During recent years, governments have realized the financial and environmental benefits of going green and many major metropolitan areas have jumped on the environmentally-friendly bandwagon. A lot of cities across the country are making important contributions and commitments to reduce their carbon footprint.

The leaders of these environmentally progressive cities learned that the initial investment required to become less reliant on non-renewable resources is well worth the cost and long-term benefits. Here are four cities making great progress toward helping the world around them.

1. Bainbridge Island, Washington

Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island, a 27.78 square foot mile island with a population of 23,380, is a 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle. And while it’s a small island, Bainbridge is making a big impact on the environmental scene.

The city’s desire to protect the environment became apparent in 1989 when it enacted a ban preventing restaurants from using non-biodegradable foam packing. From there, the city began implementing policies to reduce its environmental impact. In 1991, a recycling program was implemented to ensure facilities were convenient and affordable for all residents. Following the lead of some bigger cities, the Bainbridge City Council approved an ordinance that banned the use of plastic shopping bags in 2012.

In 2009, Bainbridge Island Positive Energy was formed to explore ways for the city to reduce its energy consumption. Positive Energy aims to have a 20 percent energy saving by 2015, remove 7,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and have a net zero carbon footprint by 2030.

Bainbridge fosters a sense of community pride in its residents that encourages participation in environmental programs. The city stopped using pesticides and herbicides in the late 1980s and now enlists the help of residents through the Let’s Pull Together – Scotch Broom Control program through Sustainable Bainbridge to keep the invasive weed from taking over the island. People involved in the Let’s Pull Together program pull Scotch Broom from roadsides, residential areas and businesses and leave it curbside where it is picked up and disposed of by volunteers.

2. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Fayetteville, Arkansas

Fayetteville entered the green movement in 2003 when the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association was formed to prevent development on Mount Sequoyah Woods. The 67-acre area was a favorite natural area and hiking destination, but was rumored to be for sale by the Western Methodist Assembly. The association raised the money necessary for the city to purchase the land and has continued to raise funds and awareness about the importance of green spaces. The city, in conjunction with FNHA, continues to conserve green spaces while promoting population growth.

This city, located in the Ozark Mountains and home to the University of Arkansas, began requiring all buildings larger than 5,000 square feet to be LEED-Silver Standard certified in 2007. The city is also beginning to tap into solar energy and has retrofitted the public library with 13.5 kilowatt solar panel system. The library has saved on electric costs, offset 52,925 pounds of carbon emissions and received rebates of more than $34,000. Recognizing that financial constraints can inhibit some of its residents from becoming more energy efficient, city leaders launched Project LIGHTS to provide energy efficient light bulbs to people who can’t afford to purchase them.

In addition the commitment to green spaces and energy efficiency, Fayetteville also encourages its residents to shop local and seasonal and offers an impressive farmers market in a renovated downtown space.

3. Nashua, New Hampshire

Nashua

Nashua, like many small industrial mill towns that were once thriving, found itself faced with abandoned industrial sites. Nashua turned those abandoned buildings into green spaces and community centers which earned a $1 million donation from the Environmental Protection Agency to use for future green projects.

In an ongoing search for ways to be more cost effective while reducing environmental impact, Nashua leaders decided to replace the city’s fleet of vehicles with vehicles that burn compressed natural gas. Not only does the new fleet reduce petroleum use and increase air quality, but the vehicles’ engines will last up to 25 percent longer and will result in fuel savings. This investment in the city’s future caught the attention of Harvard University and President Barack Obama who visited the city’s community college to check out the compressed natural gas program in March 2012. Harvard awarded the city one of 10 Natural Gas Achievement Awards that same year.

4. Beaverton, Oregon

Beaverton

Oregon is a global leader in sustainability and Beaverton, with a population of about 90,000, has an impressive amount of green space and as a result, boasts of having every home have a park located no more than a half a mile away.

In the spring of 2011, the city launched Solar Beaverton, a pilot program created to inspire and assist in the installation of solar panels throughout the city. By January of 2012 Solar Beaverton had 258 solar power systems installed. The program allows residents to install solar panels at a fixed price through a vendor the city has negotiated with which equates to savings and a streamlined installation process. Solar Beaverton has earned nation recognition including the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Smart City Award and the Mayor Denny Doyle won the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Award.

Beaverton’s commitment to a greener tomorrow has been recognized by the EPA which bestowed the title of Green Power Partner on the city in 2012. This prestigious distinction is awarded to cities that exhibit leadership through the use of renewable energy. Beaverton was the only Oregon city to receive this elite title, thanks in part to the city purchasing 100 percent of the energy used in government buildings from green power offsets.

The road to a greener tomorrow is paved with contributions by cities of all sizes with the common goal of exploring ways to leave future generations a sustainable way of life.

Photos courtesy of Sue Elias, Nanoprobe67, and TracyLee.

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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