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IRA FLATOW, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're broadcasting today from Cambridge, Massachusetts as part of the week-long Cambridge Science Festival, home to such prestigious universities as Harvard and MIT. Cambridge is the kind of town where all this brainpower can be harnessed to solve problems outside the confines of laboratories and classrooms, and the city of Cambridge can become a testing ground for new ideas such as this one.

Consider the problem of global warming. While you may be wrestling with ways to use less energy and decrease your carbon footprint, the good folks here in Cambridge decided to take this idea one step further. What if a whole city decided to shrink its carbon footprint, cutting electricity and water use and in the process the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Could a city make a real impact? And thinking even bigger now, what if that city's bold experiment worked so well that other cities, even states around the country, created their own energy plans?

Well, that's exactly what the city of Cambridge hopes will happen. Last month the city unveiled an ambitious energy efficiency program guided by the newly formed Cambridge Energy Alliance. The plan went public in a big way. It was launched by city officials; it was endorsed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick with the hopes that what this city does will be a model for other large-scale energy conservation efforts.

So this hour, we're going to talk about Cambridge's new energy plan, what residents will be asked to do, how the universities will contribute and why this is the perfect place to undertake this experiment.

Plus a little bit later in the hour, guidelines for building green. If you want to build a green building, there's no better place to start than where we're broadcasting from, the Genzyme Center here in Cambridge. It is an eco-friendly building that has few peers to this building anywhere in the country, and we'll talk about why that is, and if you'd like to join our discussion, give us a call.

Our number is 1-800-989-8255, that's 1-800-989-TALK, and if you're here in the audience in Cambridge, have a question to ask, go to the microphone, please, because no one will go, then everybody will go there, and you'll miss out on your chance to ask a question. Those floodgates open and then it gets pretty crowded. So get up there and vote early and often.

Let me introduce my guests. Susan Hockfield is the president of MIT, and she's here with us in our studios, I should say, open-air studios. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Dr. Hockfield.

Dr. SUSAN HOCKFIELD (President, Massachusetts Institute of Technology): It's great to be here.

FLATOW: Rob Pratt is senior vice president at the Henry P. Kendall Foundation in Boston. Welcome to the program.

Mr. ROB PRATT (Henry P. Kendall Foundation): Thank you. Good to be here.

FLATOW: Next on our list is Susanne Rasmussen, who is director of the environmental and transportation planning for the city of Cambridge. Welcome to the program.

Ms. SUSANNE RASMUSSEN (Director, Environmental and Transportation Planning, Cambridge, Massachusetts): Thank you.

FLATOW: And John - Jack Spengler is co-chair of the Harvard Green Campus Initiative and professor of environmental health and human habitation at Harvard University School of Public Health right here in Cambridge. Welcome to the program, Dr. Spengler.

Dr. JOHN SPENGLER (Harvard University): Nice to meet you in person.

FLATOW: You're welcome. And let me begin with you, Rob Pratt. You're one of the plan's architect's of this plans. Tell us what the main goals are in Cambridge here.

Mr. PRATT: The main goal is to take Cambridge and make it into one of the big green cities with a $100 million energy-efficiency implementation program. We're calling it a massive energy-efficiency implementation program, and we're using mostly private financing in order to get there.

FLATOW: And why is Cambridge a good place for this?

Mr. PRATT: We felt that with Harvard, with MIT, with the citizens in Cambridge being people that would really step to the fore, we could really achieve things that have never been done before.

FLATOW: Susanne Rasmussen, Cambridge has already taken steps, right?

Ms. RASMUSSEN: That's right. We've actually been working on climate change since back in 1999, when we first decided that climate change actually was really happening, and we back then set a goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2010, and we've been doing a lot of different programs.

We have green fleets policies, we have a commitment that the city will only do new construction and renovation that will meet green building principles. We have a very comprehensive recycling program and a new organic waste composting program, and I can go on and on.

FLATOW: The city is primed then for something like this?

Ms. RASMUSSEN: We're definitely ready, and we knew from looking at our greenhouse gas inventory, which we did as part of our original climate plan, that in fact 80 percent of our emissions in the city come from building energy use, and that's an area we traditionally have not worked a lot in and therefore this was the place to go with our next efforts.

FLATOW: And Dr. Hockfield, in your role as MIT president, you have spoken a lot about the current energy crisis. You've called it one of the must urgent challenges of our time, I think akin to the race to the moon. Tell us more why you think that is.

Dr. HOCKFIELD: Well, I could rehearse for everyone the incredible pressing demands that are increasing. We're, you know, globally we're on track to double our energy use by 2050. China alone is increasing its energy use by 10 percent a year. On top of increasing demand, we have security issues with our current sources for energy, and beyond that we have very serious environmental concerns, and I think altogether I think as a nation people kind of awakened to the fact that we've got to get moving on this, and the thing we lack right now I believe is commitment.

