Rebuilding the Energy-Efficient Way with Global Green USA’s Matt Petersen

October 19, 2011

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored today to have our good friend Matt Petersen on. Matt’s the President and CEO of Global Green. He’s been on Green is Good before, and he’s back again. Welcome to Green is Good, Matt. MATT PETERSEN: Well, it’s great to be back. Thanks for having me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Matt, there’s no one that we’ve ever had on the show that’s more deserving to be on the show. You have done so much over the years with regards to the environment and sustainability in so many sectors, and you’ve brought in so many both, literally, rock stars and movie stars into the movement, and made it cool and hip to be green. We’re just thrilled to have you back on. MATT PETERSEN: Thank you, John. You’re too kind and too generous, but I appreciate the chance to be on with you today. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s true, Matt. Since we had you on last, with Global Green, you’ve done amazing work with regards to Hurricane Katrina. You’re the inaugural Hillary senior fellow. Before we get into talking about why you came on today, talk a little bit about the last couple years and the amazing work you’ve been working on. MATT PETERSEN: Sure. When I was a kid, I remember seeing litter strewn about the park. I don’t remember the conversation, I said to my dad, “Dad, we need to do something to take care of our planet.” So, I guess for me, it started at a young age. Fast forward to 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit, and I just saw the devastation unfold, and thought we must be able to do something. I was ashamed of my country and our government and society’s inability to help these people, and was moved to say, “Alright, ultimately, what could I do?” I could give a little bit of money to the Red Cross or other groups. I could bring a family into my home that doesn’t have a home. I run this nonprofit. Even though at the time we were only 15 staff, we had the greatest amount of green building expertise at one environmental nonprofit in the country, and I thought let’s mobilize that and put it to work to help this community rebuild better and greener and healthier, and become the model for how we need to rebuild our communities across the country to deal with climate change and to create a stronger economy. We’ve, remarkably, made progress in all three of our goals that I set forth for us in, literally, two weeks after that storm. We’ve made progress on greening the schools in New Orleans on the rebuilding of them. We’ve made progress in helping 10,000 homeowners rebuild green in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast. We’ve made tremendous progress in our goal to adopt a neighborhood and help bring it back as a model of green. Our Holy Cross project in the Lower 9th Ward is an example of that. Five single-family homes are completed and we’re about to put them up for sale. Low-income families are going to move in and in New Orleans in the summer, have an energy bill that’s no more than $40 a month, we predict. Most people have $250-$300 energy bills down there. This is the future we need to embrace. Our work with Global Green is built from our work with affordable housing and schools, our work in New Orleans, and we’re doing so many great projects across this country in trying to show how we create the model. We’re assisting the homeowners in San Bruno that lost their homes to the natural gas pipeline explosion there, and helping them rebuild green. We’re helping the city of Youngstown do that. For me, the personal mission here is how do we help the people in need and help the environment? That’s really what got me involved in with the Hillary Institute, which is based in New Zealand and is a group that was founded with the sake of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest. It’s really about finding leadership, people around the world who are taking a courageous climb up the mountain to create change in the world and recognizing them and helping them do the same. As a fellow, that’s my job, is to help identify those people. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Matt, before we get into talking about greening schools, I just want to do a promotional message here. Both my family and our business have always supported your amazing organization. For our listeners out there right now, if you have your iPad or your laptop open, go to Matt’s great website. It’s www.globalgreen.org and open it up. Look at it and look at all the points of entry that Global Green and Matt and his colleagues have created over the years, where there will be something of interest for you there to get involved with, whether it’s water, whether it’s carbon and climate, green building, which we’re going to talk about today with Matt. Get involved, either with Global Green or write a check, or go to one of his great events. It is one of the most interactive organizations in the world. They welcome participation. They welcome your money. It’s a nonprofit. Like I said, go to the website now. You’ll be so happy you did because they touch all of us in so many ways, and the whole purpose is to leave a better legacy behind with regards to sustainability and the environment that we all found. So, Matt, thank you for that great work, and I know it continues every day, and it’s a progression. It’s never perfect. But let’s talk about why you came on the show today, the issue of green schools. Why is greening schools so important, and why have you made this one of the big and great missions at Global Green? MATT PETERSEN: You look at in our communities, who are most in need? Certainly, we have impoverished and the disabled and so many people that have great need. Our greatest resource and those that need the most help are our children, and we need to make sure our children attend classrooms that are healthy. Our kids spend so much time in classrooms that are unhealthy, that are poorly lit, that don’t have sunlight, that are loud. The schools spend money on energy bills unnecessarily. We spend more money in this country