro 50%
  • wind 45%
  • solar 5%

Additionally, renewable energy is supplied from the Municipal Energy Association of Nebraska (MEAN).

‘I’m not aware of any other ski resorts that have 100 per cent renewable energy,’ Ashley says.

A small portion of the renewable energy is used to power the chair lifts on the four mountains that make up Aspen resort.

The majority of the energy is used to provide electricity to the Aspen city of 6000 permanent residents, plus the thousands who come every year to hit the ski slopes.

Furthermore, electricity rates have been locked in at a set rate for the next 20 years.

‘We’ve the sixth lowest energy rates in Colorado,’ Ashley says.

One of three

In the United States, only two other towns can boast 100% renewable energy use – Burlington in Vermont and Greensburg in Kansas, says Ashley.

But of course when we are talking about renewable energy today, it does not mean everything runs on clean energy.

There are buildings and houses that use natural gas, and cars and buses run on oil and petrol or diesel, says Ashley.

‘So the only way to reduce energy consumption now is through efficiency and to convert to electricity eventually,’ she says.

Emissions targets

Therefore, through its Canary Initiative, the City of Aspen has targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050, below 2004 levels.

Ashley, the director of the Initiative, says it includes schemes such as a community bike share program, which has achieved a 60 per cent usage rate by locals. A Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system gave more than a million rides in 2012.

‘You can get anywhere in Aspen with a bus,’ says Ashley.

Ashley says Aspen has always been in a good position to lead on climate change action due to its name and reputation as a national and international snow tourist destination.

‘If we could influence people who come here to take that back to where they come from, that’s the biggest win in our view,’ she says.

A 92 kw solar PV system at Aspen's water treatment plant, combating climate change

The 92 kw solar PV system at Aspen’s water treatment plant

The Maroon Creek Hydroelectric plant produces 450 kw of energy

The Maroon Creek Hydroelectric plant produces 450 kw of energy

Global drive

Snow resorts around the world have been taking stock of climate change impacts for a number of years.

Many resorts boast lifts and gondolas that are powered by renewable energy. measures initiatives in generating or using renewable energy with a database of around 200 resorts from around the world.

Last year, in the lead-up to the world negotiations on climate change action in Paris in December, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project launched its ‘I am Pro Snow’ campaign to drive more snow resorts to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy.


Footprints on the weather

Are you having trouble keeping up with the weather forecast?

Temperature averages are increasingly reaching extremes around the globe and in many cities no other time of year – be it autumn/fall or spring – can bring out the biggest of temperature fluctuations.

Melbourne, in south-eastern Australia, is prone to fluctuating weather, a well-known fact among its residents. Senior forecaster from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Scott Williams, said October was notorious for big temperature fluctuations in Melbourne due to the weather patterns over the continent. Winds over central Australia warm up at the end of winter, bringing warm northerly winds over the city and then cold southerly winds reach up from Tasmania and beyond.

However, Scott said, Melbourne had just experienced its hottest October on record. The mean temperature for the month in the city was 24.3 degrees Celcius in October – almost five degrees above average.

“This last October would have to be viewed as a very extreme month and I’m sure climatologists will claim there’s significant human impact in that,” Scott said.

We know that the global surface temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celcius or 1.4 degrees Farenheit since 1880, as highlighted by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research. The majority of that warming occurred in the past three decades.


Mount Discovery in Antarctica

Photo courtesy of Michael Studinger, Operation IceBridge project scientist. Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


So, how should you respond to such news?

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is part of an award-winning team as Senior Science Editor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She also teaches oceanography at a college in the US.

She recommends:
a) knowing that you have power with your personal choices
b) focusing on what you can change – with a huge emphasis on can. For instance, if you live in an apartment, you won’t exactly get to grow your own food but you can choose to buy locally-grown produce or catch the bus to work.

“Calculating your carbon footprint and understanding your specific impact on the environment is a huge first step,” Laura says.

Take this quick video game-like quiz to get a fair idea of your carbon footprint: Global Footprint Network calculator.

“Then you get to decide how to lessen that impact. Try to lower your footprint by 10 per cent or 20 per cent,” Laura says.