FLATOW: So what is the role of a big research institute like MIT in this whole picture?

Dr. HOCKFIELD: Well, we kicked off MIT's energy initiative about two years ago with a big study, and you know, our feeling is that we can contribute importantly to solving some of the great energy challenges before us, not in every possible domain, but as people know, MIT is a real fount of technological and scientific and actually policy innovation, and we're taking on some of the major challenges on-campus in a cross-campus activity.

FLATOW: How do you decide what to focus on? I mean, there's so much, as you say, that's crying out for attention.

Dr. HOCKFIELD: Well, the Energy Research Counsel recommended that we focus on three big things. The first is new technologies, and in that new technology domain we're going to be looking very seriously at solar, at biofuels and also at storage, where there are fantastic opportunities, and because energy storage, batteries is the rate-limiting technology for all alternative energies, we think that's a place where we need work and where MIT is well positioned to participate.

The second is that we need changes in the short term. So the second theme is improving current technologies in the near term, and in that theme we're focusing on clean coal, on carbon capture and sequestration, and on nuclear. And then the third theme is the challenges that are posed by the emerging economies. We have these marvelous economies that are developing cities and transportation structures, but if they build them the way the developed economies had built them, everyone will be the worse off. So we're - in that domain we're looking at construction and transportation as areas where we think we can really make major contributions.

FLATOW: That's a lot of work. That's a lot of research, yeah.

Dr. HOCKFIELD: It's a lot of work. We've got a lot of faculty, but more importantly, we've got a lot of students who are absolutely passionate about this. The big, you know, message I think that's come out of our study is that facing these challenges will require a portfolio of solutions. There's not one solution that's going to solve this, you know, for everyone and around the world, and we really need to serious about the portfolio. I describe it as a sprint and a marathon.

FLATOW: It's amazing. Every time we do a program about energy, we get young people really interested with solutions. They've come up with incredible ideas.

Dr. HOCKFIELD: Yeah, our students are just amazing. A group of MIT students won the Ecomagination Challenge with a project to convert the cooking fat that's used around campus into biofuel for our shuttle bus, and you know, it's a marvelous example of the cleverness of the MIT students and the practicality of the solutions.

FLATOW: Not to forget there's another university in this town.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. HOCKFIELD: There is?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Let me talk to...

Dr. SPENGLER: Right up the street - MIT Junior College.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: The junior college. Let me talk to - that's Jack Spengler. At Harvard, that other place, you're taking steps to green the campus. You're co-chair of the Harvard Green Campus Initiative. Tell us about that. What's going on at Harvard?

Dr. SPENGLER: Well, this is an initiative that started with a very simple idea that you're hearing resonate at this - in this panel. And that is we live in the community, the Cambridge-Boston community, we're part of that. We bring special features to that community and that we must do it better. And we must serve as an example to the rest of the nation and the world.

So the Green Campus initiative started with that concept of changing the culture within our own institution, to put front and center of the issues of sustainability. And so we have 20 full-time, bright young professionals working for us and 50 or so students that are on part-time payroll and dozens of people whose professional jobs are being redefined under this process of making us more sustainable.

FLATOW: Do you go around the campus and think of ways to reduce the carbon footprint?

Dr. SPENGLER: Well, we had a curious challenge. Our former president, Larry Summers, didn't want this to go forward just because it felt good. It had to really pay to the bottom line. He is an economist, as you know. And so as a result, it had us looking for clients effectively, internal clients. And we had to prove the business model case, which I think strengthened our acceptability and our entrance. So we have to go to Harvard real estate, Harvard transportation, Harvard food services, and get them to cooperate with us and pay for some of those services that we can provide, and get those returns...

FLATOW: So you have to prove it's good business model also.

Dr. SPENGLER: Yeah.

FLATOW: You just can't, you know, that being green and saving energy can work sustainably.

Dr. SPENGLER: That certainly is the drive that motivates some of our actions.

FLATOW: And how were you doing so far?

Dr. SPENGLER: Well, so far I could put a few numbers to it. We have maybe a payroll of a million dollars in a year and we're saving the university $6 million a year.

FLATOW: Really here. In energy savings?

Dr. SPENGLER: In energy savings, and water savings and recycling costs when you add them all up. So just our environmental loan fund was doubled twice by President Summers and he said that it beats the endowment. It pays back to the university at rates of 35 percent, where endowments are earning 20 percent. So this - there's a strong, I think, financial imperative that can - that says this works.

FLATOW: And it's just the beginning; you think, this could be - this could expand and have a greater payback, or are you at the top?