on energy bills for school than we do textbooks and computers combined. We need to turn that around, and what Global Green has set out to do is help schools, and now help students and teachers and parents, figure out how they can help make their schools green. We’re in the process of selecting a winner of our Green School Makeover competition. The school is going to win over $100,000 of support and improvements to their school to become a model to how we retrofit our schools. In President Obama’s jobs bill, there are $25 billion set aside for school modernization, which could be spent on modernizing these schools to be healthier, more energy efficient, and we need to see this happen in every corner across the country. Every neighborhood in this country has a school, and every school can be non just a place that is better for kids, which is the first priority, but is also better for the environment and a model for what it means to combat global warming. We can lower energy bills, put more people in the classroom, put more resources in the classroom. That’s a win-win. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that want to get involved, Matt, what are the steps involved and how do you really go about greening the school? MATT PETERSEN: Well, we’re working with the organization called CHIPS, Collaborative for High Performance Schools, to create an iPhone app that will allow you to measure the energy, water, indoor air quality, acoustics of a class. We want to make it easy for everybody. It’s a tool that currently is used by maintenance staff, and want to make it user-friendly so that a teacher can work with the students to measure a school’s progress or any school principal can use it as a way to get his staff to figure out how do they target the improvements. The first goal is always how do you improve the daylight in class? You’ve got lighting and you’ve got these blackout shades. How do you put in shades that allow daylight in but don’t allow the glare and heat gain? That’s an easy one. It’s something we did in New Orleans. With $75,000, we put in solar shades, we cleaned out the ducts and taught the staff how to clean out their air ducts, and we saved these schools $25,000 a year, payback in three years. MIKE BRADY: You know, Matt, I’m on your site right now. If you’re just joining us, we’re on with Matt Petersen. Globalgreen.org is the site. It’s very cool. You’re talking about the schools. One of the things that struck me immediately, and John and I were talking about this a couple of weeks ago, about the garden roof. You can do that at the school and capture the water and cool the roof down by planting densely packed green vegetation on top. MATT PETERSEN: Yeah, absolutely. It’s not for every roof. Your roof has to be appropriately structured, but most school roofs are strong enough that you can put up a green roof that can also grow food to be eaten in the cafeteria. What a greater way to teach kids where our food comes from, how to be good stewards to the environment, to understand the science of the world, and what discovery. We’ve done work with schools that have their school gardens, and it’s just remarkable to see these kids. Their eyes light up when they understand where food comes from, how it’s grown, and what are the nutrients the Earth needs, and what is the care the Earth requires, and it’s not only good for the environment and good for healthy eating, it’s amazing to see the discovery. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Global Green’s been involved with greening schools for some time now, but what was the epiphany? What was the moment it caught your attention, and who brought it to your attention, Matt, that this is something that Global Green should be involved with? You, then, took the torch and have really run with it. When did that happen, and who was the group or the people that brought this to your attention, this massive void in American society now? MATT PETERSEN: Well, you know, I think it really was an evolution, a journey, as most things are. I started as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. We must be able to do something better here. How do we create homes that are truly affordable and make the healthy and energy efficient? As I started running Global Green, it became one of our first programs, our greening affordable housing initiative, and we worked with Habitat on a national level. As we, over time, had more and more success and saw that schools and affordable housing and other core parts of strength in our community helping improve people’s lives, really were critical to success, not just of the environment, but to vibrant, healthy communities. We said alright, we really need to start looking at schools. A lot of school districts and colleges were doing bond projects, starting about a decade ago, including L.A. Unified School District. We had proposed to them back before 2001-2002 that they pass a policy that required increased green building. They adopted the standard. We didn’t have the resources at the time to really tackle that bureaucracy to say how do we help you make sure that you do that and do it properly? Fast forward a few years, and we had heard evidence that the school district wasn’t administering across the board this green schools policy, and the Annenberg Foundation approached us to see if we’d be interested to work with them on greening of schools. It was a great partnership. Over time, the Annenberg Foundation invested $1 million into us, and through us part of that money went back into creating some model schools. With that $1 million, it sounds like a lot, but it leveraged over four years, we helped green $15 billion in school construction in Los Angeles. We were vigilant. We showed them how we could help them, and we held their feet to the fire, and then they became the greatest champion themselves, the LAUSD. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Speaking of costs, you just laid out some wow numbers for us. How much does this process cost to green a school? If someone is sitting in Kansas right now or Idaho and they’re listening to this show, how much down the street from, the school that their kids go to or their grandkids go to, how much does it really cost this whole process? MATT PETERSEN: Within existing schools, we found you can invest $75,000-$100,000 and get your money back in three years. It’s a worthwhile investment. Most schools have modernization dollars of some kind that they’re allocated that are separate from the money that’s used to pay teachers. Those savings from those infrastructure dollars, modernization dollars, can be put back into the operating budget for the school, so you can afford half a salary for a teacher or put some money back into the classroom through textbooks. That’s limited investment, and there are bigger gains to be had if you’ve got a bigger budget. There are simpler things that people can do that cost even less than that, just to make the school more energy efficient and healthy, starting with trying to stop using pesticides at the school and using natural pest management so kids’ health isn’t put at risk, or whatever it might be. There are a lot of things that schools can do, and hopefully kids and parents and teachers, to figure out. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Are there programs right now that people should be looking for in their communities to help them cover these costs? Or is it more on a privatized basis, they have to go out and raise the money to make this happen? MATT PETERSEN: You know, again, I think what the citizens can do is go to their school district, to the Board meeting, and say, “I’ve learned about the opportunities to increase energy efficiency in schools, and I understand that most school districts have capital dollars that they can’t use for spending on teachers and other resources in the classroom. I want to know what our school district is doing, and what we can do to help make sure that we’re putting the money in not just to put in new flooring, and when we do, we want to make sure it’s green flooring, but what are the opportunities to make sure we’re getting some daylight?” You know why? We’ve seen in study after study that students score 20-25% higher on test scores in well-daylit classrooms; not artificial light, but sunlight. That is because they’re more attentive, they’re more alert, and along with better air quality, better air ventilation, and kids don’t miss school as much if the air is healthier. That means the average daily attendance goes up and schools have more baseline budget to be able to fund operations. So, it’s not just an energy savings; there are lots of other benefits too. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Matt, on this journey that you’ve been on with regards to greening schools, what would be your advice to people out there that want to roll up their sleeves and actually do something? What are the two or three lowest hanging fruits that are typically right there, in terms of making the school greener? Like you said, sometimes you can’t do the whole thing right out of the box, but if you want to just choose the easiest one or two or three things to do, what has been your cross-section of knowledge that you’ve learned with regards to what’s the easiest first three things to do that create the biggest impact? MATT PETERSEN: Well, I think just to reinforce what I said first, it would be ask questions. Ask your principal. Write a letter to the School Board President. We’ve got examples of those on our website, globalgreen.org, you can look at. That would be the first thing. Second would be to work with your teacher to identify a project you could work on with your kids. Maybe it’s as simple as starting a school garden. A lot of great resources and a lot of great examples of school gardens, and the school may not have the money to create the raised beds, to buy the gardening tools, to buy the seeds, and that could be a parent-driven fundraising project. Maybe look around in your kid’s classroom. Are the windows covered with blackout shades? If the school doesn’t have the capital budget and the ability to invest in putting in some new shades, maybe instead of a bake sale for the school trip, you do a bake sale or do another bake sale for putting in solar shades so the kids can have better daylight and get higher test scores because they’re learning more. They’re absorbing more, and it feels better to be in those classrooms. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. For our listeners who just joined us, we’re so excited and honored to have Matt Peterson back on Green is Good with us. Matt, of course, is the President and CEO of Global Green USA. You can look at his website, which is just a real wonderful website, at www.globalgreen.org. On the website right now, Mike and I are right there. The first button in the middle of the landing page talks about the green school makeover contest. Talk about that makeover contest and other initiatives and projects and programs that Global Green is doing right now to promote greening schools. MATT PETERSEN: Well, we just wrapped up our first green school makeover competition, and we’re doing the final judging. We’ll have a winner we’re announcing soon, so we plan to start the next one in 2012. People should look out for that. We’ve been working, as I said earlier, with the L.A. Unified School District. That work continues, and the work we’re doing in New Orleans to help the school district there continues, and we help schools here and there as we can to get the money raised to help them. We’re also doing a lot of work with charter schools, as more parents choose to put their kids in charter schools. These facilities often don’t come under the same regulations as public schools, so we’re working with the Walton Family Foundation, other foundations, to figure out how do we help increase the energy efficiency of these facilities. We’ve been working with LISC, the Local Initiative Support Corporation, to figure out how we do the same in working with them here in Los Angeles and a number of other charter schools. Those are the kinds of things that we’ve been up to and hope to continue to do. We can only do it with support of individuals and others and their contributions. I’d appreciate you plugging