Ecocity Builders and the United Nations NGO Major Group’s proposal ‘Global Standards of Sustainability for Cities’ has advanced to the final round of the Rio+20 Dialogues. Please support us so that the proposal can be delivered directly to Heads of State at Rio+20. Everyone can vote directly from the link.

1. Go to
2. Click on ‘Your Vote’
3. Scroll to : Sustainable Cities and Innovation
4. Vote for: Promote global standards of sustainability for cities.
5. Share!

As the Earth’s ecosystem and climate is rapidly reaching a “tipping point” it’s becoming increasingly clear that we humans all have to pull together to turn the mothership around. Luckily, the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio (Rio+20) from June 20-22 (and the weeks leading up to it starting right now) is offering many great opportunities for people from all over the world to come together, build bridges, and draft a common path upon which all residents of this breathtakingly beautiful planet we call home can journey towards a sustainable and equitable future.

Over the last few months I’ve been peripherally involved in the sometimes hopeful, sometimes frustrating, but always interesting process of midwifing the elusive and almost mythical outcome document that is supposed to become the collectively agreed upon blueprint for a prosperous, secure and sustainable future for people and planet. For the first time ever, rather than just leaving it to high level diplomats and heads of state to duke it out over how to solve the world’s many interconnected problems, the UN decided to ask representatives from all areas of civil society, aka major groups, to participate in the process.

As such, Ecocity Builders, the organization I’ve been dreaming up cities that function like natural ecosystems with for many years, was invited to participate and chime in as part of the NGO Major Group cluster.

As some of you already know, I got to go to New York and look dapper in my Jerry Garcia tie, but since that is such a rare sight and as a little treat for voting for the ‘Global Standards of Sustainability for Cities’ at, a big thank you smile:


But really, for Ecocity Builders this process started three years ago when the groundwork was laid for a standards system that would measure and quantify the progress cities were making towards becoming more holistic in their approach to planning, The International Ecocity Framework and Standards initiative. A sort of a LEED ratings system for cities, this was something that everyone who knew how big of a role cities will have to play (70% of the world’s population, poverty, huge CO2 emissions) in accomplishing anything resembling global sustainable development was clamoring for. In a nutshell, without some sort of a comprehensive methodology by which cities’ progress toward becoming ecocities could be objectively assessed we would all just call ourselves “green” cities and the last sprawling seas of suburbia with a few solar roofs and a marketing budget turn the lights off on the planet.

When it became clear that the UN was finally going to get serious about cities and human settlements, including this paragraph in the zero draft…

We commit to promote an integrated and holistic approach to planning and building sustainable cities through support to local authorities, efficient transportation and communication networks, greener buildings and an efficient human settlements and service delivery system, improved air and water quality, reduced waste, improved disaster preparedness and response and increased climate resilience.

…we knew that we had just what they needed to actually follow through on establishing a set of concrete guidelines to building whole systems cities, should the nations of the world commit to that in the final outcome document. So we weren’t just at these “informal informal” meetings in New York to talk about the change we wish to see, we had the goods to make those changes happen and we wanted the big fish to use them.

But it wasn’t as easy as just walking up to Ban Ki-moon and saying “yo bro, let’s get this ecocity standards thing going.” Instead, the UN is more like a labyrinth with all the exits blocked, you’re just wandering and feeling your way around, bumping into the same people over and over, yet slowly but surely you begin to understand the flow, and then random lifelines seem to pop out of nowhere, and you just grab whatever you can get your hands on.

Kirstin and I in New York.

The real heroine here is Ecocity Builders’ ED Kirstin Miller, whose godlike patience and dogged determination led her to become the master of the labyrinth (the Zen UN Maze Master?) and in the process unearthed some of the right clues and accidentally hit some of the right buttons to the secret vaults of UNirvana.

So, somehow our global standards of sustainability for cities made it onto the Rio+20 Dialogues online platform, survived the first rounds of voting, and now is in the Final 10 of the Sustainable Cities & Innovation category. If we’re selected, our proposal can be delivered directly to Heads of State at Rio+20.

I know that many folks aren’t very optimistic about the whole UN process. Yes, there’s skepticism. Yes, there’s even cynicism. Yes, the United Nations is flawed. But think about it, that’s why it’s the best and only entity that realistically represents each and every one of us, with all our own flaws and internal struggles. Simply speaking, on a global, planetary level, the United Nations is all we’ve got, and it can only be as good as we make it. Not unlike our national and local governments, despite all our frustrations and misgivings, it represents not only how far (or not far) we have come collectively but gives us a platform on which to evolve together, ever so slowly.

When people think of the UN, they have an image of dry negotiations by people in suits that nobody but themselves can understand.

Delegates during the negotiations, Photo Earth Negotiation Bulletin

That, of course, is part of it. But another and I think rapidly growing part is regular people from all over the world getting together, sharing ideas, taking initiative, and creating a movement of the people that sets the tone and agenda and can no longer be (completely) ignored.

John Matuszak, Division Chief for Sustainable Development and Multilateral Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, meets with NGOs, photo Earth Negotiation Bulletin

Just the process of getting there has connected people from all over, both locally and globally. For example, we’ve become part of local Bay Area and global Wiser Rio+20 networking groups.

