FCWC’s Climate Change Summit: Why Do We Need It?

By: Sara Goddard, Board Member

On September 12th, Pace University Law School’s Center for Environmental Legal Studies and FCWC will hold an all-day conference on climate change. Climate change is a hot policy topic; scientists, legislators, and policy makers are focused on tackling the problem and advocating for prescriptive action. Given this intense scrutiny on climate change, why is there a need for a summit devoted to the topic? Unfortunately, the climate change issue is one that is snarled in a knot of misconceptions, political maneuverings, and ideological fallacies. It is undoubtedly one of the searing problems of our day, but information has been obscured by a cloud of rhetoric created by a coalition of opponents determined to undermine public support for climate legislation. As a result, there is a large divide between consensus among scientists and public perception of the problem.

First, let’s state the facts: Climate change is here and it’s happening now. The staggering abundance of scientific data support this conclusion. To summarize the most recent and salient sources:

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change authors, a group of over 1,200 recognized experts, have concluded in a series of reports that climate change is “unequivocally” caused by humans and will cause destruction and massive social upheaval if nothing is done to cut emissions.

The latest National Climate Assessment report states that “climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways.”

The fact that “97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” (NASA site)

These results should be more than sufficient to conclude – unequivocally – that global warming is here, it’s real, and it’s caused by human activity. Sadly, the stark, blunt factual data is just not enough. As President Obama put it in his recent address to college graduates:

“It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist. When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it … But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.”

The climate change issue has been hijacked by a diverse collection of groups that is intent to throw a shroud of doubt on the subject. Some news outlets that proclaim accuracy and unbiased reporting actually produce misleading and incorrect representations of climate science. A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, finds that Fox News coverage of climate science is accurate only 28% of the time. With Fox News having the largest viewership among all the cable news networks, it isn’t surprising that many Americans don’t have a clear picture of the facts.

It also doesn’t help that the climate denial position has been inserted into political discourse, where many of our elected officials question the accuracy of climate science as if it’s an idea or opinion that can be debated. For example, a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans,

“Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate”

And just last month, Senator Marco Rubio stated, “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it…”

This relentless campaign has proven successful in achieving the desired results. A new Gallup poll finds that only a third of Americans are truly concerned about global warming, and the proportion of “Cool Skeptics” has actually increased over the last few years. One reason is that skeptics believe media reports on the issue are incorrect or exaggerated.

So how do we expose the truth and get the facts out? How do we mobilize our communities to take action? The key is education, but the way information is disseminated is of critical importance. A recent study published in the journal Climatic Change illustrates this point well. The authors acknowledge the “well-documented campaign in the USA to deny the reality and seriousness of anthropogenic climate change” but find that when people are informed of the facts from scientific evidence, they are far more likely to support government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, more than ever, the phrase, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” is imbued with urgency. The federal government is limited in what it can accomplish, but our individual communities can take action, with guidance from local leaders. The key is mobilizing constituents; making the issue personal, but not so dire that people feel helpless to act.

The FCWC climate change summit will be the ideal forum for disseminating information, sharing ideas, and learning from national experts about what solutions are available to municipalities. With its specific focus on local legislators and public officials, the summit will enable these individuals to take what they’ve learned and translate it into action in their communities. With fabrication and misinterpretation clouding the real picture, it is essential to promote the true facts on climate change. The FCWC summit will accomplish this. Please attend on September 12th!

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Food Waste Composting in Westchester

By: Lakis Polycarpou, member of Tarrytown Environmental Advisory Council, FCWC member organization

A few weeks ago, the New York City Council passed a series of major new environmental regulations, including a provision that will require composting of food waste at large restaurants in the city. It’s a move that’s only the latest step in rapidly spreading change in how Americans deal with food waste.

According to the EPA, food scraps, yard waste and other organic materials account for more than 50 percent of the waste stream in the US, are the third largest source of methane emissions when landfilled, and are a potential source of dioxin and other toxic pollution when incinerated. In addition, as energy prices rise and overloaded landfills close, collecting and disposing of wastes presents a growing operational cost, as municipalities and businesses must ship trash greater and greater distances.

