Why is there a need for something like The Sustainability Exchange?
Daley: Everybody has problems with infrastructure. Whether it's a port, rail, water, lighting, waste — this is part of the sustainability effort that we're looking at. We're looking at working with groups of cities to identify the project, raise the capital from the private sector as well as the public, and document the results.
Healey: Most cities are not New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. They don't have either the technical or financial resources to plan out and implement these kinds of projects. The Sustainability Exchange creates a platform that allows cities to come together to access national expertise in these areas — at no cost to them — with the goal of executing a transaction in a much compressed time frame.
Is it fair to say that the exchange is focused on changes that will save municipalities money over the long term?
Daley: That's right. The areas we're looking at are energy efficiency, water treatment, waste management, and transportation.
What's going on here other than the collection and sharing of data about city assets?
Healey: We've started to bring together expert resources — including at Harvard and Arizona State University — to take that raw data and enhance it. So what you're putting out to the private sector is so much better than a typical city RFP [request for proposal]: Here are my buildings, they have lights, tell me what I should do. It's a much more specific RFP developed as a result of identification of needs.
Daley: I think a lot of cities are afraid to invest. You spend a huge amount on the project, and then four or five years later, there's a whole new project out there that's going to save more money.
Healey: Is it the best, most current of the technologies in the marketplace? We had one mayor recently tell us that he was on his third consultant for looking at a streetlight project — all private consultants for LED companies — and he had gotten three different recommendations.
What's an example of a project that the exchange could make possible?
Healey: There are a couple of real-life examples. One is the purchase of LED street lighting. It would make sense for cities to work together within the same footprint of a utility company. That's something that we help them with, to understand the regulatory environment. And then we bring cities together to take a look at separate transactions that, jointly, price like one.
Another example happened just recently. In a morning meeting in Newton, Massachusetts, the mayor says, "We're interested in anaerobic digestion; we want to do something in our community to recycle food waste." We had the same meeting 30 minutes later in another suburb. Why would you do two or three anaerobic digestion plants when it would make sense to do one, with a documented feedstock from three separate communities? It becomes much more financeable and efficient.