Sustainable Cities Today and Tomorrow

Apr 9, 2012

From Berea to Lexington, the newest buzz word at city hall is “sustainability.” Essentially promoters say we should have a lifestyle that doesn’t exhaust the earth’s resources. And, local leaders are increasingly asked to promote a sustainable lifestyle..  Late this winter, city leaders received a report called, ‘Empower Lexington.’   Its authors seek to reduce the city’s energy consumption by one percent annually.  Their reactions were mixed and reflected the national debate over the environment, climate change and energy independence.

Promoters want sustainability officially set as one of Lexington’s long term goals, but the process has already begun to the south, in the community of Berea.  

For example, the city sponsored a solar farm which allows residents to lease solar power from one panel for 25 years.  Also underway is government funded research into Berea’s carbon footprint.  Randy Stone administers the Madison County community.

"The results of this grant, we will then have our goals as to how we can reduce our electrical, water, our recycling of trash items..and also our gas usage…for automobiles over the next five years,” said Stone.   

In practical terms, Stone says Berea’s looking to increase efficiency of it government vehicles while reducing pollution.

“We’re looking at the type of vehicles that we buy..are there any more fuel efficient vehicles out there that flex fuel, smaller vehicles…smaller trucks that we may be able to use..and also we’ve looked at our policy as far as our people pull up to a job allow their vehicles to idle..they have in the past…we’ve stopped those kinds of things,” added Stone. 

Bluegrass Pride, or Personal Responsibility in a Desirable Environment, is a non-profit organization that’s battled everything from hazardous waste to roadside litter.  It’s also distributed rain barrels among home owners so they can use rainwater in their gardens.  Bluegrass Pride works with officials in some 18 central Kentucky counties.  And in some of those counties, Executive Director Amy Sohner says, they’re at work on specific sustainability plans.

“We’re doing a sustainability plan a sustainability strategic plan in those try and figure out what the citizens think the problems are…what the government officials think the problems far as the environment goes….what the solutions can be to both of those and then how do those actually relate to actual data existing data on water quality and air quality and things like that,” said Sohner.

Sohner adds people sometimes don’t realize sustainability is also good for the economy.

“Sometimes people get scared of sustainability issues., they think that money is going to go for saving clean water and not to job development or something like that where as if you can have clean water and no litter on your streets there’s a lot of economic development that can be done, because people want to move into an area like that,” explained Sohner.  

Sustainability seems like a lofty goal to many people.  But there is the ripple effect to consider.  Cliff Feltham is with Kentucky Utilities…which supplies power to much of central and eastern Kentucky.  He says sustainability can be found in simple acts…like turning down the thermostat, weatherizing the house, and turning off lights and computers when not in use

“You take all of those half million customers…and have them all doing something conserve energy to be more energy efficient..all of those things…it’s gonna add up,” said Feltham.

Maria Koetter is two months into her role as sustainability coordinator for the state’s largest city.  A green partnership already exists between local government in Louisville, Jefferson County Schools and the University of Louisville.   But, Koetter says expanding that collaboration across the community will take some doing..

“Maybe the majority of the people in the city would want to get behind sustainability and you’re’re gonna have plenty of folks that don’t get it and think it’s silly for lack of a better way to put it,” said Koetter.

So, while progress varies between local governments, many are at least talking about sustainability. But, as for making entire communities self-sustaining, the average Kentuckian must still be convinced.