For Ecocity Builders it was clear from the get go that we wouldn’t go to Rio to sit in large conference halls to watch the important people haggle over verbiage on a piece of paper. What we wanted to do instead is work with local communities on the ground to actually show in real life terms how we can make our communities more healthy, sustainable and vibrant if the people in them are stakeholders and get involved in shaping them. Any settlement is only as good as the people who live in it, so if you want to have an ecocity you need to find your ecocitizens and give them the tools to improve their communities.

The idea we had was to create an ecocitizen census, a crowdmap where people from all over the world could share first hand the things that are going right and the things that need work in their community, based on the 15 categories in the Ecocity Framework, ranging from access to transit, clean water and energy to air and soil quality, biodiversity, education, economic and cultural opportunities. We wanted to have something going for Rio, where conference attendees could see data coming in from all over the world, and people everywhere would have a chance to be part of the Rio+20 process. We also wanted to see local communities in Rio participate and map out their neighborhoods, giving a live, on the ground example of ecocitizens shaping and sharing their experiences.

Thanks to all the great people and organizations we met in the process we just launched our Ecocitizen World Map. While we weren’t able to get an individual census going in time for Rio+20, we created this social mapping project in conjunction with open source mapping pioneers Ushahidi as a way to bring light to the amazing projects that people are working on to make their local communities more sustainable. You can add your own projects or projects you know of in your neighborhood by clicking on the map. Go ahead, try it!


The Santa Teresa neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro has taken the lead in mapping their diverse community and entering reports on the map. We met them through an amazing organization called Catalytic Communities who we were introduced to by the great folks at Wiser. But it doesn’t end there. Once we have enough data and projects, data company Esri will use GIS mapping software to integrate all the information into a three-dimensional map that will give a complete picture of all the data, so that we can all learn from it.

So, as much as people think of Rio+20 as our last big chance to get the big breakthrough treaty signed by the big guns, it is also the beginning of a powerful bottom up movement that I think will change the way we look at finding solutions for the big problems we face. If the ecocity concept and its growing popularity among many of the big stakeholders is any indication, then we are entering a more collaborative, ecozoic era, simply because hierarchical structures are inherently anathema to the ecocity essence. Just as you cannot subjugate entire parts of the natural ecosystem for extended periods without negative feedback loops, you cannot build sustainable cities and economies without the inclusion of all stakeholders, human and natural.

So please, make your community be counted on the Ecocitizen World Map and your voice heard for building quantifiable sustainable human settlements. And of course, while you’re on the Rio Dialogues page, make sure to vote for any other proposals that you think would make the world a better and healthier place to live in.

1. Go to
2. Click on ‘Your Vote’
3. Scroll to : Sustainable Cities and Innovation
4. Vote for: Promote global standards of sustainability for cities.
5. Share!


If you’re going to be in Rio…


Mon Jun 18, 2012
Time: 12:30pm – 2pm Rio+20 Side Event
Title: Citizen Participation + GeoDesign = Sustainable and Resilient Ecocities
Where: US Center Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development
Description: Ecocity Builders, in partnership with the US Department of State, Esri, Ushahidi and the Association of American Geographers. The workshop will demonstrate how ecocity principles and geodesign, tied to citizen participation and multidisciplinary sustainable development frameworks and networks, can produce quantifiable benefits to cities and citizens.
Organizer: Ecocity Builders; hosted by the US Government at the US Center/Rio+20

Mon Jun 18, 2012
Time: 5:30pm – 8:30pm
Title: Global Forum on Human Settlements Special Event
Where: Espace Cultural Eletrobras Furnas, Rua Real Grandeza 219, Botafago, Rio de Janeiro
Description: Special Session Evening Conference and Award Ceremony
Organizers: Global Forum on Human Settlements, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN Human Settlements Program
Awards: Richard Register, Ecocity Builders; Lin Xuefeng, Director, Tianjin Eco-City, China

Tue June 19, 2012
Time: 4pm – 6:30pm
Title: Women Leading the Way
Where: Room UN2 Barra Arena (Barra da Arena) Avenida Embaixador Abelardo Bueno, 3401 – Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro
Description: Kirstin Miller to speak at this side event organized by the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus (WECC) with Vandana Shiva, Marina Silva, Rose Marie Muraro, Ted Turner. No UN credentials required to attend.

Tue Jun 19, 2012
Time: 7:30pm – 9pm Rio+20 Side Event
Title: Building Ecocities – GeoDesign and Citizen Participation
Where: P3-B, RioCentro, UNCSD
Description: Ecocity Builders, Esri, US Dept of State, Asoc of American Geographers, Ushahidi, Mozilla, Nicholas de Monchaux, UC Berkeley and Kirstin Miller for Ecocity Builders. VIP speakers: Joseph Alcamo, Chief Scientist, UNEP and Ronan Dantec, City of Nantes, France
Organizer: UN Conference on Sustainable Development – Rio+20

Thurs June 21, 2012
Time: 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Title: Ecocities Session, Global Town Hall Forum
Where: Global Town Hall, State of Rio de Janeiro Pavilion, Athlete’s Park, UNCSD
Description: A session on ecocity initiatives hosted by ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability. Richard Register to speak for Ecocity Builders.
Organizer: ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability

Fri June 22, 2012
Time: 10am – 11am
Title: Rio Pavilion Cities Day Panel
Where: Rio Convention Pavilion, Rio+20
Description: Richard Register will speak as part of a high level panel on cities.