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‘A very eco-friendly city’

Residents, institutions promote green practices in Charlottesville area

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Print this page by Carlos Santos

Jace Goodling rents out goats as an environmentally friendly way to manicure lawns and clear pastures. Rose Brown is a recycling star, producing a mere one-quarter pound of garbage a year. Eco-blogger Jennifer McDonald’s mission tries to teach consumers how easy it is to save the earth.

All three Charlottesville-area residents work and live — and spread their eco-friendly message — in what some people believe is the most environmentally conscious region in Virginia. The area’s concern for the ecology extends from its residents to local governments and major employers such as the University of Virginia.

“Charlottesville is a very eco-friendly city,” says McDonald. In her blogging, she wants to show people “that you don’t have to live a perfect eco lifestyle. You can make simple, easy, inexpensive changes to your lifestyle that will have a large impact on the environment.” McDonald, a freelance writer and editor, uses the nickname “Recycla” and is the co-founder of the blog Eco Women: Protectors of the Planet.

The city of Charlottesville prides itself on its environmental stance, buying hybrid buses that run on gas and electricity and offering curbside recycling, energy audits of homes and businesses and composting. It also promotes the use of bikes, trails and walkways. The city may be the only one in Virginia to hire a part-time “bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.”  The coordinator, Amanda Poncy, has said her goal is to help reduce the use of cars within the city limits.

Satyendra Huja, Charlottesville’s recently elected mayor, believes the city is a leader in the green movement. “That’s the perspective of many of our local and regional citizens, and we are frequently pointed to by folks outside the Charlottesville area as such.  I believe the leadership comes both in the form of projects as well as programs.”

Huja, president of Community Planning Associates in Charlottesville, likes to share the city’s green-friendly accomplishments. It completed LEED certification for the new Smith Aquatics Center and also is seeking LEED certification for the new Fontaine Fire Station. (LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a national standard for developing sustainable buildings.)

“We have a track record of promoting energy efficiency and other strategies related to emission reductions and climate protection,” says Huja, who served as director of city planning and strategic planning during a long career with the city. “We were key players in the establishment of the Local Energy Alliance Program that focuses on facilitating energy improvement in our residential and commercial sectors … We have a history of voluntary efforts linked to water-quality improvements, including designation of vegetated stream buffers, a green roof on City Hall, a substantial rainwater harvesting project at Charlottesville High School and integration of other low-impact development strategies to improve storm-water management.”

The city also encourages green-oriented businesses such as Alloy Workshop, an architecture, construction and graphic design studio. Its renovated offices boast bio-based foam insulation, a high-efficiency HVAC system, a wood stove for additional heat, solar tubes, skylights and water-conserving plumbing fixtures. The company added a shower to encourage bicycle commuting.
The city and Albemarle County’s Better Business Challenge, which recognizes success in sustainability, has enrolled more than 100 businesses according to officials.  The Challenge is a competition among businesses to increase recycling and reduce waste with the winner announced May 15 by the city.

One business owner offering old-fashioned sustainable practices is Jace Goodling, the owner of Nelson County-based Goat Busters. Goodling hauls goats to lawns or pastures in the area, puts up a portable fence and lets the animals eat all the grass, leaves and brush they want.

Charlottesville, for example, hired Goodling’s goats to clean up three acres of Pen Park in April last year.  The city needed to clear out kudzu and other weeds but didn’t want to use pesticides. “Charlottesville is very ecologically minded,” says Goodling. “It’s very conscious about being earth friendly.”

The city isn’t alone in its green efforts. As of July 2010, energy consumption in Albemarle County was down 20.3 percent when compared to usage in 2005, according to officials.  “In April 2008 we set a very ambitious goal to reduce our energy use 30 percent by December 2012 using calendar 2005 as our baseline,” says Lee Catlin, a spokeswoman for the county. “According to our report for calendar year 2011, we are 86 percent [toward] meeting that goal.” 

But more impressive was “avoidance” cost as it relates to payments to the utility companies.  “Our reduced consumption of electric, natural gas and water has enabled us to avoid paying an additional $183,562 in 2011,” she says.

The county office building, located in downtown Charlottesville, has a green roof, which has reduced the quantity of storm-water runoff through absorption and plant evapo-transpiration. The green roof also insulates, keeping the interior of the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. 

The University of Virginia also has joined the green movement in a big way. With about 20,000 students and 20,000 employees, U.Va. dramatically affects the Charlottesville region in everything it does.  Officials are working to reduce the university’s total amount of trash, asking students, faculty and staff to drink less bottled water, save cardboard boxes and reduce the number of pages printed on paper, says Bruce “Sonny” Beale, director of U.Va. recycling.

The university currently recycles about 43 percent of its municipal solid waste. That includes everything from bottles and cardboard to paper and aluminum. Thousands of recycling containers are located around the Grounds in dorms and classrooms.

“You walk by any trash can anywhere, and you’ll find material that can be recycled,” says Beale. “But five years ago it was an uphill battle to get people to recycle. Over the years it’s become progressively easier.”

University students and employees are a constant target of these green efforts.  Beale says signs are mounted on the thousands of light switches encouraging everyone to turn off the lights when leaving a room. Another sign, “Try Just One,” is attached to paper towel dispensers to reduce consumption. 

Students in recent years have organized SustainaUnity, a clearinghouse for sustainability events and activities. The organization is run by a coalition of student groups such as the Environmental Sustainability Committee of the Student Council, Green Grounds and Sustainability Advocates — or as it’s called overall, “The Fellowship of the Greens.”

The university also released the “2011 UVA Sustainability Assessment.” It detailed progress toward sustainability in the past five years in areas such as governance, academics and management centers. Those efforts only touch on U.Va.’s commitment to turning green. Its initiatives and goals are outlined at http://www.virginia.edu/sustainability

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Local landscape architect Kennon Williams has worked on many green projects at U.Va. and in the city. They include the Dell at U.Va., the grounds at the new Martha Jefferson Hospital and the proposed McIntire Botanical Garden Master Plan — a garden that would celebrate the Piedmont landscape.

Williams believes that while Charlottesville is not yet in the same league as green meccas like Portland, Ore., or Boulder, Colo., it is gaining momentum. “It is a very important and exciting time for the city, which is witnessing this emergence of a strong environmental commitment,” he says. “There is still a lot to do on the urban planning level to achieve a truly green city status.”

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