Blog: Matt Grocoff

It's the 40th anniversary of Earth Day tomorrow, and in celebration we've invited Matt Grocoff, founder and CEO of GreenovationTV and regular contributor to NPR's The Environment Report, to offer up some thoughts about making our community (and world) a little greener.

Matt Grocoff - Post 1: Ann Arbor’s Mission Zero

The Oldest Net Zero House in America

My wife Kelly and I are renovating our 110-year old home on Ann Arbor’s historic Old West Side to be a restorative part of our community. By the end of this year we will, possibly with the help of a new Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, add solar panels to our ultra-efficient home. Once complete, we will produce more energy than we consume and become the Oldest Net Zero House in America.

But, there is no such thing as a green home in a brown community.

Thoreau once said: “What use is a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

We’d like our home to give back more to the Earth and our community than we take. As part of this restorative vision Kelly and I would like our home to be a model and an inspiration for Ann Arbor. 

Mission Zero

Ann Arbor needs to make a promise to ourselves, our neighboring communities and to generations that follow that we will eliminate any negative impact our city has on the environment by 2030. Mission Zero.

This is no easy task. But, the enormity of the task is matched only by the urgency of the circumstances. There are no cities that we can look to for examples of success in this mission. There is no blueprint.

Nevertheless, we can find inspiration in the vision of the self-proclaimed “radical industrialist” Ray Anderson, Chairman and Founder of Interface, Inc. the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial carpets. In 1994, after reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce” Ray experienced an epiphany and challenged his company to begin a journey toward zero environmental footprint.

Since Ray Anderson’s bold call to action Interface has cut net greenhouse gas emissions (in absolute tons) by an astonishing 71% (the Kyoto Treaty, which the U.S. did not ratify, called for only a 7% reduction).

If you doubt the business case for sustainability, consider that during this transformation Interface’s sales increased by two-thirds and earnings doubled. Profit margins expanded as GHG emissions and waste were reduced.

For Ann Arbor Mission Zero will take extraordinary imagination.  We are fortunate to be home to some of the most brilliant and creative minds on the planet.  I have no doubt we can succeed and lead the world in this effort.

Here’s what Mission Zero for Ann Arbor might be:

A vibrant city which is:
  • Powered by 100% Renewable Energy,
  • Creates zero waste, and
  • Creates a community that sustains our economy and is restorative to the environment.
It’s a simple but vital goal. Our Take-Make-Waste economy is not viable. But, incremental, bullet pointed actions will not be enough. Every decision we make as a community must be guided by a compelling, realistic vision.  

For now, Mission Zero begins at home. Your home. I hope Kelly, our one-year-old daughter Jane and I can inspire you to create your own Mission Zero.

Let the vision be your guide. Don’t be overwhelmed. We’re proving that zero is powerful and possible.

Saving civilization is not a spectator sport. As Ray Anderson preaches . . . Do something. Anything! Then do something else. And something else.

Undoubtedly, your actions will then inspire the community.

Remember that, in the end, we all share the same home.