United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Cool Block Initiative


    The Cool City Challenge empowers lasting social solutions to climate change issues. It applies for the Cool Block action program as an on-ramp to create Cool Cities, then carbon-neutral cities. Cool Block addresses resiliency, climate action, water stewardship, livability, and empowerment. Pilots in three major California cities demonstrated substantive behavior change and participation on a block - achieving an average household carbon reduction of 32% with 25 actions taken across 8 topics. In one Cool Block city, Isla Vista, in collaboration with UC-Santa Barbara and local partners, we have created a carbon-neutral city incubator to test a path from Cool City to a carbon-neutral city.


    The SDG’s 2030 Agenda calls for the integration of an effective and lasting strategy that improves awareness and builds the tools needed to implement a new social norm. The Cool Cities Challenge (CCC) responds to this call - targeting SDGs #11 and #13 while contributing directly to many others (#3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 16, and 17). CCC aims to empower cities and their citizens to reduce their carbon footprint and enter onto a path of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. This moonshot is a robust second order climate change solution based on demand-side activation (Cool Block initiative) enabling supply-side solutions of policy, technology, and market creation. In this way, it aims to activate civic ecosystems toward climate neutrality.

    Contribution to SDG Implementation

    The mission of Cool City Challenge is to reinvent our cities from the bottom up to achieve carbon reduction; disaster-resilience; livable and community-rich neighborhoods; and ultimately a carbon-neutral city and economy. Its transformative action to combat climate change and its impacts are integrative by design. The SDG’s 2030 Agenda calls for the integration of an effective and lasting strategy that improves awareness and builds the tools needed to implement a new social norm. The Cool City Challenge has been formed with this goal in mind.

    Implementation methodologies

    A City launches a Cool Block campaign to recruit and support block leaders, who in turn invite their neighbors onto a team to do the program together. The program has five themes (carbon reduction, resiliency, water stewardship, livability and empowerment) covered over eight bi-weekly meetings led by different neighbors living on a block or within a multi-family building. Participants select from a menu of 118 action recipes. Some actions are done as individuals and others are collective. Behavior change is achieved through a combination of action recipes, a peer support system, self-directed meeting scripts, and the guidance of others who have been through the program. The program is delivered through a custom web platform that helps households create an action plan, take action and track their progress in each topic. Local government and nonprofit resources (information and services) are linked to each action where available. A feedback system shows each household and block their results, so they are inspired to sustain their commitment. Block-level and city-wide aggregated data is provided to the City support team, so they can observe participant progress and engage in an effective partnership with its citizens. City recognition programs honor the accomplishment of each household and block. Cool Block will be brought to scale statewide through the Cool City Challenge. Empowerment Institute has raised $6 million in initial financing to invest $1 million capacity building grants in three California cities plus $50,000 grants in 5 more cities. Cities with a minimum population of 40,000 people will be invited to apply as a public-private-civic collaboration by showing how they can mobilize the participation of the community toward the creation of a carbon-neutral city.


    Cool City Challenge won a prestigious NASA competition as “the most outstanding solution in addressing the human impact on the planet’s sustainability.” Its Cool Block program and platform was successfully piloted on 125 blocks in five California cities – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Isla Vista. It addressed two massive unmet societal needs – a scalable solution to climate change and overcoming the social isolation people feel, now exacerbated by Covid. The pilots showed that Cool Block enables substantive behavior change and participation. They achieved an average household carbon reduction of 25 to 32%, with 25 actions taken, including seven to build resilience. All neighbors on a block were invited to participate, and 55% of those who chose to learn more joined a team. Videos and written stories now celebrate their experience. CCC has now also created a carbon neutral city incubator and secured a financing partner for participants’ household retrofits.

    Factors and Constraints

    Cool Block is the integration of multiple proven empowerment programs. Its platform is an innovation, so pilots were conducted to allow user communities to discover what they most wanted and needed. Its founding team is agile and committed. Empowerment Institute is the world’s leading authority on second order change solutions. Its grand strategy addresses five levers necessary for “reinventing the planet” -- climate, peace, development, knowledge, and money. As the climate branch of RTP, the Cool City Challenge is held by this larger vision, which attracted major funding partners, allowing attention to remain focused on the mission at hand.

    Sustainability and replicability

    The closing theme of the Cool Block program is empowering others. It contains actions designed to spread learnings to others, start more Cool Blocks, become an active civic participant, and engage in carbon-neutral city initiatives. Key to a Cool City’s scaling will be the outreach capacity created by a multi-sector campaign team. This is also a key to seeding an ecosystem with the potential to activate the technology, policy, and market innovation necessary to create a carbon-neutral city. Cool Block and the Cool City Challenge were designed with replication in mind. Its program’s “local resource” mechanism and its platform’s built-in language translation widget and mobile-first design are all geared to adaptability across many potential geographies and the most common devices. For while the carbon-neutral moonshot will begin in California, these will become teaching cities so it can spread across the U.S. and the world.

    COVID-19 Impact

    In the interest of keeping everyone safe during the current pandemic, Cool City Challenge encourages all efforts to maintain CDC guidelines on social distancing and face coverings. The neighbor invitation process has been adapted, and Cool Block meetings have been found to be easily hosted virtually so as to maintain a contactless environment. While the pandemic has affected in-person operations and activities, the program is resilient and adaptable, and its mission and vision are implementable even with the restrictions that keep us all healthy. Times like these reveal our ability to adapt with resilience, collaborate with neighbors, and find joy in unexpected places. These values are nurtured every day on a Cool Block.

    Contact Name
    Cool Block Initiatives
    Geographical coverage

    The Cool Block Initiative is a global project. However, for this SDG-specific results focused compilation, our focus is on the state of California, starting in the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Palo Alto.

    01 January 2016 (start date)
    31 December 2030 (date of completion)
    United States of America
    United States of America
    Contact Information

    David , Cool City Challenge