“The convergence of these changing technologies, and the changing demographics, and the changing preferences among different age groups, to me, spells greater opportunity than we’ve had at any time in my lifetime.” ~ Jerry Tinianow, Chief Sustainability Officer, City and County of Denver, Colorado
Thinking and Doing Sustainability
With Jerry Tinianow, Chief Sustainability Officer, City and County of Denver, Colorado and Tom Romito, Western Cuyahoga Audubon
Tom Romito: I’m Tom Romito from the Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society and it’s my privilege to be sitting with Jerry Tinianow, my friend, and we are visiting in Colorado. Jerry and I go back a long way. Jerry, please tell me a little bit about yourself and what your affiliation is right now.
Jerry Tinianow: Well Tom, first, welcome to Colorado, it’s great to have you here.
I’m almost a lifelong Ohioan. Four years ago, my wife and I moved to Denver so that I could become the City’s first Chief Sustainability Officer.
But before that, my entire life and career was in Ohio except for seven years when I was away at college and law school. The first half in Cleveland and the second half in Columbus. I’ve been a private attorney, I’ve been the state director for Audubon Society Ohio and the director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission based in Columbus, Ohio.
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What Are You Passionate About?
Tom Romito: Jerry, what are you passionate about?
Jerry Tinianow: I am passionate about the times we live in because I’ve been working on sustainability and the issues related to it my entire life, and in that entire adulthood of forty-plus years, there’s no time like the present. We have opportunities right now to make progress on issues and things we’ve dreamed about for decades.
I regret it’s so near the end of my career when we have these opportunities, but we have these opportunities. Opportunities that are growing by leaps and bounds every year. This is a really exciting time to be working in this area.
What Advice Do You Have For Readers in Terms of Green Solutions?
Tom Romito: What do you think people should know, think, feel and do about things in terms of green solutions?
Jerry Tinianow: The first thing, and the approach we use here in Denver, we try not to argue with people, we try not to convince them of the science or the merits of our policy position. We try to focus on their own personal choices, and why they would do it for their own benefit.
We use a little mantra here in Denver for when people say, “How can we get involved in sustainability?” We say there are three things you can do. One, you can save money, one is to spend it here, and one is to do it together. And really, that is sustainability in a nutshell.
Most of the things we ask people to do, whether it’s saving energy or saving water, it’s saving money. We can sell it a little better that way. We don’t want it all to be savings and sacrifices, so spend it but spend it here, spend it local.
And then, most importantly, do it together. In other words, do it as a community because ultimately, the only renewable resource is the community because it is a renewable resource, you have to concentrate and make an effort to renew community values but it’s also the basis of all other renewable resources. So, that’s kind of our formula.
What is Your Role as Chief Sustainability Officer?
Tom Romito: Jerry, in your role as Director of Sustainability for the Mayor of Denver, what is your major role?
Jerry Tinianow: We are actually an office of three people in a combined city and county government of eleven thousand. We cannot do projects ourselves, we teach sustainability theory and practice to the agencies. The Mayor gave me a four word agenda when I started: “Scale, and everybody plays”.
And by scaling, he means he wants programs that make a difference, that produce big numbers and big changes. He’s not interested in the little pilot projects, he wants to move big numbers. And that everybody plays, is, that he wants sustainability to be the basic business value in everything of every department does no matter what service it performs.
Our role is to take sustainability as a business value and instill it in the agencies by working hand-in-hand with them not on projects that we design, but on projects they design because they own it and they own results and it’s likely to get done.
A Story About Audubon and Doing Sustainability in Ohio
Tom Romito: Jerry, I mentioned earlier that we go back a long way. I’d like our viewing audience to know that you inspired me to launch the Rocky River Important Bird Area in 2003. As Executive Director of Audubon Ohio, you came to my first Board meeting as President of Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society.
I mentioned that we needed a conservation project, and you suggested that we monitor the Rocky River Important Bird Area. That launched us on a five year adventure to do exactly that.
Subsequently, you invited me to be on the Audubon Ohio Board of Directors, which you were the advisor, as Executive Director of Audubon Ohio. You became one of the biggest supporters of Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society as well as the other chapters in Ohio.
Could you please tell us a human interest story from those days?
Jerry Tinianow: The reason I think I was such a big supporter of your Chapter, was because you did things. Everyone goes out and watches birds, citizen science is powerful.
People ask me these days, there’s a lot of talk about smart cities. What’s a smart city? Everyone thinks a smart city is where there’s a lot of computer programs and applications, but to me, a smart city is where most of the adults understand the basics of science and math. Because that’s the key to really solving projects. You folks were already doing that, but you went beyond it by organizing this conservation campaign. You weren’t just studying, you were acting.
You were bringing together the specifics of how you would get the community engaged and how it would lead to specific actions in that Important Bird Area. And frankly on that side of town, I grew up on the east side - and I’m actually wearing my Shaker High Class of 73’ headgear - the west side was never known for that. And yet the natural values on the west side were every bit as good, if not better, than those on the east side.
What you folks were doing, was making that come alive and actually having people get their fingers dirty and go beyond just holding the binoculars to planning and working and bringing people together.
What Do You See for the Future of Planet Earth?
Tom Romito: Jerry, what do you feel about the future in terms of planet earth?
Jerry Tinianow: We’re really at a tipping point right now. There’s two things happening. Number one, the threats have never been greater. Because our population has never been greater and our supply of nonrenewable resources is also at it’s low point. That’s a tough combination: highest human population and lowest storehouse of nonrenewable resources.
But at the same time we are seeing this collision of a lot of different trends. Technology is growing really quickly. I was just at a presentation this week with Amory Lovins, the great Founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Amory said, “The low-hanging fruit is growing faster than we can harvest it.”
We have these technological innovations, yet we also have changes in demographics and personal preferences, particularly with the younger generation. I actually currently see the older generation moving away from cars and away from suburban sprawl and moving back into walkable neighborhoods, and the same thing with the younger generation.
It used to be when you and I were growing up that when you turned sixteen, we might have asked our parents for a car. Now, when kids turn sixteen, they ask for an Uber account. They’re not interested in a car, they might want an upscale bike, but not the car.
So, the convergence of these changing technologies, and the changing demographics, and the changing preferences among different age groups, to me, spells greater opportunity than we’ve had at any time in my lifetime.
Tom Romito: Well, folks, there you have it. The hope for the future thanks to leaders like Jerry Tinianow. Thanks for watching.
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