Project Definition (DRAFT)

As promised, Mark and I met this weekend to refine the ideas for a final project proposed at the group meeting last Thursday. We’ve crafted a basic project framework and hope that other group members will use the blog this week to give their feedback.

Remember — all feedback at this draft stage will have an impact on the final result, so while you’re more than welcome to say this is terrific and exactly what you want, we encourage you to speak up now to change the course of the year’s work!

Project Definition

Based on our notes from the group discussion, we identified two overarching goals for the Fellows project:

  • Examine the weakness of the current ways that economic success is measured, and expose what is missing from the conventional decision-making framework in real estate, land use and infrastructure policy.
  • Communicate information in an easily digestible, relatable way that could readily become “dinner table” discussion. One way to do this would be to collect and analyze stories of people who have been personally influenced by environmentally motivated changes in the built environment.

As an approach, we propose conducting case studies of environmentally innovative projects that have or have the potential to occur in the built environment, and evaluating their impacts from three perspectives:

  • National economic interest (ie, impact to GDP as currently measured)
  • Business interest (financial success of the project)
  • Self-interest of project stakeholders (the project’s users/customers, local community, policy makers, natural environment)

The result of these examinations would be to:

  • Learn more about the various projects, the process that created (or attempted to create) them, any barriers faced, and the outcomes.
  • Expose inconsistencies in policy/interest alignment that help to explain flaws in the greater system at an approachable, project level.
  • Generate stories for group discussion and communication to a wider audience

The specific projects to be studied are yet to be determined, but should reflect specific interest areas of the UW Runstad Fellows. It might be preferable to divide into two or three teams and examine several projects simultaneously, followed by discussion of findings and preparation of a final product.

The following is a definition of the main theme, written by Mark. This would be the unifying theme that we would use to guide setup of each project-level examination.

Main Theme
Our national economy is guided largely by instantaneous measures of economic health, such as GDP and the unemployment rate. These measures miss key external and direct costs, and fail to measure the true wealth of a nation in terms of its total economic potential. Sustainable projects that are likely to cause neighborhood level change as well as have national influence are those that add to the conventional measures like GDP rather than subtract.

An example:  Conservation of energy subtracts from GDP in all future years except the year where the conservation measure was installed, even though the measure leaves more reserves in the ground in all those future years.  The result is a national economic bias against conservation, except in years where large fiscal stimulus is required to kick-start the economy.  Solar and wind power investments, on the other hand, provide a large initial addition to GDP and future annual additions to GDP at a rate per kWh that is higher than fossil fuel consumption (because each kWh costs more). In addition, the positive Net Present Value of the investment in added capacity (which increases consumption) adds to the national balance sheet, rather than subtracting from it like fossil fuel liquidation.

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2 Responses to Project Definition (DRAFT)

  1. aphurd says:

    …all of this explains our societal lack of interest in energy conservation measures even though kWHs saved are way more economical than kWh generated…

  2. aphurd says:

    I like the topic. A lot. I think you guys have done a great job of distilling what we talked about last week. Would love to talk a little more at our next meeting about whether/how we pull the case studies together.

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