Yes, we will

Sacramento must create a sustainable future

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His new column, Greenlight, will appear in this space weekly.

The idea that my papers should each have sustainability sections came to me several years ago, at my kitchen table.

My daughter, Natasha, then in junior high, sat down with me to discuss her concerns about global warming. As a father, I felt I was able to reassure her that her junior-high years would pass naturally. But global warming? Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to say.

What could I say, when it was my own generation that sat back and did nothing about the global crisis of climate change?

Shortly after that kitchen-table discussion, I saw Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth at the Tower Theatre. It was during that movie that I realized we had to do something. And I knew that the nearly half million people who read my three papers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno would feel the same way. I knew our readers would want to look for ways to effect positive change because, just like me, they’d like to be part of the global solution to this crisis.

I met with my editors at SN&R, CN&R and RN&R, and we decided to add a sustainability section to all three papers to provide accurate, well-researched sustainability stories and break through all the “greenwash.”

Since that time, I’ve met more than 300 people in the sustainability field. I’ve talked to people who are running the landfills, operating the water infrastructure, and working with transportation, landscaping, and energy systems. I met with Cabinet secretaries and elected officials. Throughout this process, I saw both wonderful progress and horrendous inaction.

I felt great hope when we held an eco-charette at our Sacramento offices and convened people from the county, the landfills, leaders from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore and various developers. To have all of these people come together for the first time and engage in a two-hour discussion on landfill waste reduction made me proud. It was a thrill to see smart, dedicated individuals discuss solving important environmental problems in our offices. And to hear the county’s solid waste planner, Dave Ghirardelli, talk so passionately about the need to reduce lumber wood waste in construction and demolition really emphasized to me what it means to be a public servant.

On the other hand, it has been discouraging to see California suffer a severe drought, with clear water shortages, and fail to meet water reductions and water audits previously agreed upon. And it is even more disheartening to see the failure of multiple water agencies to agree upon and implement positive changes because of self-imposed roadblocks.

Starting with this column, I’ll be able to share my discoveries in the local sustainability arena with you, our readers. My hope is to explore with you what people in different realms are doing to move our society toward sustainability.

At the next kitchen-table discussion with my daughter, at least I’ll be able to say I’m doing my part.