EcoDistricts: Revitalizing Cities From the Neighborhood Up

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 8.15.25 AMAs populations have grown and societies have developed, there has been a global shift towards urban centers. This creates new environmental and social challenges as people are living closer together than they ever have before. Rob Bennet, founder and CEO of EcoDistricts, is trying to dig into this problem and proactively solve it from the bottom up. Bennet joined us for a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation, hosted by the Bard MBA in Sustainability, and he shared with us the inspiring work he doing with EcoDistricts.

Based out of Portland, Oregon, EcoDistricts is focused on one simple idea: in order to accelerate the sustainable city agenda, we need to look at the neighborhood level. At the neighborhood level, there is a tremendous amount of investment that either allows a neighborhood to work or not work. Bennet’s mission is to crack into the sectors that make those investments and encourage them and build systems to encourage the implementation of sustainable outcomes. This is not an easy task. Bennet says that EcoDistrict’s goal is to be a disrupting force.

So, EcoDistrict’s mission is pretty clear: create public-private partnerships with the goal of promoting sustainable development at the neighborhoodScreen Shot 2014-03-03 at 8.15.52 AM level; but what exactly is their role in this process? Bennet says that as a non-profit intermediary EcoDistricts gives definition and clarity of performance and rewarding excellence within the space. Without this, the EcoDistrict movement would be very disorganized. They are developing frameworks, performance areas, and pilot programs, which has allowed the movement to scale up and find success transnationally.

Right now, EcoDistricts is working on a pilot program called Target City in Portland. Bennet says that this is an opportunity to define success and work with catalytic projects so other “ecodistricts” have something to model after. Target City consists of a deep two-year engagement, a summit, and trainings. The goal is build a cross disciplinary army of champions. Bennet shared with us that one of the biggest challenges EcoDistricts faces is being clear about all of the sectors that matter and engaging with them. This is more difficult than it sounds because most of the sectors that need to be involved work within their own industry but don’t see themselves as part of a bigger ecosystem.

Overall, EcoDistricts has seen tremendous success, starting in Portland and spreading across the world. Check out their website to learn more and see how you can get involved.


Listen to the audio from this conversation here.


Join us for our next Sustainable Business Fridays conversation on March 7th. We’re talking with David J. Tulauskas, Director of Sustainability for General Motors Co. Dave will focus on his team’s efforts to further embed sustainability into GM’s business through activities such as goal setting and sustainability reporting.


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