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December 1, 2013

YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Sustainability hubs will leave the world a better place

There is something powerful that happens when people ban together for greater good. In many cities throughout the United States there are sustainability hubs. While each one is uniquely different, they all have the common theme of leaving the world better than when they entered into it.

Charlotte, N.C.

In 2010, the Queen City’s downtown association was looking for a sustainability initiative, as a result it partnered with Duke Energy. Together they formed Envision Charlotte, which believes environmental sustainability, when combined with a pro-business approach, benefits the regional economy and is achieved through perpetual, formal stewardship of defined resources in the environment in the areas of: energy, water, air and waste.

One of Envision Charlotte’s goals is to reduce energy consumption 20 percent by 2020 in big uptown buildings. There are 64 buildings uptown that fit the criteria. To date, 61 have signed pledges and have put energy meters in their buildings to monitor their usage. The meters measure energy and give real time data to the property manager of the building.

“To give you an example, Duke Energy had a conversation with one of the property managers and pointed out that every day at 10 a.m. their energy bill spikes. They said you have something going on here. It turned out, they had an old CEO that held meetings every morning at 10 a.m. and would turn the A/C way down. The thermostat was programmed and was never adjusted when the CEO left. By readjusting the thermostat it saved them $40,000 a year,” said Envision Charlotte Executive Director Amy Aussieker.

It is stories like this which have spread and put energy efficiency on the top of the minds of property managers. It has changed the conversation, and it has opened the door for more business owners saying they want their building to be more efficient. Envision Charlotte has gone beyond giving companies the tools to physically reduce their energy; it also offers in-person training to teach company employees how to become more energy efficient with small things like turning off the lights when leaving a room and powering off computers. It leaves each company with games for the employees to play, in order to stay conscious of their consumption while having fun.

Santa Clarita, Calif.

About a year ago in Santa Clarita, sustainability efforts run by a volunteer force called SCEEC (Santa Clarita Environmental Education Consortium) was formed to provide resources and materials to local educators, businesses and community members in an effort to improve environmental literacy in the Santa Clarita Valley. SCEEC has created a Sustainability Center — on a local college campus — where students and local residents alike can meet for discussions, events or to ask questions. SCEEC created a collection of speakers, known as a Speaker’s Bureau, in order to connect educators, businesses and community members with experts in specific fields. In addition to the center, they are working to expand their resource library with books, films and informational brochures.

“One of our primary purposes is to be a hub of information. We can provide curriculum to teachers based on what their needs are,” SCEEC Chairman BJ Adkins said.

Cincinnati, Ohio

In Cincy, they have The Green Umbrella, a nonprofit organization working to improve the economic vitality and quality of life in the region around Cincinnati by maximizing the collective impact of individuals and organizations dedicated to environmental sustainability. Under the Green Umbrella sits a cross section of private sector businesses, nonprofits and universities who all collaborate together so they can move forward faster to be a greener, more sustainable metro area. They have the vision by 2020 to be in the top greenest cities in the U.S.

“We create a space for sustainability managers, for those corporations to get together in different action teams that they have gravitated to, in order to share best practices and in turn learn ways to save money,” Green Umbrella Executive Director Brewster Rhoads said.

The city has a five-year “green” plan which The Green Umbrella helped city officials to develop. The Umbrella is the community’s support network for helping implement the vision for what a city could do and look like if it is serious about being more responsible about managing its resources. The next big step is to introduce a bike share program. Being a bike-friendly community is perceived by the public as cool and hip. Cincinnati went from 53 to 47 last year and hopes to jump to 39 with the bike share program.

Rhoads says Cincinnati realizes it is in a global fight for talent and that young people have all the options on where to settle down. The question becomes: what is the quality of life needed to retain high-quality candidates, when they are competing against the coast and major cities like Chicago, Atlanta and Miami. What about Cincinnati would attract people to live in the middle of the Midwest, in a city that has been around for a long time?

“To be a competitor, you need a vibrant outdoor recreation scene. If people see Cincinnati as a backwater place, where people don’t get it, it doesn’t help,” Rhoads said.

What each one of these great cities has to offer is part of the road map for the Wabash Valley to create one of the greatest sustainability hubs in our great nation. We have some of the greatest resources being intelligent, caring and hard working people. Therefore, I am very hopeful the new year will change the tide for sustainability here in the Valley. The question for you is: would you like to help leave “Your Green Valley” better than when you first became a part of it?

Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.

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