4 Cities Taking Small Steps to Make Big Changes in the Environment

Written by | Updated August 21, 2013

Cities across the U.S. are discovering that simple changes like banning single-use plastic shopping bags or offering residents a venue for selling items that might otherwise be discarded, can go a long way towards promoting a green lifestyle.

The following four cities have found going green is not only a sound investment, but that often little changes can yield big results.

1. Gainesville, Florida

Gainesville is green leader in the Sunshine State and in 2009 became the first state in the nation to offer a solar feed-in tariff. The tariff allows Gainesville residents a way of selling back the energy collected in the solar panels to Gainesville Regional Utilities for a price that is higher than the market rate. The city’s commitment to solar energy can be seen popping up on rooftops at malls, parking garages and office buildings. Gainesville is recognized as a world leader in per capita solar power output.

Gainesville was named a Tree City more than 25 years ago in by the Arbor Day Foundation for its dedication to protecting green spaces and planting and nurturing trees. Gainesville was also awarded as the first Butterfly City in recognition of the contributions made to the butterfly rain forest at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

A commitment to a sustainable lifestyle can also be witnessed throughout Gainesville in community gardens, edible landscapes, rainwater collection barrels, compost heaps, and the ever-increasing number of residents who bicycle, carpool, and use public transit to get around.

This city is making sustainability a reality through the use of tax revenue. Gainesville uses about half of all sales tax collected to purchase conservation land and the rest is allocated for recreation and senior centers.

2. West Hollywood, California

West Hollywood is proof that small changes can have a big impact. In 2007 the city passed legislation that stipulates that all construction – new, rehabs, and additions — must meet the green standards once only held for city buildings. Under these new regulations, all construction must adhere to a 20 percent reduction in construction waste, using low-volatility paints and Energy Star appliances, and building roofs are solar panel ready. While the new regulations might seem daunting upon first inspection, developers say that the West Hollywood plan is actually easier than the United States Green Building Council`s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.

West Hollywood, in keeping with California`s position on reducing landfill waste, banned the use of plastic shopping bags in grocery stores in 2012. To encourage the use of reusable shopping bags, the city’s ordinance allows for the use of paper bags made of at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content, at a cost of 10 cents per bag.

Because West Hollywood leaders believe that one of the best ways to reduce landfill waste is to prevent usable items from being discarded, the city holds an annual city-wide yard sale each summer. As a free service to residents the city will provide an Internet ad for each yard sale participant so that they can let potential shoppers know what wares they will be selling, the hours they are selling and how much they are charging. The yard sale is part of the city’s WehoGrnWknd which is aimed at raising environmental awareness and ultimately reducing landfill waste. In addition to the yard sale, the city will also provide a free document shredding service and E-waste collection at the West Hollywood City Hall.

3. Rochester, New York

In 2009 the Rochester City Council started down the road to environmental protection with the approval of the Climate and Environment Protection Resolution. The city’s own Green Team created the Resolution to pave the way for the city to become a livable green city. To fund the Resolution, the city was awarded a $2.2 million in Energy, Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant from the federal government.

Armed with the grant money, the city has implemented the Green Team’s Resolution through the introduction of high efficiency and alternative fuel vehicles to the city’s fleet, increasing the recycling program and converted abandoned urban spaces into green spaces.

Rochester’s recycling program, which mandates that all households recycle, has earned it national acclaim. To help streamline the process for residents, the city doesn’t require recyclables to be sorted and also provides the necessary recycling containers free of charge.

The city takes recycling one step further through its Materials Give Back Program which provides free recycled materials to residents. Leaves collected curbside by the city are treated then given back for use as compost. Christmas trees, scrap wood and brush are collected, put through a chipper then given back for use as mulch for use in flower gardens and landscaping projects in the state.

Rochester takes pride in its more than 3,500 acres of parklands, 18 miles of off road trails and 70,000 city-maintained trees. To encourage the use and protection of these natural amenities, Rochester hosts an annual Greentopia ECOFEST. The week-long celebration showcases ways residents can reduce their carbon footprint through educational displays featuring everything from fashionable clothing made from recycled materials to beer and wine tasting.

4. Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville is in the process of creating a long-term sustainability policy, but the city’s dedication to the environment is nothing new. Knoxville, Tennessee currently boasts of a 37 percent savings on municipality energy costs, a 133 percent increase in solar capability and an overall 17 percent reduction of the city government’s carbon footprint during the past seven years.

In 2008 Knoxville was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to become a Solar America City to help the city accelerate the solar energy technologies. Through this partnership, the city has created a Solar Knoxville Programs that allows residents assistance and ease in converting to solar energy.

In addition, Knoxville has partnered with IBM Smart Cities to identify ways for residents to become more energy efficient. The partnership has discovered that there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to addressing how to assist low-income families in becoming more energy efficient which will not only reduce the money the families spend on energy, but also save the city money. The study was concluded in as part of Smarter Cities Challenge grant, which Knoxville won in 2012.

What are you doing in your city to help improve the environment?

Written by Nicole Tallman

Nicole is the mom to two precocious girls and is PTA President. She is passionate about the environment and leaving the Earth better than she found it. Learn more

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