Cleveland Goes Green

One news item making the rounds in the Sustainable Blogosphere is Cleveland, OH’s hiring of Andrew Watterson as its new sustainability programs manager. As the Plain Dealer points out, Cleveland joins other cities such as Seattle, Chicago and Portland, OR, in putting its money where its mouth is in terms of environmental protection. What will likely make this venture successful is that Watterson isn’t simply a “treehugger” — he also recognizes and promotes the economic benefits of “going green”:

“We live in a capitalist society,” Watterson said. “You need to put [your message] in that context.”

So he dresses in a jacket and tie and emphasizes words such as “high performance” to get his message across. If he can show a manager of a city department or a CEO looking to bring his business to Cleveland that the ideas save money, Watterson is off to a good start.

That’s why, for now, Watterson is targeting what he calls low-hanging fruit – the relatively simple, inexpensive changes the city can make immediately to save energy and money.

They include replacing incandescent light bulbs with low-mercury, longer-lasting fluorescent bulbs; establishing a no-idling policy for diesel-fueled city trucks; and completing an energy audit on a city building to pinpoint how to cut costs.

Watterson also supports money-saving moves already under way, such as the city’s three-year plan to install LED bulbs in all traffic lights. The LED bulbs are more expensive than traditional incandescent ones, but they last up to 7½ years longer, saving the city on labor costs. Incandescent bulbs usually need to be changed after six months; LEDs can last eight years.

The move is expected to save $2 million annually when completed, Watterson said.

Another project he hopes will reap significant savings is a new City Hall roof. In the fall, he will recommend an energy-saving replacement for the dark concrete block pavers that sit atop the Lakeside Avenue building. One option is a “green” roof, which would include grass, trees and plants.

Watterson wants to eventually position Cleveland as one of the cheapest cities in which to do business – at least when it comes to heat and electricity costs.

We hear so much from state and local governments about creating a “business-friendly climate” in their state or community. Usually, that means giving away the farm in terms of tax revenue and regulation. Hopefully, Cleveland’s experiment with incorporating sustainable development into its economic plan will demonstrate that “going green” may be a much more effective way of sustaining a healthy economy.

On a seperate but related note, I decided to browse the City of St. Louis‘ website to see where we are in terms of sustainable development. In a word, behind. We do have programs like Operation Brightside (which deserves recognition and support), but we’re clearly behind the curve in terms of the local government’s support of sustainability. On the upside, we do have many non-governmental organizations devoted to environmental progress and sustainable development.

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