Remembering the power of your money is also important, she says.
“Minimize disposable single use items and buy things that last. Buy locally produced items and minimize purchases of things that have to be transported long distance,” Laura says.
“Try growing some of your own food. That is something we all can do.”

At the end of the day, anthropogenic climate change – otherwise known as human-induced climate change – is the greatest threat of our time, but Laura adds, it’s also a great opportunity.

“As a society, we now have the opportunity to come together, to connect with each other and the world around us, to re-evaluate what’s important in a big way and to build a cleaner way of living using new technologies,” she says. “Without impetus, nothing would ever shift and climate change will certainly provide a big impetus.”

Check out The Green Herald’s road-test of online carbon calculators.


Calculate your carbon

Reduce your carbon footprint, catch the train


The Green Herald spent a bit of time road testing online carbon calculators.

For many of the calculators, you can do a simple assessment or a more detailed check where you will need your utility or energy bills at the ready.
If you like details, you need to look at your utility bills and enter information based on a selected timeframe in the Carbon Footprint Calculator.

Or you can try a quick questionnaire where you just tick boxes set up by WWF in the UK.

German climate protection organisation atmosfair provides a clear comparison of your carbon emissions specifically for travel. Simply enter your flight destination and arrival, and you get the picture. – a voluntary set-up by two doctors in the UK – provides a simple, one-page set of questions. Your result is then compared with individual averages from other countries – the results will surprise you.



Government leadership is dead

Teutonic Knights at Malbork Castle, Poland 2013.

This essay* on leadership was produced by Green Herald editor Caroline Gonzalez in May 2015, for the subject Sustainability, Governance and Leadership as part of her studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. It cannot be reproduced in any form without the prior written approval of The Green Herald. *All facts were correct at the time of writing.

Arguably, nation states are playing a less prominent role in addressing major sustainability challenges than before. To effectively address these challenges, do we need much stronger leadership from nation states, or is effective leadership more likely to originate from elsewhere?

Leaders from all facets of life and history have shown great determination and courage to lead others to a place, or a future, away from major upheavals such as war, famine, and social decay. From Che Guevara to Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, various sequences of time and place have given birth to long-lasting role models who changed the course of their countries’ history.

Today, there is a much bigger challenge that crosses borders of all countries around the world: climate change. By its very nature, climate change is not an easy beast to tame, so it would take a powerful, global force to set things right.

Climate change poses multiple challenges (National Research Council 2011 cited in Gerrard 2012) not the least of which include:

  • significant time lags in the climate system, between emissions and impacts
  • human systems take a long time to react
  • decisions affecting climate change are made at all levels of society
  • adaptation needs, risks and judgements vary widely across different contexts
  • limiting the impact of climate change requires actions on a global scale. (p.10).

Gupta (2013) points out that turbulent environments foster leaders who motivate individuals to see problems as opportunities and embrace new learning.

Who is most capable of this task today? In his book Doppelt (2010) refers to a current mantra in developed countries that ‘the era of big government is over’ (p.260), because many of the decision-making systems are outdated and inappropriate for the ground-breaking requirements of achieving sustainability. Many businesses are prepared to take risks to innovate and lead the way by example. There is compelling evidence that individuals, particularly from private sectors, have been making a difference (Young 2007, Lovell 2009, Robinson 2014)

Entrepreneurs are especially prone to taking major risks and can operate much more freely of nation states. This is the central argument of this essay: that entrepreneurs are making a major contribution in the fight to save the world from irreversible climate change because they are publicly and repeatedly spreading strong messages of mitigation that nobody else seems to be doing.

I will demonstrate that entrepreneurs are utilising transformational leadership in practical ways to lead the business world: namely by framing a public discourse and using it to harness innovation.

The failure of nation states

A nation state is defined as ‘an independent state where the population is all of one nationality’ (Macquarie Dictionary 2005). In further context for this essay, nation states are most commonly based on an interdependent network of capitalist economies with liberal values and democratic institutions (Hearn 2011). Formed as nations with an ideology of nationalism, nation states tend to be inward-looking, focused on their own culture and thus tend to have a sense of superiority over other nations (Kumar 2010).