Dr. SPENGLER: Well, I think, we've done - we've done some of the easier things. Let's put it that way. I think when really talk about deep cuts, not just the eight percent reductions, the 60 percent reductions, this is going to hurt. And it may not be these great returns, or we have to change our whole concept of what we think payback should be.

The paybacks aren't one year or two years, five years. The paybacks are really 20, 50 years in the future.

FLATOW: I'm talking with Jack Spengler, co-chair of the Harvard Green Campus Initiative; Susanne Rasmussen, director of Environmental and Transportation Planning for the city of Cambridge; Rob Pratt, senior vice president at the Henry P. Kendall Foundation in Boston; and Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology right here, right down the block a piece.

We're going to take a short break. We advise you here to step up to the microphone and ask a question if you'd like. Also, if you're listening where you are via telephone, our number is 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK. If you like to get some questions or suggestions about what you're doing in your town to save energy. We're going to take a short break and be right back. Stay with us.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about Cambridge Massachusetts new energy plan with Susan Hockfield, president of MIT; Rob Pratt, senior vice president at the Henry P. Kendall Foundation; Susanne Rasmussen, director of the environmental and transportation planning for the city of Cambridge; and John Spengler, co-chair of Harvard Green Campus Initiative; and Jack Spengler is also professor of environmental health and human habitation at Harvard University School of Public School.

Well, it looks like something on your business card. No room left.

Our number, 1-800-989-8255. We do have a question here in the audience. Okay, let's go to the audience. Yes, ma'am.

Ms. HENRIETTA DAVIS (Audience Member): Yes, I'm wondering - I'm Henrietta Davis, I'm a city councilor in Cambridge, and our goal here is to reach half of our households with energy efficiency. Energy efficiency has typically been a kind of a middle class pursuit and a pursuit for people who have maybe a little bit of extra change. How - I'm wondering - do our experts feel about reaching out to the entire population and getting that energy efficiency actually to the people who really needs to save the money as well as to save the environment?

FLATOW: Anybody? Dr. Rasmussen, talk about that?

Dr. RASMUSSEN: Well, first off, we feel good about it because we definitely plan on having this project reach out to everyone. And the plan on the project is that we would be able to offer zero interest or very, very low interest loans to residential customers, which will make it much, much easier for them to participate in these kinds of programs. Once the financing is in place to finance the entirety of what's going to be done, and then when the time comes to pay off the loan, it will be paid off by the savings - the earning in reduced energy costs. So it overcomes barriers that exist now in sort of standard utility-sponsored programs where you often have to lay out a lot of your own funds.

FLATOW: Does that answer your question?

Ms. DAVIS: It does. It does. I still think there may be more challenges and I wonder - I guess I'm asking the experts to think deeply about how you communicate about these issues as well. And I wonder if there are other thoughts on that.

FLATOW: Let me ask President Hockfield.

Dr. HOCKFIELD: You know, Henrietta, yeah, I think these are - it's important to drive this initiative through the entire population because you and I share a passion for bringing the kids of the city into science technology, mathematics, getting them to pay attention to these parts of the school curriculum that they may not. And I think, you know, creating a situation where in households, you know, around the city, kids are going to see the product of changing technology is an important way of getting them excited about what science and technology can do for them, what they can do for the world. So you know, I love this new project in a way of really bringing kids into, you know, the kind of interests that are near and dear to all of our hearts.

FLATOW: Jack Spengler?

Dr. SPENGLER: It just made me think that utilizing the technology that comes out of a school like MIT might provide the sort of censor feedbacks that help people to be motivated, and if they really see the benefits of what they're achieving, so...

FLATOW: Is there an educational component to the kids in Cambridge who - you know, if you get the plan going, do you teach this plan in school and we make them aware what's going on? I think like - Susanne?

Dr. RASMUSSEN: We're definitely working on doing outreach in every which way possible and the schools will be a key way of doing that. And the kids have already started, actually. We've got a very successful series of projects in a lot of the elementary schools where the kids have been actually selling compact fluorescent light bulbs and through that process earning money for their own activities at school. So a lot of kids in first, second, third grade already know everything there is to know about why you should put in compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

FLATOW: Rob Pratt?

Mr. PRATT: Just to put this in perspective, we've never had a 50 percent penetration rate in a larger city. So this is a big goal. And we're going to be canvassing neighborhoods. We're going to be working in almost a political campaign-like environment. They're be decals on the doors so that people can really know who's participating, because this is all about climate change, to show what can be done to reduce emissions.

FLATOW: Let me go to the phones, 1-800-989-8255. Francesca in Indiana. Hi, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

FRANCESCA (Caller): Hi.

FLATOW: Hi, go ahead.

FRANCESCA: Okay, well, my question is a little technical. I am doing a greenhouse gas inventory for my university, and we're in a slightly less progressive state, Indiana, and I come up against a bit of a wall dealing with administrators because our energy billing situation is a bit strange. We're billed for peak usage every day and not number is aggregated into our monthly bill. So there's very little financial incentive to reduce energy use because we're build by the peak.

