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C200: How To Wrap Five Eggs

2011 March 28
by Joshua Curtis

< The Joseph Vance Building in downtown Seattle has reportedly reduced heating costs by 56 percent since undergoing energy retrofits; photo: Dan Bertolet >

When I was a child, my parents owned the book “How to Wrap 5 Eggs” by Hideyuki Oka (and the subsequent, aptly named, “How to Wrap 5 More Eggs”), which they displayed proudly on our wicker coffee table. I recall afternoons spent perusing those pages of designs that were stark, efficient, elegant, and simple. While celebrating a natural form of handcraft now largely lost, these designs conveyed a deep and resonant message: when you are presented limitations, you are provided the opportunity to create.

The lesson of wrapping 5 eggs is particularly appropriate to today’s nascent energy efficiency industry. The core challenge: how do you incentivize home and building owners to improve the efficiency of their buildings in the wake of a real estate crash?

The allure of energy efficiency is not hard to understand. Environmentalists see energy efficiency as a way to achieve reductions in greenhouse gases. Entrepreneurs and investors see these reductions as a source of revenue, if only captured in the right financing models. Labor unions see jobs for their deep benches of unemployed members, while social justice advocates see opportunities for career pathways out of poverty. All are excited for the opportunity that recent government investments provide to create an industry in which all of these values converge.

Standing up this industry is not without its challenges, but I believe Seattle is leading the national charge. Local groups such as Seattle 2030 District and Better Bricks are leveraging innovation and entrepreneurial spirit to create local momentum. Emerald Cities Seattle, a local affiliate of the national Emerald Cities movement, has brought labor, community, and business to the table to develop workforce and marketplace strategies. The program that I manage with the City of Seattle, Community Power Works, is developing and supporting financing models for six building sectors while creating living wage job opportunities for our community.

This is a time of innovation and excitement in the energy efficiency sector, as well as big hopes. That we are constrained by certain financial realities provides us the impetus to be even more creative. There are, after all, many ways to wrap 5 eggs.

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Joshua Curtis manages the Community Power Works program for the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment. He is former Executive Director, and current board member, of Great City, a green urbanist non-profit.

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