Omaha Skyline Omaha Skyline Chad Vanderveen

OMAHA, Neb. -- What decisions, policies and practices need to be in place to transform regions and cities into sustainable, interconnected communities? Answering this question was the purpose of the Meeting of the Minds, an invitation-only conference held in mid-June in Omaha. Climate change, transportation, renewable energy, structural retrofits and other issues were discussed and debated among attendees from around the world.

The rapid pace of technological advancement provides local governments the opportunity to tackle problems in new and efficient ways, panelists at the event said. Retrofitting buildings throughout a city, for example, could create jobs and reduce energy expenditures.

Ron Dembo, founder and CEO of Toronto-based Zerofootprint, said "re-skinning" everything from houses to skyscrapers could lead to enormous long-term gains in energy efficiency and cost savings.

Dembo said that more than 70 percent of greenhouse gases emitted in large cities come from buildings. By comparison, SUVs contribute only 3 percent of the pollutants that many fear will lead to a hotter planet.

Though it sounds grotesque, re-skinning is merely the process of layering energy-efficient materials over an existing structure. Dembo cited the example of a dilapidated warehouse in San Francisco which, like most structures, performed dreadfully when it came to efficiently storing heat. By simply replacing the windows and overlaying the exterior with perforated, corrugated zinc panels, the building's energy efficiency increased by 60 percent -- and the exterior was made much more attractive.

The building was a winning entry in Zerofootprint's first global re-skinning competition. Dembo said he hopes the contest, which ended in February, will be the foundation for an "X-Prize-like" competition for transforming post-war, pre-1990 buildings into modern, energy-efficient structures through re-skinning. The X-Prize was a $10 million contest launched in 1996 for the first nongovernment organization to put a manned vehicle in space.

City Energy Officers

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Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.