So I'm just wondering what other incentives can be offered for reducing overall energy use on campus?

FLATOW: Let's see if I can get an answer. John?

Dr. SPENGLER: I'll tell you a few things that worked at Harvard. First of all, we're fortunate because every building is metered so we really know the cost over time and in total. And we use this information as part of a competition across the dormitories. And students compete in a way to bring their house in as the most greenest dormitory on campus. And this has to be reinforced with information and metering and motivation, but it really has paid off; in fact, some hundred thousand dollars have - in energy savings has resulted in the Harvard dormitories once these programs were instituted.

FLATOW: President Hockfield, is it similar on MIT? What kind of incentives do you have on MIT to switch over to something that's - or you indeed depend on the city itself to get you going?

Dr. HOCKFIELD: We are actually part of - a major part of our energy initiative is a committee of faculties, students and staff called the Walk the Talk Committee, to you know, really engage in a serious way, you know, how we can bring change on campus. And what we find is putting the students to work coming up with innovations is a great way to get started, and we view the campus as, you know, a laboratory.

FLATOW: Rob Pratt, who pays for all of this stuff?

Mr. PRATT: Most of it, 80 percent of it is privately financed. And what we're doing is, because the default rates are very low and these kind of shared energy savings programs, we actually can take a limited amount of public money, put that up and then through private finance we're able to do a $70 million revolving line of credit. And then as energy financing occurs with different projects and hospitals and schools and universities, the savings go back into the revolving fund. And because the default rate is low, we can get actually very attractive financing rates from life insurance companies, annuity players, pension players and so forth.

FLATOW: Dr. Hockfield, the city of Cambridge hopes this plan will serve as a model for other cities and states. Can MIT's efforts be a model for a national response for its energy challenges around the country?

Dr. HOCKFIELD: Well, I think, you know, everyone has to do his or her part. And I think that what MIT is doing on its campus I hope will serve as a model for other educational institutions. One of the things that we find exciting about our energy initiative is that it reaches across all disciplines, all departments, all schools. These energy problems are complex system-wide problems and to really tackle them in a serious, practical way, you've got to bring together the scientists, the engineers, the people in business school, the economists, political scientists.

And you know, that kind of cross-cutting activity, while it sounds easy, is often not so easy to do, and through the work of the energy initiative, we're finding new teams of players coming together. So it's exciting.

The other thing that I think all of us have experienced in our campuses, as you mentioned earlier, the vast enthusiasm of our students. We have a couple of students who last year decided that they would bring together students from around the world who had competed in the solar car race across Australia, and rather than competing they would come to campus and build new vehicles together, collaborate to produce some vehicles that could get the equivalent of over 300 miles per gallon. By the end of the summer, they brought this group together. By the end of the summer they had four such vehicles, and their work continues through the year.

So our students have not just enthusiasm but ambition and hard work at a level that, you know, is often hard to, you know, really understand. It's just fantastic. So I think bringing the students into the solution, as clearly has happened at Harvard, is a real recipe for success.

FLATOW: Well, I know as the president of MIT you're a very busy person. I want to take you taking time to be with us.

Dr. HOCKFIELD: It's been a pleasure to be part of this.

FLATOW: Thank you. I'll let you go, you have to leave.

1-800-989-8255, let's go the lady at the mic there.

KATE BERNHARDT (Audience Member): Hi, I'm Kate Bernhardt, and my question really has to do with I'm hearing a lot about outreach to households and to individuals and to the two academic institutions here. But what about the corporate buy-in and what - I think I'm sort of looking for - what's the proportion of change that you're looking for from the corporate sector, and how's that going?

Mr. PRATT: We've had great enthusiasm from the corporate sector. This is the best way rally to stabilize your energy crisis. When you think about it, we're having more and more imports - energy prices are going to go up. That is not going to change. This is not only a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it's also the best way to reduce pricing.

So very important. And so the corporate - I would expect of the 25 largest employers in Cambridge, we'll get 90 percent of them participating.

FLATOW: Wow. Dr. Rasmussen, go ahead.

Dr. RASMUSSEN: If I could just add, we've been working on a small program prior to the launch of the Cambridge Energy Alliance, which we call Climate Leader Program. And we've worked with businesses and offered them some limited technical assistance and also recognition for stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing. And we had great enthusiasm, lots of interest in the program, and we have already more than 20 businesses signed up as Cambridge climate leaders. And I think this program, which is so much more comprehensive, will really spur the interest in the business community.

FLATOW: Jack?