Nation states have been signatories to a raft of major multilateral environmental agreements and frameworks. In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was negotiated to mitigate ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate’ (Gerrard 2012). Five years later, the Kyoto Protocol was set up to limit the greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries that would in turn help developing countries to mitigate and adapt (p.11). In 2009, the parties met again for the annual UNFCCC conference in Copenhagen. This year the nation states will meet in Paris for the United Nations Climate Conference. Two of the biggest nation states – the US and China – signed a bilateral deal last year to further cut emissions and set the international stage for negotiations in the French capital (The White House 2014).

It is completely ironic that despite all of these frameworks and conventions that greenhouse gas emissions have now reached a historical high for humankind – 400 parts per million (NASA May 7 2015).

Even in their own countries, many of these nation states have failed the very people they were elected to be serving. In the case of Australia, the Federal Government – the first country in the world to do so – scrapped the carbon tax to help lower the ‘high costs’ of running businesses and families (Liberal Party 2015). The government’s Direct Action Plan has been criticised (Hannam 2014) for being too weak to meet the major challenges ahead. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has publicly backed coal as a continuing source of energy for future decades, stating ‘coal is good for humanity’ (Massola, J et al 2014).

Clearly, something is very wrong.

The key reasons why nation states are failing in their duty to tackle the problem are multi-layered and interlinked. As Hale (2010) points out, constituents have become sceptical of political leadership, which inhibits political action. In addition governments have been afraid to enact ground-breaking changes for fear of affecting international trade markets and of losing the favour of multinational companies that provide the flow of jobs and taxes in their countries.

Politicians from nation states, and their staff, have not been exemplary. Robinson (2014) makes the note that at the UN Rio +20 Conference in Brazil, most diplomats were unaware of their own countries’ environmental laws and practices. As he clearly puts it, a lot of foreign ministries need to be ‘ecologically literate’ (p.476).

An analysis by the American Bar Association (Gerrard 2012) shows that climate change mitigation laws ‘are barely sewn together’. In addition, adaptation laws are not even that: he adds ‘there is little cloth, and the existing scraps are hardly linked’ because there are almost no international laws that exist to explicitly enact adaptation, increase resilience or reduce vulnerability to climate change (p.11).

Christoff (2013) makes the key point that the failure of nation states is based on outdated governance structures and systems that are influenced by ‘neoliberalism’ and which don’t cross boundaries of space and time – the very elements of climate change, as affecting future generations beyond all borders. Economic globalisation has allowed multinational corporations to flourish and in many cases, not be held accountable for environmental degradation that they leave in their wake. In essence, sustainable development transcends nation states (Robinson 2014). The conditions have thus been ripe for non-state actors to emerge as a new form of governance and leadership in climate change.

Transformational leadership: framing a discourse and encouraging innovation

The complexity and high-stakes nature of climate change requires an unique type of leadership. Social influence through ‘words and deeds’ is what differentiates environmental leadership from traditional leadership that is based on power and hierarchy (Egri and Herman 2000 p.572).

Egri and Herman therefore define environmental leadership as:

‘the ability to influence and mobilise organisations to realise the vision of long-term ecological sustainability. Guided by eco-centric values and assumptions, environmental leaders seek to change economic and social systems that they perceive as currently and potentially threatening the health of the biophysical environment.’ (p.572).

There are various examples of leadership in sustainability (Robinson 2014). Chiefly among them are businesses, multinational corporations, scientists and academics, citizen scientists, individuals such as conservationists and religion. Effective environmental leadership is two-fold, both internal and external. Individuals can influence internal stakeholders to follow, such as an employee who tries to get a co-worker to participate in recycling program (Portugal and Yukl 1994). There is a symbolic function to environmental leadership, where individuals demonstrate their commitment to their vision of a better way of looking after the environment by deciding to not have a car and travel by public transport (p.275).

There are various theories and concepts of environmental leadership. Integrative leadership has been defined as bringing together a diverse range of groups and organisations to foster cross-sector collaboration in solving major public problems such as global warming (Crosby and Bryson 2010). Civic leadership centres on how individuals and groups of civilians as a democratising force can rally for ‘the common good’, including the environmental movement (Chrislip and O’Malley 2013).

Sustainable governance has also been studied to show its effectiveness in transforming organisations and businesses into sustainability leaders (Doppelt 2010). Adaptive leadership has been identified as a function of complexity leadership theory (CLT) whereby interdependent agents, such as individuals or groups, work together to come up with novel and innovative solutions for adaptive needs of a system (Uhl-Bien and Marion 2009).

