August 1, 2013 By Colin Wood
Cities at a loss on how to tackle elements of an environmental project may have a new resource to tap into — The Sustainability Exchange (TSE).
TSE launched on June 24 and is led by former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Lori Healey, his former chief of staff. The organization’s goal is to provide solutions to many of the problems that cities face when trying to deploy new sustainability projects involving waste, energy, water or transportation.
The Exchange helps cities become more efficient with environmental tasks by enabling collaboration between them, establishing best practices and connecting municipal leaders with technical, legal and financial experts. Cities can take part in TSE at no initial cost and seek advice on projects in the areas of energy efficiency, water and wastewater treatment, waste management and public transportation.
Healey said procurement regulations that cities have in place are ornery and while bidding on commodities such as paper towels or pencils is fairly easy, it’s not as straightforward for environmental technology purchases.
For example, if a city needed to purchase LED bulbs for its streetlights, Healey said a city would put out an RFP to attract a consultant for the project, because most cities don’t have an LED expert. That selection process could take months, followed by a study on the project that could last more than a year. Once recommendations from the study are received, it could take another couple of years to put together a second RFP and find an LED vendor that could take on the contract.
“So you’re basically three to four years down the trail from the time you decided you wanted to switch out your LED streetlights and you’re eight technologies behind by that point,” Healey said.
The procurement process for sustainability projects also can be problematic for businesses. Healey said there are only a few large companies with the resources to dedicate to large municipal contracts because of how long and time-consuming the process is. That can lead to smaller companies sometimes getting left out and cities having fewer options to choose from.
TSE is in discussions with more than 50 cities in 12 states about joining the partnership, Healey said. According to TSE’s website, the mayors from New Orleans, Phoenix and other cities have expressed their support for the organization’s ideals.
Healey added that two cities near Boston are looking at solutions for anaerobic digestion in their waste management plants, but don’t know where to start. TSE may be able to help those cities work together.
TSE is developing a platform that should assist municipalities get to market faster on sustainable projects. Over time, Healey believes TSE will develop a suite of solutions where a mayor can come to the organization with an idea and use the group’s industry connections to get the project done faster and more efficiently.
“The great thing about our platform is it does not cost cities anything until the time there’s a financeable project or transaction they want to do, in which some of the savings the city realized … goes back into the exchange to help finance the best practices library we want to bring to a national level,” Healey said.