Dr. SPENGLER: Sure. People in Boston know of Harvard's plans to build a new campus in Alston, which is the Boston side, over by the business school. So there's nothing like 20 - 10 to 20 million square feet of new space being designed and built to get attention of the corporate private sectors. And I think it is establishing a new mode of interaction with those. We want those people that are committed to build green and to operate green. And this is a major incentive.

FLATOW: Speaking of Boston, that city is just across the river. I mean...

Dr. SPENGLER: That's right.

FLATOW: ...are they looking at you, at this plan? Are they watching it? Are they taking notes?

Dr. SPENGLER: They're clearly watching it. In fact, there's this great support. This sort of brings us to a common point of interest with both Cambridge and Boston. The mayor of Boston, a few years ago, had a green building task force. In fact, we met in this building that we're in right now for one of our meetings. And it turned out as a result of that, the city of Boston is the first in the country to require LEED certification; that's a high-performance certification of not only public buildings but privately-financed buildings. So this community, I think, is resonating on this issue of sustainability.

FLATOW: Rob?

Mr. PRATT: Mayor Menino has announced that Boston is going to proceed with a half a billion dollar program very similar to this called the Boston Energy Alliance. And so we're working very closely with them and we anticipate to roll out projects probably about nine months after Cambridge.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to San Francisco. Chuck. Hi. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

CHUCK (Caller): Hi. Thanks very much. It seems to me that cities are logical early adopters for a lot of alternative vehicle technologies, given that buses and garbage trucks and the like run on predictable routes and have a kind of a limited range. And so I'm wondering to what extent you guys are going to do something along those lines. And also it seems that if you could come up with some sort of preferred parking arrangement in congested areas that would encourage the development of small, low-emission urban vehicles and maybe even provide charging facilities, that also might be an interesting thing to consider.

FLATOW: Dr. Rasmussen?

Dr. RASMUSSEN: On the issue of the larger city vehicles using alternative technology, unfortunately that technology has not arrived yet. But you're absolutely right that the cities are very compact and the routes are compact, so battery technology is something that could be used once it becomes available for these large-scale type of vehicles.

In terms of the preferential parking programs, it's a little challenging to think about programs where we provide special benefits to people for parking. In fact, in Cambridge we have been very, very focused on providing benefits to people who use other forms of transportation rather than driving. So we have very strong incentive programs to help people walk when they can, bike when they can, and take transit when they can.

But in the communities where it's more difficult to use those modes of transportation, it would perhaps be a good idea to try to provide incentives for alternative fuel vehicles.

FLATOW: We're talking about green energy in this hour from Cambridge. We want to see what Cambridge is doing to try to become the greenest state - the greenest city in the country, we'll call it - on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

I'm Ira Flatow in Cambridge. Our number, 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to the mic.

Unidentified Woman: Hi. I'm a - I live outside of Boston and I commute into Cambridge for work. Actually, it's a perfect question to follow what Susanne was just saying. I'm a cycle commuter whenever the weather is appropriate around here. And being in the Northeast, we get some nasty weather, like today.

One thing that's kind of an issue is, you know, we're up in - we have long, hard winters to deal with. How do you - have you thought of part of a strategy to accommodate or to approach alternative commuters who cycle or walk in the nine or 10 months of the year that they can for how to handle those other two months, what do to?

FLATOW: Incentives for - what would you need? What would you like? Come on, you're here. You've got the call on in.

Unidentified Woman: I don't really have an answer. My question is more, you know, specifically have you given some thought to, you know, that's a problem that I think we as a region face and sort of how to convince people to, you know, it's raining, get on your bike anyway, walk anyway, get an umbrella. What - that's sort of the general direction of my question.

FLATOW: Jack, do you have an answer?

Dr. SPENGLER: I did a sabbatical in Denmark and I know it can be done at all times of the year to get people to choose bicycles over cars. But if - but we should look for models for this. I think it's a great question. Toronto is having a concerted effort to increase the non-motorized transportation and that means bicycles for the most part. And so it has to be done safer. It has to be done more convenient and reliable. And so there are some challenges...

FLATOW: Some of these places you loan your bike. I mean you don't own the bike; you pick it up off a rack and leave it on another rack, right?

Dr. SPENGLER: That's true and several cities have that program in place. I think there would be diffusion out of the city. I think that's what would happen.

FLATOW: Susan, I got a minute for the break. I...

Dr. HOCKFIELD: I think something else that you might need is better public transportation, and that's something that we are trying to work very hard on because it really is the most effective way to get a very large group of people to switch modes.

But I also want us to just putting in a little plug for a new - brand new service we have in Cambridge called GoLoco, which is a unique service to help people share their cars, either as passengers or as drivers. And it's an online reservation system, and you can go to GoLoco.org and learn more about it. But it's another way to give people alternatives to taking their own car and driving alone.

FLATOW: So it's sophisticated carpooling?

