The City of Phoenix has a legacy of conservation—it’s had to. Building and maintaining a major metropolitan area in the desert takes complex infrastructure and smart management of resources. That’s something the city has been doing for 50 years. Looking ahead, Phoenix expects more growth and is taking measures to ensure that growth is sustainable, both from an economic standpoint and an environmental one. In this installment of the Green Line Series, City of Phoenix Sustainability Officer, Carolyn Bristo, merges past and present, with a vision for a very green future in the desert.
GoGreen Conference: What is your vision for a sustainable Phoenix? How is the City working to make Phoenix the most sustainable city in the country?
Carolyn Bristo: The end game, for the City, is always to ensure our residents have a high quality of life, now and in the future. The main spheres of influence that we’re concerned about are community, economy and the environment.
GG: Are there any elements—renewable energy, sustainable mass transit, etc.—that are key focus points for the City as you move forward?
CB: The areas you mentioned are very important to us. Because they involve complex planning, we have set stages of goals and priorities around these areas. One is that 15 percent of our energy needs will be met by renewables by 2025. Another is that our greenhouse gas emission levels will be 5 percent below the 2005 levels by 2015. We also have a goal that we will achieve 20 percent average shade canopy coverage at all city parks by 2030.
These are just some of the goals that we’ve set, and we’re working with our communities and agencies to prioritize values around neighborhood development. They’re outlined in Mayor Gordon’s 17-point Green Phoenix Plan that focuses on greening Phoenix neighborhoods, homes and businesses. That plan looks at energy sources and transit, but also waterways, efficiency measures, homegrown agriculture, urban mobility, transportation synergy, etc.
GG: How important is it to have buy in from the top levels of city leadership in Phoenix?
CB: We’re very fortunate at the City of Phoenix to have visionary leaders in our history that have fostered a culture of innovation and outstanding environmental stewardship for almost 50 years. We’ve implemented many ground-breaking initiatives over that time. We were one of the first adopters of using recycled tires in our asphalt and that started in the 1960s. We developed a water conservation plan over 30 years ago and we’re actually using less water now than we were in 1997. We have also had an energy efficiency and conservation program for over 30 years and have quantified over $120 million in cost savings or avoidance over that time. Today we are looking at how we can buffet our environmental sustainability legacy, get to the next level and achieve our goals over the next decade.
Finally, we have embarked upon a update process for the City’s general plan that will certainly focus a lot more on community well-being and sustainable economic development in the near future.
GG: How does Mayor Gordon’s Green Phoenix Plan specifically support the development of sustainable businesses in Phoenix?
CB: Much of the Green Phoenix Plan focuses on partnership and collaboration. The community and economic development part of the plan is very important. One of our key programs is called Energize Phoenix and the goal of that is to create a higher level of building stock and neighborhoods by making them more energy efficient. Our goal is to enhance 30 million square feet of office space through energy efficiency upgrades along the 10-mile stretch of the light rail corridor.
That’s just one example of the many programs we’re putting forth as a collaborative effort between the business community and the City. Another very successful partnership with the business community is the Solar Phoenix program. This program is for residential upgrades, but this program could not have happened without financing from National Bank of Arizona and working in close concert with Arizona Public Service, our public utility in Phoenix. We also needed a well-qualified work force to install the upgrades. So far, with a $25 million investment, they’ve been able to install solar on 444 homes and have generated over 2,800 kilowatt-hours of solar energy. Through leveraging the investment of our private sector and the dedication of our public utility to advance renewable energy, we’ve created one of the largest residential solar programs in the nation.
GG: How does the City of Phoenix ensure the viability of water as a resource moving forward, as the metro area grows and expands? Are there ways for businesses to better manage this shared resource in partnership with the City?
CB: The City has an aggressive water conservation program and has worked extensively with businesses to manage our water for decades now. We have a long established set of best practices that the community works under, including reusing 90 percent of our waste water for industrial, agricultural and recreational purposes. That infrastructure is a huge support for our parks and golf courses.
We’ve also reduced ground water usage from approximately 35 percent of the water supply in 1984 to less than three percent in 2010. And we continue to promote water efficiency and re-use programs through new commercial and residential plumbing codes. We recently passed a voluntary Green Building Code to encourage building green through commercial code, which ties into efficiency as well.
GG: Are there any public/private partnerships that have been particularly successful that you could highlight for us?
CB: There have been several that come to mind through our Energize Phoenix program. We worked with many local businesses, including CB Richard Ellis, American Cleaning Systems, Nibblers Catering and Hines GS to upgrade commercial facilities through our grant program and incentives, make their space more efficient and save them money in operating costs—as well as conserve resources. Businesses interested in the program can learn more at the program website: energizephx.com
Carolyn Bristo is the Sustainability Officer at the City of Phoenix and will speak on the Overcoming Barriers to Sustainability panel session at GoGreen ’11 Phoenix, November 15. To learn more about the City’s resources for businesses wanting to go green, come see Carolyn live at GoGreen ’11 Phoenix! Event details and registration can be found here. For the latest event announcements and sustainability news, follow us on Twitter (@GoGreenConf) and be a fan on Facebook (facebook.com/gogreenconference). Join the GoGreen Phoenix email list here.