Matt Grocoff is an environmentalist, sustainability advocate, writer, speaker, and Founding Principal of the THRIVE Collaborative where he is the strategic vision lead of what will be one of the most innovative and environmentally sustainable communities in the world- Veridian County Farm, on Platt Road in Ann Arbor.
You are a lawyer but did not practice law for long. Why did you switch careers? I began by pursuing environmental law. It’s a game of 1s and 0s- sue people once they’ve done harm, or punish them for falling under a certain bar. Instead, I choose to create positive examples of where we need to go, of “what good looks like.” We started by retrofitting our own Victorian-era home which is now the oldest home to be certified as Net Zero Energy and we’re demonstrating techniques for Net Positive Water and restoration of ecological water flow.
What is net zero energy and net positive water? Our all-electric home produces more energy than it uses through solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling. My wife and I haven’t paid a utility bill since 2011. Solar costs have fallen 70% since we installed our system in 2010. As the costs of solar and batteries continue to fall, the path to all-electric future powered with renewable energy is becoming clearer. To accelerate the transformation, we need to remove unfair barriers, like Ann Arbor’s taxation on solar panels, and realign incentives with our climate goals.
Net positive water is about restoring ecological water flow. It means buildings can operate as elegantly as flowers by harvesting their own water and returning it to the aquifer as clean as when it fell from the sky.
The City of Ann Arbor has committed to meeting the Paris Climate Accord. What are some of the things the City can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Ann Arbor has a huge challenge ahead to retrofit existing buildings to meet and eventually eliminate carbon pollution. Yet literally all new developments in Ann Arbor are designed to use fossil fuels. We have to convert to electric power sourced from renewable energy. Paris targets and basic physics demand it. Each time the city grants a permit for a new building with an oil or gas line to it, we are essentially creating another building that will require a retrofit. Everything that Ann Arbor needs to meet its climate goals already exists. Nothing needs to be invented. There are examples of Living Buildings around the world (including two in Ann Arbor!) What’s stopping us from creating Living Communities and Cities? The rules. For example, there is one scientific definition of potable water but there are dozens of legal definitions and they differ by jurisdiction. Shouldn’t they be the same? We need evidence-based, performance-based simplified building codes that align with our goals and the demands of climate crisis.
How do we encourage people to start thinking more creatively about changing our systems and technologies to become truly sustainable? We need people with backgrounds in biology and complex natural systems to work across all fields. Businesses, governments, planners, nonprofit organizations, and schools need to fill their teams with a diversity of knowledge, experience, and culture. Biodiversity is a precondition to the success of natural systems. Human organizations are no exception.
What is your specialty?
I’m an unabashed generalist. I try to be the synthesizer that brings together the voices we need for positive transformation.