Dr. HOCKFIELD: That's right. Exactly right.

FLATOW: And you need to use the Internet. That's interesting. We'll talk a little bit more about it. We have to take a break. We're talking about Cambridge, Massachusetts becoming a green city and a model for the rest of the country. We're here at the Genzyme Building in Cambridge. We're going to come back and take lots more of your questions. Stay on the line, and if you're here in the audience, step up to the mic. We'll be right back after this short break.

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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're in Cambridge, Massachusetts, talking about the city's new energy plan. And let's get it to a bit of specifics, Rob Pratt, who is senior vice president at Henry P. Kendall Foundation. If I lived here and I wanted to participate in this plan, what would I be asked to do?

Mr. PRATT: We will have an installer go around to the various residences and so forth. We'll offer to totally replace all your lighting with energy-efficient lighting. You can replace your refrigerator, your windows even. So it could be something where you make $300 or $400 worth of energy-efficiency improvements or even five or 10,000. So we can go pretty deep with homeowners. It's all meant to be very, very easy to do for a homeowner.

FLATOW: Could I get any tax credits for any of these?

Mr. PRATT: In some cases, according to federal law, you could. For the most part, we're not depending on that. And as Susanne indicated, you'll be low income and in some - low interest loans, and in some cases, for lower income folks, we will even be doing some grant installations.

FLATOW: So you think if you can show people how they can save money doing all this, it sells itself.

Mr. PRATT: Absolutely. I mean one of the things that is important for people to realize is that energy efficiency is one-third of the cost of building new supply options and it really does pay for itself, as Jack indicated.

FLATOW: Speaking of energy efficiency and green buildings, we're broadcasting today from Genzyme, in a building that has achieved the highest rank, even to buildings constructed according to green standards. And joining us now is Rick Mattila, who is director of environmental affairs at Genzyme. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Mr. RICK MATTILA (Director, Environmental Affairs, Genzyme): Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: You gave me a tour earlier today of the building and I was blown away by some of the innovations you have made. Tell us about the innovations in this building. I think the first thing that I was struck by is that even though you're inside a building, you feel like you're outside the building.

Mr. MATTILA: Exactly, Ira. The, you know, the unique design of the building or the 12-story full height atrium lended itself to have a lot of natural light in the space. And to enhance that is a heliostat system of mirrors on the roof that follow the path of the sun and direct that light into the atrium and then all the way down through the 12 stories.

Also, the outside of the building is completely covered with glass and the - a blind system that we have acts as a light shelf. Light shelf then reflects the light to deflect ceiling panels and through interior glass walls or offices to have that natural light penetrate deep into the floor plate. So you feel like you're getting that natural light in the internal gardens and the views to the outside; you do truly feel like you're outside.

FLATOW: You also have a feeling that you're breathing outside air. The air is delicious in here, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: It doesn't feel like a closed building.

Mr. MATTILA: Absolutely. I noticed that the first time I came in two weeks before we moved in, that I didn't know I was inside a building. And I think...

FLATOW: How did you achieve that?

Mr. MATTILA: Well, I think it's probably there's open operable windows in the building. There's a very good air handling system as well. But also because of the openness, there's a natural flow and a natural movement of air throughout the open space that makes that air pretty fresh and exchanging a lot.

FLATOW: You also have a lot of water-saving features in the building.

Mr. MATTILA: Right. We save about 32 percent of water based on a base building comparison, and that's through using energy-efficient - I'm sorry, water-efficient faucets and so on. And we have waterless urinals and dual flush toilets, and even the irrigation system outside has a high-efficiency irrigation with soil sensors. So it does reduced considerably the amount of water we use.

FLATOW: And how do you heat the building?

Mr. MATTILA: That's an interesting - we had a unique opportunity here to use steam for heating and cooling the building. So we have steam absorption chillers for cooling, and we get that from a distribution system that emanates from a power plant nearby, and with that power plant using byproduct steam from that process, along with a renewable energy system on the roof of solar panels and buying green power, that 75 percent of the days in the last year we were not burning any additional fossil fuel for heating and - for energy use in the building.

FLATOW: So you take the waste energy that the electricity...

Mr. MATTILA: Right. A gas turbine, it's a dual system so that...

FLATOW: Co-generation.

Mr. MATTILA: Co-generation - the friction from the turbines transfers over to another plant to make steam and then we used that steam.

FLATOW: How much does it cost to build a building like this? And is there a quick return on your investment?

Mr. MATTILA: There is a quick return, I believe, because it depends on how you want to do the calculation. But from a building operations standpoint, it may be a little bit longer for energy efficiency features and so on.

However, the major feature of this building, there's nearly a thousand people in the building. And to make a building that's good for people, which is what this is, and build for people, our surveys have indicated that people are much more productive in the building. And that's where the short-term return on the investment comes.

