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Cities with Innovative Green Initiatives

June 28, 2013
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Do you live green? We found cities all over America that are working overtime to be clean, sustainable and environmentally friendly. Green initiatives like waste management, forest restoration, natural resource protection, public transportation and alternative energy projects can have positive effects both on the environment and on the budget. Our picks for cities with green initiatives have all this and more, and their success comes from involving the entire community in the effort to be as green as possible.

1. Rochester, New York

Rochester’s Green Team developed a range of services designed to keep the city clean and protect the area’s natural resources. Since 2005, the Forestry team in the Department of Environmental Services has been dedicated to making Rochester a “City in a Forest” by maintaining nearly 70,000 trees on the city streets, as well as in the parks and cemeteries. Project Green, a decades-long initiative in the making, will convert abandoned or vacant residential areas in the city into green space like parks and community gardens. Rochester also has an ongoing green initiative series called Flower City Looking Good, a yearly community development program that challenges residents to improve their health and embrace their inner nature-lover through fun activities and contests. The city is so committed to environmental awareness that even City Hall is getting a green makeover with the City Hall Green Roof Project. Outside of city initiatives, the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology offers programs in sustainable products and production systems, sustainable energy, sustainable mobility, eco-IT and built systems sustainability. The institute works with organizations around the world to provide sustainability outreach and has a project called the Clean Energy Incubator, a coordinated effort with the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Venture Creations business incubator to support young clean energy companies.

2. Reno, Nevada

The Biggest Little City in the World is also one of the greenest little cities in the world. The city has a number of wind and solar installations throughout the city that help reduce energy costs and pollution. These installations take advantage of the abundant natural resources in Nevada, like 300 sunny days per year on average and strong wind patterns, and have saved the city more than one million dollars annually since 2011. Reno is in the process of implementing an improved, single-stream recycling service, which will be enhanced by Compressed Natural Gas collection trucks that reduce noise and greenhouse gas emissions. Waste Management will also be introducing 25 Solar Powered Trash Compactors, which will help decrease the amount of trash being picked up, and provide a necessary community recycling and waste disposal service. Reno encourages its residents to cut down on carbon emissions by biking around the city with seasonal events and benefits for bike-riders. At the University of Nevada, Reno, students learn about sustainability in class, by using alternative transportation like biking or riding shuttles that run on bio-diesel fuels, and by taking part in campus recycling programs. The university already utilizes solar panels in a few campus locations and has plans to implement many more green initiatives in the future.

3. Kirkland, Washington

Kirkland is already known for its scenery, but the local government hopes to keep it that way with a community-wide approach to green initiatives. The Green Kirkland Partnership is a group comprised of local businesses, community members, nonprofits and the City of Kirkland that hopes to preserve the natural beauty of Kirkland with a 20-year forest restoration program. Members of the partnership and volunteers plant new native plants and remove deadly, invasive ones all year round. Kirkland’s plan to protect its natural resources involves the Planning Department, the Public Works Department and the Parks & Community Services Department all working together to ensure the city will remain green for a long time. The Parks & Community Services Department heads up the local plant restoration project, while the Planning Department manages urban forest maintenance, steadily moving towards sustainable forest management.  The Public Works Department handles waste management, prevents water pollution and works to maintain water quality, while also managing the city’s green business and development, and climate protection programs. Community residents are called upon to get involved at every step of the way.

4. Chandler, Arizona

The green initiatives at work in Chandler can be divided into four groups: home, business, community and city. Environmental improvement starts at home with recycling and water conservation. Water conservation is especially important in a desert community like Chandler, and the city offers irrigation workshops, conservation tips and water reclamation programs. Chandler has a number of green buildings and businesses, and the city encourages local businesses to design with conservation and sustainability in mind. The Infill Incentive Program will help improve older commercial buildings in Chandler by investing in their renovation. Since 2009, the city’s Green Team has been working to improve Chandler’s efficiency by decreasing energy costs and using resources like solar energy. Chandler residents can raise their environmental awareness at the Environmental Education Center, and enjoy outdoor activities in Veterans Oasis Park. Alternative transit options, like bus and light rail, bike routes, and convenient, cheap services for the elderly or the disabled, help reduce air pollution in the city and surrounding areas.

5. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee’s Green Team was appointed just over a year ago and immediately sought community input to develop a comprehensive sustainability program. Some plans have already been implemented, like new biorentention facilities to gather stormwater, and grants for energy efficiency improvements for local businesses and city departments through solar energy, lighting retrofits and energy-efficient equipment. The city’s ME2 program, a federally funded initiative, provides homeowners and business owners with resources to improve their energy efficiency, while the ME3 program helps small and medium-sized manufacturers develop sustainable practices and technologies, which will help decrease negative environmental effects and operational costs. The ME2 program gives Milwaukee a head start in the Better Buildings Challenge. In addition to wind and solar resources, Milwaukee also has the HOME GR/OWN initiative, which targets foreclosed properties for conversion to community food production and distribution centers. The program is set to kick off again later this year. Marquette University has a host of student sustainability initiatives lead by Students for an Environmentally Active Campus, including campus clean-up projects, water conservation, native tree planting, a student rain garden, and an ongoing electric shuttle project (eLIMO).

