Measuring Raleigh’s sustainability efforts

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Between 2007 and 2008 the city council set three goals to make Raleigh a more sustainable city.The city’s sustainability office gave councilors an update on those efforts recently.

Those goals include reducing fossil fuel consumption by city vehicles by 20 percent, setting efficiency standards for new buildings and endorsing the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.

That last one was easy, council voted to join the agreement in August, 2007. But the other two goals have been a bit more elusive.

Fossil fuel consumption has actually increased by 15.2 percent, but the city has grown by 12.7 percent during this time.

Raleigh Public Record asked Fleet Manager Travis Brown if he could explain the extra 2.5 percent increase beyond city population growth. Brown explained, ““Even though the growth exceeds population, it could be due to providing services of water, sewage and garbage to the outlying areas, perhaps newly annexed locations.”

In 2009, Raleigh annexed several areas located far from the city center and must provide these areas with city services.

Obtaining LEED certification for all new city constructions and additions has fared somewhat better despite economic turmoil. Whittaker Mill Senior Center, the Millbrook Exchange Senior Center and Marsh Creek Community Center were designed to LEED silver standards and, as Dan Howe, assistant city manager adds, the LEED certified training center on Barwell Road will “take advantage of re-used water, which is managed and monitored by a publicly regulated facility, but the big challenge right now is making the re-used water available to customers and that requires extending the infrastructure.”

The April 15 memo also mentioned replacing older heating and cooling systems with highly efficient HVAC systems at several buildings. Geothermal systems have a higher up-front cost, but by using the earth’s constant temperature provide even more efficient HVAC service, were not mentioned in the memo, so Raleigh Public record followed up with Assistant City Manager Howe. “Geothermal will being used,” Howe stated, “at our new solid waste services facility on Wilder’s Grove. Construction is just beginning on this facility.”

Sustainability Initiatives Manager Thomas added, “Geothermal is an option for future construction. The Wilder’s Grove project was funded by a grant, which helped allay some of the construction costs.”

The memo also tracked the city’s progress on its greenhouse gas emissions goal: “Developing a city-wide strategic energy/climate action plan and detailed implementation strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas and fossil fuel emissions and increasing energy efficiency within the city. This effort focuses on creating a roadmap for not only implementing discreet projects, but also for developing programs, capacity and capital to institutionalize these values, goals and processes.”

Before you start making changes, it is good to get baseline measures of the current situation, so that is exactly what the city is doing. The greenhouse gas study is still underway, but initial finding were released in the memo and, according to Thomas, “the final report may be available as soon as May. After we have the inventory, we’ll be in better position to make informed decision on the next steps to take.”

Buying locally can reduce the carbon footprint of City-purchased goods and services, but was not specifically mentioned in the memo. Thomas states, “Buying locally is a major component of the City’s sustainability plan and is also part of the city’s adherence to LEED silver certification. This will include purchasing of all types and consideration will be given to local sources.”

To reduce its own staff commuter emissions, the city has adopted a telework program. Some telework programs also promote office sharing, which reduces the square footage organizations need to heat and cool buildings. Howe said, “On a very, very limited basis, we have office sharing. We realize that is a longer-term objective as part of a larger telework program, but we have not implemented that aspect right now.”

However, the sustainability office does employ office sharing, according to Thomas.

One recommendation in the memo calls for changing the city’s recycling program to a “bi-weekly automated collection, which would result in the reduction of 13 recycling trucks per day.”

The city has already started to distribute bigger recycling bins similar to city trash bins and pick up twice a week, but it will take a few years – and budget cycles – before the system is in place across the city.

Environmental Goals and Policies Status Report

Council Sustainability Report 2010

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