Last night, I attended the first Sustainable Heights networking event – held at Menu 6 on Larchmere after a quick and unexplained change from the originally planned venue, Bodega on Coventry.
The main attraction at the event was Holly Harlan, who founded the regionally based E4S network (Entrepreneurs for Sustainability) 11 years ago and, we learned last night, is now leaving E4S based on the feeling that it has enough momentum in itself to be, well, self-sustaining without her amazing energy.
I don’t know Harlan personally, but she strikes me as one of those people who just magically seems to make things happen around her. There are people everywhere who see people like her and try to have the same impact – but they fail. People like Harlan are rare indeed: they see something that needs doing, they start wiggling their fingers and somehow unimagineable forces come together to create progress.
It seems like magic. These people work hard, but they have an intangible something extra that creates progress where other hard workers would just create noise.
It was a theme among the 70 or so people in attendance at the networking event. I heard at least four people say something to the effect of: “This is really great, but I hope it doesn’t just stop here.” I’m guessing that most of the people in attendance qualify as those hard-working, sincere, successful types who don’t possess that intantible something extra. Fortunately, some of the organizers of Sustainable Heights Network are among the more rarified few.
Those people are Mark Chupp (also a FutureHeights board member); Julian Rogers (one of the Heights area’s representatives on the new Cuyahoga County Council), Lana Cowell (who used to run Cleveland Community Shares and has an imprint on multiple philanthropic causes around the area and in the Heights), Deanna Bremer Fisher (executive director of FutureHeights) and Sarah Wean (a founder of FutureHeights and another one of those people who seems to create meaningful action just by walking into a room).
Their first success was last October’s Sustainability Week, which attracted so much interest that the 40 events connected with the week are now being viewed as too much; organizers promise this year’s Sustainability Week will have far fewer events – allowing people to better get their arms around the whole thing.
I’ll confess that the concept of sustainability has felt remote for me. I understand how it works in business; I’ve written about smart grid technology, zero-waste manufacturing plants and, for a yet-unpublished book, a chapter on sustainability involving one of Harlan’s own success stories – LEED-certified manufacturing at Shearer’s Foods in Brewster, OH.
But for my life and my business, sustainability feels like a dead end. I work from a home office and conduct more than half my business within a 3-mile radius. I ride my bike when the weather is nice, and walk when it isn’t. My family now owns two fuel-efficient cars – though the budget hasn’t yet allowed us to make owning gas-electric hybrids a priority. We recycle. We’ve disconnected our gutters from the storm sewers and now have a rain barrels (with more to come). We just replaced an old monster furnace with a high-efficiency, high-priced boiler. We don’t water the lawn or lay down chemical fertilizer (OK, that may just be laziness). Sustainability goals? I don’t have the slightest idea what’s next.
But I did learn from some others at the event. Andrew Chiarelli – the alternative fuels specialist at Motorcars Cleveland (I didn’t know there was such a thing) wants to see Cleveland Heights’ fleet of city vehicles move toward natural-gas power – which would require the city to pursue installation of a natural gas filling station.
Sam Bell, owner of the Lusty Wrench wants to see the city go even further, by purchasing hybrid garbage trucks that include regenerative breaking. His point is that a 14-ton garbage truck averages 72 feet between each start and stop – and 80 percent of the heat generated in braking can be recaptured and redirected into the next acceleration. Last time he brought it up, he says, the city responded that it doesn’t want to be on the leading edge of such technology.
City leaders may get a chance to respond or rethink. The next Sustainable Heights networking event will be in early May, with a focus on government.
I have another confession: Power networking makes me tired, and this was a power networking event. I don’t have the energy or desire to do it, I dislike the rules that are part of it, and I prefer to stay away from events that are built around it. But that’s my own bias; last night was successful and interesting by any measure other than my personal preference to network with my wife and kids.