FLATOW: You do feel - you just feel like - it's easier to work here...

Mr. MATTILA: Exactly.

FLATOW: ...for some reason or something...

Mr. MATTILA: We've given...

FLATOW: ...you can't put your finger on, you know?

Mr. MATTILA: We've given many tours of the building many tours of the building, and I think on every tour I've given at least one person has asked if we had a job here for them.

FLATOW: Jack Spengler, does Harvard have buildings like this or planning to build buildings like this?

Dr. SPENGLER: We have several buildings. I'll brag about my university. We have more than 20 buildings that have certified as high-performance buildings by this accreditation, U.S. Green Building Council, but the most recent one achieved platinum, and this is unique in a way because it's different than the Genzyme Building because it was a rehab building. It as an 1890 building.

FLATOW: What was it, just part of the university?

Dr. SPENGLER: It was - no, it was part of the old electric systems along the river, and so this building and the steam plant was bought by Harvard, and through a process of just very careful planning achieved tremendous gains in the design of that building. Ninety-nine percent of the mass was recycled into some other use. I mean this is unheard of in terms of the efficiencies.

Deep-well geothermals, 15-foot-diameter heat exchanger, and I think significantly, we broke a paradigm. Most air, and I think Rick, maybe this building has it too, where you have both heating and cooling and ventilation combined; we split that, and our air comes in for ventilation only, and it's 100 percent fresh air, and the heating and cooling is handled separately with radiant heat panels.

So we've broken the paradigm and have downsized equipment. All of this - and here's the other first, is we did all this for $208 a square foot.

FLATOW: Wow.

Dr. SPENGLER: And that's an incredible achievement.

FLATOW: That's really cheap. 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let me ask you, Rick. Who makes a decision? Is it a personal decision by the head of a company? Is it a corporate decision when somebody says I would rather build a green building? What kind of person or decision does that take?

Mr. MATTILA: Well, I can't speak for other corporations, but certainly it was the guidance from our CEO, Henri Temeer, that when he saw this concept and ability to build a high-efficiency, energy-efficient, up-to-date technology building, we latched onto that concept.

But it wasn't completely new. We have built these buildings before with a lot of natural light, with internal glass walls for communication, but when we saw this, as the new USGBC lead process was evolving, as we were designing and building the building, more ideas came forward, that we saw this holistic way of looking at the building in many ways to make it green.

FLATOW: Susanne Rasmussen, your city hall, green building.

Ms. RASMUSSEN: Yeah, the city hall annex, where I have the pleasure of working, is a gold-certified green building, and it's also, like Harvard's Blackstone facility, unique in the sense that this building was built in 1871 as a school building and had then over time become less and less efficient and less and less pleasant to work in, and after a gut rehab it is now a wonderful building to be in.

We also have fresh air in our large conference rooms, we have glass everywhere inside the building. Of course it's a brick building. We have ground-source heat pumps, we have solar panels on the roof. All the materials in there are either recycled or come from sustainable harvested forests, and it is clear, talking to the city staff and certainly in talking to the public who come to our building all the time for meetings, that people really like the building. They think it's just a pleasure to be in, and it was a great success.

FLATOW: If you could build an elementary school, kids would love to come.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Think of that, how you could draw them. They leave their stuffy home or apartment and say I'm going to this gorgeous building.

Ms. RASMUSSEN: And we're hoping through the Cambridge Energy Alliance to also work on our schools and make them very energy efficient and a pleasure for the kids to come to.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Let me go to the microphone here. Hi.

JULIA(ph) (Audience Member): Hi, I'm Julia Cajun(ph). My question to you is how exactly do you motivate people to take all the effort and time to redo their windows and buy another refrigerator to save energy, and how would you motivate people to start not using their car and carpooling and taking the train when it is just so much easier for them to do other things?

FLATOW: Who wants to do motivation? Jack, you want to jump in there?

Dr. SPENGLER: Well, I think we're seeing - there's probably two kinds of people in the world, the kind that really get it and think this is serious and feel they can do something about it, and the others that get it but feel they can't do anything about it, and I'd like to think that there are tremendous motivational changing factor - forces in our world today.

I'll give you an example. Eighty-eight percent of the Harvard undergraduates voted that we would reduce our greenhouse gases even if they had to pay for it in their tuition. Well, their parents would be paying for it, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SPENGLER: So it was an easy vote. But the point is that they're turning to their faculty, their administrators and demanding this, these changes now, and I think that is a hopeful sign. But it has to be reinforced. You have to make it easy, you have to make it preferred. You have to - think of the changes in society that came about when we - that it was no longer the smoker's rights, it was the non-smoker's rights, and that changed everything and how we were able to move forward in public policy.