6. Lansing, Michigan

Lansing invites residents to “live green” with the Live Green Lansing plan, an evolution of the 2006 Live Green Initiative, which encouraged community members to take the Live Green Pledge and helped get the city moving towards sustainability and reduced pollution. The Live Green Lansing plan has four main targets for improvement: energy consumption, transportation, education and waste management. Homeowners are encouraged to use energy-efficient lighting products and low-flow faucets, buy local produce, and compost leftovers. To give schools a green boost, Lansing devised criteria to achieve Green School status, including recycling programs, energy saving programs, a birdhouse habitat project and a garden project. Schools have taken to the initiative, coming up with ideas like a tree planting ceremony in honor of Arbor Day, and expanded recycling programs that include Styrofoam and ink cartridges. Lansing’s other green initiatives include a Combined Sewer Overflow improvement plan and the Michigan Avenue Rain Gardens.

7. Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale sits on the edge of a vast open space, and the city takes pride in protecting natural areas like the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Even inside the city, there are hundreds of acres of developed open space. Residents can take advantage of shared use paths, unpaved trails and over one hundred miles of bike routes. Scottsdale’s city government works to keep air pollution to a minimum through the use of alternative and clean fuel resources and Compressed Natural Gas trucks. City light fixtures have been replaced with more energy-efficient LED light fixtures, and many city buildings use solar power to generate electricity. Scottsdale is the home of Arizona’s first Green Building Program, which has helped improve the local economy by increasing building resale values. Scottsdale was also the first city in America to use the LEED Gold Standard for city buildings and remodels, and the city regularly provides educational lectures on sustainable building practices to community residents. The city’s commitment to sustainability extends to water reclamation and conservation, landfill diversion, and neighborhood cleanup programs.

8. Williamsburg, Virginia

The Williamsburg City Council knows it takes a concerted, community effort to make a city green. It starts with government: Williamsburg’s Green Team has implemented various city programs to protect the natural environment, improve the city environment and help teach residents about sustainability. The Heritage Tree Program preserves trees that are notable for their size, species, or historical or cultural interest, as well as trees that memorialize a person, location or event, and trees in notable groves or avenues. The city provides trolley and bus services for public transportation, and 32% of the city is set-aside as “no build” areas or public park space. Green business is the next step in making Williamsburg green: the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market supports local growers, and there are several certified Virginia Green hotels and restaurants within Williamsburg. The city held a Green Business Challenge in 2012, rewarding businesses that improved their waste reduction, water conservation, energy conservation, transportation, recycling, sustainability and staff education. The final component of Green Williamsburg is the residents: residents are encouraged to do their part to make Williamsburg a long-lasting healthy city by taking public transportation, practicing good recycling and waste management at home, and buying locally. Homeowners got their own chance to be recognized for being green with the 2012 Green Residential Challenge. Residents are also asked to provide their own suggestions to improve Williamsburg. Students at the College of William & Mary can take a variety of sustainability classes and participate in initiatives funded by the Green Fee, including alternative energy sources, water conservation, carbon offsetting, recycling and food sustainability.

9. Columbus, Ohio

Columbus has a plan to Get Green. A long-term solution, the city’s green program contains a few key initiatives: green buildings, recycling, renewable energy, resource protection and transportation. The Green Buildings strategy includes finding abandoned or contaminated facilities and marking them for renovation, improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in city buildings, providing funding for local businesses and non-profits to build or rebuild green sites, and utilizing the ME3 program to help manufacturers become more sustainable. The recycling initiative encourages community members to boost their environmental awareness through composting, construction recycling, office and residential waste management, and using more environmentally friendly materials. Residents can also take part in community gardening and native plant planting. The city works to maintain natural resources like the Big Darby Watershed and twenty nature preserves. Residents can enjoy the sights and sounds during the weekly events in the city’s parks. Ohio State University encourages students to “Do Something Great” through environmental research projects, clean water projects, and studies on climate change and water availability. The university reduces the “Buckeye Footprint” with LEED-certified buildings, Living Laboratory projects, the RecycleMania program, and investments in alternative energy sources like wind energy.

10. Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability has only been active since 2008, but in that short time it has accomplished a great deal. Current projects run the gamut from increased park space to expanded public transportation. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs is working to improve current park facilities, green spaces and bike trails. Indoor and outdoor city facilities are changing light fixtures to be more energy efficient and putting limits on temperature settings. A recent city ordinance demands that all new buildings and renovations must be Silver-LEED certified. The city is revamping its public transportation system, creating a 22-mile Beltline of parks, trails, green space and transit lines; and city developers are working on a plan (Connect Atlanta) to enhance bus, light rail, HOV and other rapid transit options. Community events like “Walk Day” and “Give Your Car the Day Off”, and commuter reward programs help add to the incentives for residents to be green. Go Green at Georgia State University is a campus-wide initiative designed to educate the university community about environmental issues at home and abroad, and to help students get involved with green efforts. Students can take green courses, green internships, join campus groups, or improve their own sustainability by recycling, conserving energy and using alternative transportation.

Bulb Light With Tree Inside image courtesy of Shutterstock.