The greener, the wiser

SN&R chats with Julia Burrows, new head of the mayor’s Greenwise Joint Venture environmental nonprofit

Greenwise Joint Venture executive director Julia Burrows brings 20 years of experience to the table—a table hopefully made of reclaimed wood and eco-friendly products.

Greenwise Joint Venture executive director Julia Burrows brings 20 years of experience to the table—a table hopefully made of reclaimed wood and eco-friendly products.

Photo By PHOTO BY William Leung

“Emerald City” is Mayor Kevin Johnson’s follow-the-green-brick-road vision for a clean air, smart water-use, green-tech and eco-minded future here in Sacramento.

But talking about an emerald city and actually becoming one are two very different worlds. The mayor launched his Greenwise Sacramento environmental campaign in 2010, and new executive director, Julia Burrows, now leads the charge. This past February, Greenwise Joint Venture even received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

But there’s still a mountain of work to be done. More than 100 action items, in fact. SN&R spoke with Burrows to get an update on the city’s sustainability campaign.

Some of our readers aren’t up to speed with Greenwise. So, why don’t you talk about its genesis, and what you’re up to now?

OK, so Mayor Kevin Johnson launched Greenwise in May 2010, and the purpose was to come up with a shared vision for our region to become the greenest region in the country and a hub for clean technology. He appointed a leadership council, and we had five policy committees that met over an eight-month period to develop a regional action plan. …

Today, we have four purposes as Greenwise Joint Venture. The first is to continue to convene, coordinate and align leaders in the region, so we’re going to keep the speaker series; we’re going to have working groups. … Second, to obviously implement the regional action plan, so we have this hundred-page document with 103 actions in it, in economy engagement and environment.

How do groups such as SMUD and Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the Sacramento Tree Foundation, which have large staffs and that are doing big things, fit in with Greenwise?

In the case of the tree planting, for us it’s making more connections for them—and that’s an easy one to explain, because it’s kind of ramping up and making sure that because we have a common goal … we’re going to support them in planting trees and help with marketing, help with contacts for potential sponsors, and just trying to make sure that it’s on the radar of people like Mayor Johnson to show up at events.

When you have a project like “smart grid” and the region … if I’m meeting with somebody—if I know what SMUD is doing, if I know what [Sacramento] State is doing—I can be part of the storytelling, because I may come in contact with people that they don’t, I’m part of their marketing arm. …

I think that’s really going to be a great added value out of Greenwise, that we’re going to fund the “funder”—the funding scout—and we’re going to help edit grant applications and polish them.

I think that bringing the Greenwise speakers was very inspirational and cool, but to me, there was always this kind of bizarre disconnect, which is we want to make Sacramento the greenest city ever, people are ready to put up signs in the airport proclaiming that we are the greenest city ever, and yet the amount of water we use is 300 cubic gallons per person.

Compared to Southern California, which is 100. …

You have to set those goals, or else you’ll never get there. And water, the state mandate is there, and—in listening to the folks involved in that—there was no way you could set a goal that was stiffer than what the state’s requiring. …

We’re going to try our best to work with the air districts, work with the cleaner-air partnership, work with John Woodling over at the Regional Water Authority. … But you’re right, [Greenwise’s action items are] almost so broad that it’s a bit daunting. But then again, if you don’t set goals and you don’t have people continuously have people talking about it, then we’re not going to move the dial.

The engagement was excellent at Greenwise. But then sometimes we were in this situation where we were discussing something, but none of us were experts. It was like having a discussion on how to diagnose a patient, all six of us contributed, but only one of us went to medical school.

(Laughs.) I sat in on some of those. …

I’m trying to figure out who the champions are. … But to actually have the people and ask, “What are you guys doing and what could we be doing?” I think that would be great—and starting with water, starting with the water folks.

But are there any major water-conservation campaigns going on right now in Sacramento?

I am not aware of one.

Well, that’s my point.

I’ve seen fractured water campaigns going on, like if you’re in Yolo County, they’ve got their water campaign, and if you’re in Roseville, they’ve got their water campaign. But if the idea is to get everyone in the region together in the same room.

So, how do we go to that next level? It’s not difficult. It’s not difficult to turn off your sprinklers in November, because it’s going to rain enough between now and April that you don’t need to have water.

And if it is a little brown, so what? Get used to that look. …

If I were to ask you who the environmental leader in the region is, who is it?

Doris Matsui. But the city could do a lot. They are talking big, but they are not doing the basic things that they should be doing.

This has been a really valuable conversation, it really has. With my economic background, I am going around and saying financing is key. But this really is about the big picture, the whole portfolio of things, and making sure that we take advantage of opportunities that are right there in front of us.

And you know what that means? That means time. That’s what it takes; it takes time to ask, time to prioritize, and then time to change the dial. And some resources.