The City of Brotherly Love Goes Green

greenworks%20logo.jpgPhiladelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced today their comprehensive Greenworks Philadelphia plan – which highlights their environmental efforts and strategy towards sustainability – with the goal to make Philadelphia “The Greenest City in America” by 2015.

Greenworks Philadelphia is the culmination of 10 months of work with contributions from city employees, nonprofit organizations, civic and business leaders. The plan is broken down into 15 key targets in five focus areas – energy, environment, equity, economy and engagement.

The timeline is ambitious – highlights include:

-Lowering city and government energy consumption by 30%
-Reducing GHG emissions by 20%
-Divert 70% of solid waste from landfill
-Increase public, park, and recreation space and boost tree coverage toward 30% in all neighborhoods in 2025
-Double the number of low- and high-skilled green jobs

Although this is seen as by far Philadelphia’s most comprehensive plan, this isn’t their first stab at sustainability. The city joined Cities for Climate Protection® (CCP) Campaign Cities for Climate Protection® (CCP) Campaign almost ten years ago, pledging GHG reduction, as well as joining the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement and the Clinton Climate Initiative in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

So how have they done? Sustainlane ranked Philadelphia as their 8th ranked city in 2008, and the city has made some good strides in the last year (i.e., appointing a Director of Sustainability, single stream recycling leading up to today’s announcement.

Of course, the main subject that many sustainability plans are centered today: jobs. Mayor Nutter hopes to create 10,000 new jobs with the Greenworks initiative, and the timing is good for Philadelphia due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and their ability to leverage these funds to jump start some of their programs.

It’s good to see that the federal stimulus money is steering municipalities toward low hanging fruit like weatherization and energy efficiency in both municipal buildings and low income housing, because it is easy for political leaders to get caught up in concepts like green technology and renewable energy and forget about the low hanging fruit like recycling and diesel retrofits (which may not be as sexy, but go a long way toward job creation, GHG reductions and improved air quality).

So we are treading over very familiar territory here, and it seems surprising that we are still talking about things as simple as recycling, but the strong thing about the Greenworks plan is the practicality of it, and Philadelphia makes a strong case for achievement by putting programs like urban farms and tree planting front and center with solar energy and renewable energy.

They seem to get it right, and will make a strong statement for transparency. Mark Alan Hughes, the city’s Director of Sustainability, said “We tell you exactly what we’re going to do. Unlike other cities, this is not a 2030 plan; this is not a 2050 plan. This is a 2015 plan.”

This comment may or may not be referring to NYC’s 2030 plan announced by Mayor Bloomberg in 2007, but it is clear that Philadelphia is officially in the game. The next and most difficult task is, of course, implementation. They clearly have some catching up to do amongst their peers in certain categories, but their new comprehensive plan provides them with a solid strategy to reach that goal in 2015.

Brian Thurston is a sustainability consultant working on research, strategy and policy development. Brian is interested in building awareness and unique relationships within and between corporate, government, and NGO partners. He holds a BA in Literature from University of Southern California, and a MS in Environmental Policy from The Johns Hopkins University.

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