“Howdy, I’m Erin Chastain-Harris, sustainability coordinator for the City of College Station.”
When I introduce myself these days, I am often met by a puzzled look, followed quickly by a question: “What’s a sustainability coordinator?”
Although sustainability is not a new idea, it is a hot topic in government and corporate business. Now that it’s popular to be “green,” many entities are publicizing how effectively they balance resources used and dollars spent with social responsibility. Businesses are tackling their resource usage with a complete systems view and are touting a smaller carbon footprint as a result. The City of College Station has embarked on a similar course.
Finding a Better Way
As sustainability coordinator, I find myself challenging the status quo, encouraging long-term thinking and actions that result in positive economic, social or environmental impact. In simple terms, I’m the one who walks around the office asking why things are done a certain way and if a better way is possible.
A great example is the city’s recent decision to change the type of copy paper we use. It sounds minor until you realize that purchasing lightweight paper could reduce our paper consumption by almost 7,000 pounds per year. Not only does that reduce waste and lessen our environmental impact, but it also saves city taxpayers about $13,000 annually.
Saving Tax Dollars
A prime example is simply turning on the lights. Parking lot lights recently were retrofitted at two parks. Logically, using more efficient lights would result in lower electric bills, so staff determined it would be cost-effective to replace almost 100 fixtures. Although the initial investment seemed like a lot, the reduced electric cost over the fixture’s 20-year life expectancy is estimated to be about $56,000 per year, which is enough to pay for the fixtures and have 16½ years of lower operating costs.
In addition to waste reduction and energy efficiency, my project list also includes green building, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution prevention. One of the biggest challenges is merging sustainable values with city operations. I also seek additional grant funding to implement selected projects and raise community awareness.
A Team Effort
Many minds are better than one, and I’m not alone in performing these tasks. A least one person from every city department joins me on an internal green team. Together, we produce innovative ideas to save money and resources. I also have the assistance of the Green College Station Advisory Committee, which is comprised of citizens who help guide our green initiatives.
The City of College Station created the sustainability coordinator position with temporary grant funding that pays my salary and benefits. The grant covers the position through 2012, when the city manager will make a recommendation and the city council will ultimately decide whether the position becomes permanent. In the meantime, I’m dedicated to continue finding ways to save you money by using our resources in a better and more efficient manner.
If you have questions about the sustainability coordinator’s position or the city’s sustainability efforts, please post your comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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