us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah. Right on the website, on the right-hand side of the landing page, there’s a way for you to join and donate and subscribe right then and become a member, so there’s points of entry all over your landing page, which makes it very, very user-friendly. Matt, we have about five-six minutes left, and you touched so many important areas of sustainability and the environment. I’ve been to your amazing events where I’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio, films on water that still stick with me now and are making me so conscious with regards to the water crisis that we have, not only here in the United States, but, frankly, around the world. What are the other beacons of hope and light that you’re working with and championing over at Global Green with regards to other issues of sustainability besides the green schools issues? MATT PETERSEN: We’re working to raise awareness on the impact of sea level rise due to climate change and global warming. 150 million Americans are at risk if we don’t stop the impact from global warming and sea level rise. Making people realize that they can do something in their own backyard. We need to continue to push President Obama and Congress and corporations to act. People can do something in their own backyard, so we have a contest for people to say, “I am New Orleans,” and they enter what they’re going to do in their neighborhood or at their school or their city to figure out how they can make a difference. What they’re going to get a chance to do is go to our Oscars party on February 22, 2012 and get a chance to win a pair of tickets. We’re going to have a video contest that people telling the story of what they’re doing, what that impact is, and they’ll get a chance to walk the green carpet at the party and have their film shown and debuted there, and get to join me on the delegation of the Rio Earth Summit in June 2012. We’re trying a number of different ways to also engage people. The cornerstone of this campaign is a PSA we’ve done with Mark Ruffalo, Adrian Grenier, Orlando Bloom, Serena Williams, James Cameron, a number of other individuals. It’s trying to raise awareness. We still need to do that and to try to drive action. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about the fascinating statistics around water. We’ve had Allen Hershkowitz and other great thought leaders like you and Allen on the show, and John and Patricia Adams. What we take for granted here in the United States here is drinking water and having water to shower and bathe with that’s clean. Talk a little bit about your efforts and Global Green’s efforts with regards to the water crisis around the world right now, and the great leadership you guys have shown on that issue. MATT PETERSEN: So, many people lack access to basic clean water, and lack access to sanitation around the world, and it’s really an environmental crisis. It’s a humanitarian crisis, and it’s really a challenge for stability in many regions, where there’s limited access to water. We really have to look at how do we give individuals access to water as a human right? What does that mean? That means we have to help them find low-tech, easy solutions to capture and make sure they have clean water. That means we need to make sure that when water systems privatize, the poor don’t get cut off, and that they still have access to enough water to be able to live. We need to help nations in the developing world to ensure that proper sanitation is in place. We need to make sure countries don’t go to war over shared river basins. How do we prevent that conflict? We know from out here in California, if our state can’t come to an agreement over sharing the Colorado River, how can we expect nations to come to an agreement over sharing other resources in other parts other world? We need to help these places and make sure that there’s a framework in place to help people resolve these conflicts. We fight over oil now, and the next century’s battles will be over water. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Matt, we’re down to the last two minutes or so. I want to leave that to you. You’ve had 17 years of brilliantly leading Global Green as the President and CEO, and you’re still a very young man. What’s the future hold? Give us, in the last two minutes before we sign off, what’s your visibility on the future of not only the environment and sustainability, but the movement as a whole? Share your thoughts with our listeners. MATT PETERSEN: I think we need to continue to see how we can connect the dots. If we get stuck in silos and see everything as a problem and just have a linear solution, we’re only going to end up with more unintended consequences and problems than we started with. I’m really driven to, whether it’s connecting with those fighting poverty or those trying to help low-income communities, we’re really more and more looking at how we treat Mother Earth and how we treat women on this planet. We need to see that something is out of balance, and if we don’t reconnect to our own communities and love what gives us life, we’re not going to allow future generations to enjoy not just the beauty of nature, but to get the same clean air and clean water that’s allowed us to survive and thrive on this planet. So, it’s really a fight to ensure quality of life and, ultimately, survival of our species. It requires a different way of thinking and a different approach, I think, than we’ve got right now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Matt, you’re always welcome here. The green carpet is out for you. You really are an amazing human being, and all the work you’ve done with your colleagues at Global Green. For our listeners out there, again, please go to Matt’s website, www.globalgreen.org. Get involved. Donate, subscribe, learn more about the great work they’re doing, and pick a subject or pick a topic that really interests you, and take some ownership. It’s really our world to save and to work on and to leave a better legacy behind. Matt Petersen, again, you’re a visionary and a sustainability leader, and truly living proof that green is good.