James MacGregor Burns (cited in Chrislip and O’Malley 2013) first identified two central different theories of leadership – transactional and transformational. Transactional leadership operates administratively usually in exchange for ‘money, status or votes’ (p.6) but without a higher purpose, whereas transformational leadership moved leaders and followers beyond day-to-day activities to ‘higher levels of motivation and morality (p.6).

I believe transformational leadership is the central type of leadership needed to transform the way the world approaches climate change. This type of leadership reflects a fundamental theory that leadership is an activity or process, as opposed to a position or an authoritative role (Chrislip and O’Malley 2013).

Egri and Herman (2000) argue that transformational leaders are needed to change the way we relate to the natural environment. It is for their ability to inspire people with their vision to follow them, to create excitement and develop fresh approaches to old problems that transformational leaders are more likely to succeed (p.575). Such leaders, especially in for-profit sectors, are ‘reform environmentalists’ and innovators who have high levels of eco-centric, self-transcendence and openness-to-change values among a diverse set of leadership skills. Such an adaptive combination – especially visioning a future – are suited to the problem of climate change that is heavily tied-up with framing the future. Portugal and Yukl (1994) refer to key environmental leadership behaviour as creating a clear, repetitive and inspiring vision, which is communicated emotively with ‘stories and slogans’ through mass-media.

Two prominent examples of this type of leadership are entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk, who have both used their positions as powerful and very successful businessmen to rally other business leaders to move quickly to renewable energy sources and mitigate climate change.

Virgin Group founder and chairman Sir Richard Branson is a consummate communicator who leverages digital technology to inspire and influence the world around him. Known for thinking outside of the box, he has approximately 5.58million followers on twitter (@richardbranson 2015), where he has said that ‘communication is the most important skill any leader can possess’ (2015). In his blog (2014), Branson says that businesses should operate for both the well-being of people and the planet, not just for profit. As Portugal and Yukl (1994) point out, transformational leaders encourage people to consider the long-term implications of business decisions.

Branson publicly backed Apple CEO Tim Cook who said climate change deniers should ‘get out of the stock’ (2014), adding:

‘More businesses should be following Apple’s stance in encouraging more investment in sustainability. While Tim told sustainability sceptics to “get out of our stock”, I would urge climate change deniers to get out of our way.’

Lovell (2009) categorises Richard Branson as a corporate/business entrepreneur whose main activities are creating and growing businesses with ambitious, aspirational, creative and innovative personal characteristics (p.497). She points to a lack of government action as being the impetus for policy entrepreneurs to get out there and demonstrate what can be achieved. Branson has set up the Carbon War Room with eight other founders, to generate $1trillion of investment by matching profitable carbon reduction technologies with eco-centric entrepreneurs who want to tap into the economic opportunities (Carbon War Room 2015).

Further along the path is SpaceX CEO, Tesla electric motors and Solarcity entrepreneur, Elon Musk, who repeatedly spreads his message of a clean energy future. He personifies the different type of thinking required for tackling major sustainability challenges such as climate change.

Musk, who has 2.1 million followers on twitter (@elonmusk 2015), has expressed concerns at the lack of speed of global innovation to replace fossil-fuel dependent transportation (All in MNSBC 2014). While he acknowledges the legacy of a ‘trillion’ dollars worth of global fossil-fuel based infrastructure is difficult to change quickly, he says there should be a price on carbon to help transform the market to one that pays the real price for emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Musk has also encouraged people to see lack of action on climate change as a crazy experiment (Koebler 2015):

‘If we know we have to get off oil no matter what, we know that is an inescapable outcome, why run this crazy experiment of changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans by adding enormous amounts of CO2 that have been buried since the Precambrian Era? That’s crazy. That’s the dumbest experiment in history, by far.’

By framing the problem in a novel way, Portugal and Yukl (1994) argue, transformational leaders encourage creative and innovative solutions environmental problems.

As Blewitt (2008) explains, successful environmental leadership creates a public dialogue or discourse that challenges opposing views and starts a conversation. Such leaders, who are usually passionate about the subject, encourage ‘flexibility and creativity in thought and expression’ (p.243).