And we're probably at that time in terms of our sort of unthinkable, continuous use of materials and energy, and that shift is coming.

FLATOW: Rick, did you want to jump in?

Mr. MATTILA: Yeah, I think I agree with that, and I also think the important thing is the positive message, that there are opportunities, and it's a broad range of opportunities that everybody can contribute to, whether it's in the place that you work or what you can do at home, and I think it's - and I agree with Jack that it's really been tremendous, what I've seen in the last year, this movement of people, and whether it's corporations or people in corporations or individuals going in this direction. It's great.

FLATOW: We're talking about energy conservation in Cambridge this hour on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

Rob Pratt, have you gotten the movers and shakers of the city, the churches, the communities, the synagogues, anybody else who has influence swaying the public to buy, so to speak, to buy into this?

Mr. PRATT: Yeah, we're actually going to have a rally led on the Cambridge Common by the head of the Episcopalian Divinity School, who is going to rally ministers, priests, rabbis, all people in the faith community and really bring it to the pulpits.

This is something, just referring to the previous comments, where given the incredible challenge we face with climate change, we all have to step forward, and we're going to give the city of Cambridge and its residents the opportunity to do something really, truly dramatic, and we're hoping that we can really, really motivate behavior that has not been seen before, and once we show that it can be done in Cambridge, this can be done in many, many cities and communities all across the United States.

FLATOW: Let's go to the microphone. Hi, step up to the mic, please.

JACQUELYN(ph) (Audience Member) Hi, I'm Jacquelyn Capp(ph), and my question goes back to the idea of involving school-aged children and their families. I was just reading on treehugger.com that in the U.K. they've started an initiative called the walking school bus in which there's a driver and then a line of kids and then a conductor in the back, and it's really increased the number of kids walking to school by a significant percentage, and there are also benefits for curtailing the problems with child obesity and parental concerns about safety issues.

I'm wondering if Cambridge is looking into this and if you're away of any other initiatives in the U.S. that are involving this kind of thing with school kids.

FLATOW: Rob Pratt, can you address that a little?

Mr. PRATT: Actually, Susanne I think probably is the appropriate person.

Ms. RASMUSSEN: The walking school bus is absolutely a fantastic idea that has been used in many places.

FLATOW: Describe it. It's like a human school bus without the bus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RASMUSSEN: Exactly, yes. There's an adult ahead of the group of kids and sometimes also at the rear guard, there's an adult, and you just pick up kids along the way. You plan a route out, and you pick up kids along the way, and you walk to school and back again, and where people go to their neighborhood schools, it's particularly effective.

We have a little bit of a challenge in Cambridge because we don't have a neighborhood school-based system. We have what's called school choice, so kids can actually come to schools from the opposite end of the city, but we have something great in Cambridge, which is called the Green Streets Alliance, and it's an initiative that was started totally on the grass-roots level and has now spread to I believe all the 12 elementary schools in the city, where a group of volunteers work with parents to encourage that at least on the last Friday of the month everyone who's able to gets to school without using their car, and obviously the success this program has had gives us hope that it could spread, and it's not just Friday, but then it'll be also Thursday and Wednesday and so on.

FLATOW: That's terrific. Yes, sir.

BILL (Audience Member): Hi, my name is Bill Sandborn(ph), and I actually am volunteering in my community here in the state, and we're renovating an existing school. We looked into actually building green design into this school, and even with the grants that we got to do the green design and the estimates and the additional cost of doing the - building the green design in, it wasn't enough. The community couldn't afford it.

My question is: When do you draw the line and force the issue and say this is no longer a choice?

FLATOW: Anybody want to tackle that? Jack?

Dr. SPENGLER: I think society faces this issue. It's the decoupling of the financial structure of what we need in capital projects versus the operational cost, and these are usually made by two different decision-makers, and you know, if you design a school that has great features in it that pay back over the life of that school, rather than trying to think it will pay back in the first three or four years, these things are cost-effective.

It's just a broadening of the horizon of our financial institutions to allow that kind of investment to go forward, and if we can build a Blackstone and renovate a Blackstone at $200 a square foot, we have shown that you can downsize your systems, you can design it right, and I would go back and sort of challenge the assumptions of what the basic design elements are in that school, and I think you'll find solutions.

FLATOW: That's a good place - well, we've run out of time. There's the challenge to all of you, to go back and challenge your assumptions. My guests have been Rob Pratt, senior vice president at the Henry P. Kendall Foundation in Boston; Susanne Rasmussen, director of environmental and transportation planning for the city of Cambridge; John Spengler, co-chair of the Harvard Green Campus Initiative and the Akira Yamaguchi professor of environmental health and human habitation at Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston; and also Rick Mattila, director of environmental affairs at Genzyme Corporation here in Cambridge. Thank you all for taking time to be with us today.

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