National poll ranks Denver fifth "greenest" city in U.S.By Anthony Cotton
The Denver Post
POSTED: 06/30/2011 10:25:34 AM MDT21 COMMENTS
UPDATED: 06/30/2011 06:25:32 PM MDT
On a beautiful sun-splashed day earlier this week, Jamie Gloss and a friend found themselves tooling around downtown Denver on bicycles they had rented from a kiosk near the 16th-street Mall.
"It's good for the environment and it's a fun alternative," Gloss said. "It's quicker than walking and cheaper than finding and paying for a parking garage."
While Gloss readily admits she was born in Boulder, chances are she didn't know her excursion — and her "Save the Earth" attitude - is precisely one of the reasons why Siemens has ranked Denver as the fifth-greenest city in North America.
"We see a lot of exemplary things that are happening in Denver," said Alison Taylor, Siemens' vice-president for sustainability.
"The city has very clean and efficient energy policies and a robust environmental governance performance — it's not just having plans on paper, but also plans that have teeth; plans that are effective with enforcement behind them."An engineering conglomerate based in Germany, Siemens recently began indexing continents around the world; in the North American study, released today, the company, along with the Economist Intelligence Unit, rated 27 cities throughout North America on environmental criteria in nine areas ranging from land use to buildings to transportation.
Denver finished first in energy consumption and governance, finishing with an overall score of 73.5, trailing San Francisco, Vancouver, New York City and Seattle.
The bottom three cities on the list were Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit."We all get rankings like this and are anxious to see where we fit against our peers, but to be perfectly honest, we're really excited to be in the top five, to be recognized for all the work we've done throughout the city with the Greenprint Initiative," said Scott Morrissey, deputy Greenprint Denver is the city's office for environmental and sustainability issues.
Erin Jacobs, 14, of Commerce City, enjoys reading a book at the library. The carpet tiling system and millwork are composed of a minimum 35% recycled materials. The new Green Valley Ranch library was derived from community comments emphasizing the library's proximity to the landscape of the plains and the airplanes of Denver International Airport. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
Formed five years ago, then-mayor John Hickenlooper proclaimed the Greenprint group and its efforts "an effective force for innovation and leadership to improve the environment."
But even the most ardent supporters of the Green movement admit that isn't always easy, with the public often balking at perceived intrusions into their daily lives, whether it's using compact florescent lightbulbs (CFLs) or purchasing smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
"When it comes to the environment, people are willing to at least consider a few changes in habits or a few dollars here and there, but clearly there are limits," said Joel Makower, chairman of the GreenBiz Group and an expert on environmental issues. "You can put solar panels on your roof, but that costs money and, if you notice, not many people are doing it.
"Those are harder choices. But the attitude that green costs money is an unfortunate myth. It really has less to do with cost than with change - and change is hard, whether it's individuals, households, businesses, communities, governments and institutions. Green succeeds in the marketplace only in the extent that it makes things better-a better company, a better business, a better household, a better quality of life."
To that end, Greenprint Denver has made a point of not talking up the environmental impact of its work, but rather the greenbacks that can be saved.
From left to right David Gonzales, 4 and his sister Stephanie, 2, and older brother Gil, 5 enjoy playing on the computer at the library. The new Green Valley Ranch library was derived from community comments emphasizing the library's proximity to the landscape of the plains and the airplanes of Denver International Airport. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
On Wednesday it launched an initiative that encouraged city residents to take advantage of free energy efficiency services, including CFLs and faucet and shower aerators, that would reduce energy bills. To help spread the word, the group is literally going door-to-door in Denver neighborhoods.
"The fact that we're working directly with the neighborhoods, either with a registered neighborhood association or a registered green team, it makes it easier to make that sales pitch," Morrissey said. "They're people from the neighborhood, saying, 'Hey I live down the street from you and I've taken advantage of this rebate from Xcel Energy. You might want to look into it too.'"
The same approach applies in Greenprint Denver's work with businesses and corporations as well, the group emphasizing the money that can be saved in up-front costs.
An example of that was the Greenprint Denver's work with the Better Denver Bond Program. When the $550 million effort was established, Greenprint was on board with a sustainability committee that helped the various agencies look at the long-term costs and efficiencies of their projects.
"They were making decisions with the future use of the building in mind," Morrissey said. "To make sure we don't cut corners in the construction and have that increase costs in the operation of the building."
So when the Green Valley Ranch library opened in March, for example, the $11.4 million facility not only included self-checkout stations but low-flow water fixtures, solar tubes, day-lighting and evaporative cooling systems inside the building as well. According to Greenprint Denver, the library will use 60 percent less energy and 40 percent less water annually than buildings using conventional design approaches.
And while that may not have a direct impact on someone living in Washington Park or Five Points, Makower says there's a cumulative effect.
"People want to be proud of where they live. We're all looking for good stories and heroes, whether it's companies or governments or neighbors or our families and they're fewer and farther between these days. But civic pride still marks high in people's minds as something they can point to and be proud of."
Anthony Cotton: 303-954-1292 or firstname.lastname@example.org