In the unveiling of Tesla’s new Powerwall Home battery – a stationery battery that can power a whole house – Musk said transitioning the world to clean energy was within reach (Russell 2015):

‘This is within the power of humanity to do. It is not impossible, it is something we can do. But there’s going to (need to) be other companies involved.’

Clearly, Musk is trying to rally other businesses to follow his lead on a clean energy vision. As Seyranian (2014) notes, inclusive language has been proven to generate followers and support of renewable energy.

Additionally, Blewitt (2008) says being open to radically different approaches to thinking and operating in the world, such as open source computer software, could be a useful form of environmental leadership. Elon Musk’s electric car and battery company, Tesla, has an open-source policy of its patents, to encourage other companies to develop cars that run on clean energy (Russell 2015).

Entrepreneurs – such as Richard Branson and Elon Musk – are best placed to harness the opportunistic nature of transformational and strategic leadership because they are constantly breaking new ground away from the old, fossil-fuel technologies. Gupta reminds us (2013) that strategic leadership supports sustainable development when it harnesses the ‘entrepreneurial discovery of market knowledge’, coordinates this knowledge and then works to fill the gaps in the market of today with that needed in the future (p.223). It is also an adaptive function of leadership, to create opportunities for innovation and new knowledge while creating a sense of urgency (Meijerink and Stiller 2013). Such leaders create a compelling and practical narrative that cannot be ignored.


Communicating a vision of where we want to be, and getting people to follow, is at the heart of mitigating and adapting to climate change. The principle of creative tension (Senge 1990) – seeing the destination clearly, framing the current reality succinctly, and having a strong vision – all perfectly fit the purpose. The energy of change in this context comes from grasping the vision and what we want to create (p.9), with the reality comfortably sitting in the passenger seat. Unfortunately, nation states just don’t seem to be on board. It’s as if a whole lot of passengers got on board while they dithered on the subject. All around us in the world are examples of people, organisations and individuals working to ensure the future world that generations inherit is not the one that unabated climate change will create. As Elon Musk says, ‘this is within the power of humanity to do.’


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Cup of life

2014_Daniela Gattoni

Daniela Gattoni, a web developer from Santiago in Chile, wanted to do something very simple in her daily life that would help, in any way, to minimise her impact on the environment.

So she started bringing her own reusable coffee cup to her evening classes at university.

‘When people are studying at night after working all day, they don’t have the energy to do a lot so I had to start with a small effort,’ Daniela says.

In Chile, most workplaces and institutions, including universities, provide only disposable cups for tea and coffee. Daniela believes the best waste is that which is not produced. And so #BringYourCup was born. Together with her colleagues Cristian Venegas, Rodrigo Checa and Alex Soble, Daniela entered #BringYourCup into the 2014 Geeklist #hack4good. The global contest attracted more than 1000 attendees who submitted 152 projects to tackle key climate change challenges. #BringYourCup won the national Chile competition, and went on to gain fourth place in the world.

Daniela says the project centres on a prototype for a reminder app to bring your own reusable cup, and encourages users to post to the twitter #BringYourCup with a selfie. This year the #BringYourCup team hopes to have discussions with the Santiago city council that has expressed interest in working with the project. Last year the city’s environment department initiated a recycling scheme at an annual food and wine festival in September, Daniela says.

‘This is a good challenge for us to work the #BringYourCup app and… make it a bit more official and get more people talking about this simple idea,’ she says.
‘I think to have actions for climate change is important because we’re leaving a place for the next generation who’ll live in this world,’ she says. ‘We as adults can give an example to the children to look after the environment.’

Not all paper cups are recycled. In Australia, paper cups can be recycled. As global carbon advisory firm Carbon Clear states on their website, paper cups have a plastic lining to cope with hot beverages but it’s this very lining that can prevent them from being recycled.  Yet while it takes more energy to create reusable ceramic cups, paper cups create far more carbon emissions because they usually end up in rubbish bins, and end up in landfill where they emit greenhouse gases such as methane while decomposing.

So the message is quite simple: take your reusable cup to work, school, university, wherever. And tell your friends and followers, says Daniela. ‘Take your selfie and use the twitter #BringYourCup, encourage your friends – it’s for the children,’ she says.