In the last few years, a growing number of municipalities have realized that separating organic materials at the source and composting them is a relatively simple step that can yield huge environmental benefits. In the last decade, the city of San Francisco pioneered municipal composting by requiring restaurants and businesses to separate organic materials for collection. In 2009, the program was expanded to residences, adding a third bin to collect compostable materials in addition to recyclables and trash.

San Francisco’s initiative has reduced the city’s carbon emissions to nearly 12 percent below 1990s levels. Similar programs in Seattle and Portland have had equally impressive results; Portland’s diversion program reduced landfill trash collection by almost 40 percent within a year of implementation. By some calculations, if every US city had similar collection programs, the nation could offset 20 percent of its overall carbon emissions.

While there are many approaches to composting food waste, most systems fall broadly into three categories: vermicomposting, aerobic and anaerobic composting.  Check out our blog, for the details of these three types of composting.

Vermicomposting or worm composting, involves using certain species of earthworms (most commonly Red Wrigglers) to eat and digest wastes. Worm manure (castings) is a nutrient-rich, black humus that is used as a valuable fertilizer. Worm composting is frequently used in small-scale backyard systems (or even in the home). It has the advantage of relative simplicity, and unlike aerobic composting does not require large amounts of carbon-rich or “brown” materials like dried leaves to work. Disadvantages: worm composting doesn’t work for large amounts of meat or dairy waste, and is less practical outdoors in winter, where cold temperature freeze piles and can kill the worms.

Aerobic composting is the most common form of backyard composting, but can be scaled up to very large systems. Aerobic composting involves creating conditions that favor oxygen-loving bacteria which is usually accomplished turning the pile to aerate it. At the backyard scale, turning can be done with by hand, using a pitchfork or cranking an enclosed tumbler. At the larger municipal or farm scale, operators use mechanical equipment (such as front loader) to pile and turn long windrows to produce compost. Alternatively, pumps can be used to blow air into the pile.

Aerobic composting has many advantages. Because oxygen-loving bacteria both produce and thrive in high temperatures, a pile that has the right ratio of materials and is properly aerated will rapidly heat up to the point where all dangerous pathogens are killed, along with weed seeds. This allows well-managed systems to accept a broader range of wastes, including meat, dairy and oils.

One disadvantage of aerobic composting is that it requires a proper mix of “green” or nitrogen-rich materials (food scraps, manure, fresh grass) and “brown” or carbon-heavy materials (dried leaves, sawdust, woodchips, paper) for optimal results. If a pile has too many “greens” it may go anaerobic and produce noxious odors; if it has too many “browns” the composting process may slow down or stop.

Anaerobic composting happens in conditions where oxygen does not penetrate the pile, favoring the growth anaerobic bacteria. These bacteria ferment organic compounds, producing methane (natural gas). In nature anaerobic composting is happens in swamps and marshes, where deep layers of sediment decompose. It is also the dominant process in landfills, where thick piles of organic material produce large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that is many times more potent than carbon dioxide, as well as foul-smelling gases.

However, if the organic material is held in an enclosed container or “digester,” the methane or “biogas” can be captured and burned for energy as natural gas, with the remaining sludge left as fertilizer.

One disadvantage of biogas digestion is smell (though smells are limited if the system is properly designed). In addition, unlike aerobic composting, anaerobic systems do not heat up enough to rapidly kill pathogens; anaerobic sludge must sit for six months or longer before it is safe to use as fertilizer.

In Westchester County a number of groups are working on pilot projects to begin diverting and composting the county’s food waste and other organic materials. There is a currently a team of local organics waste specialists (Braeden Cohen, Lakis Polycarpou and Elisa Zazzera) working  to site and implement an aerobic compost pilot project for food waste with the coordination and assistance of Anne-Jaffe Holmes of the Greenburgh Nature Center.

In addition, Thomas Culhane, a professor at Mercy College and expert on anerobic biogas digestion, is leading a team to build and showcase an anearobic biogas system in Westchester as well. The team recently put together a mold for a biogas digester that is currently on display at Hart’s Brook Nature Preserve in Hartsdale. From there the mold will travel to Ohio State University before returning to help build a demonstration biogas digestion system at the Greenburgh Nature Center.

Whichever system is used, diverting food waste from landfills or incinerators for composting makes sense. Because composting produces resources (energy and/or valuable fertilizers) and immediately reduces waste disposal costs, municipal composting projects can become revenue neutral or even profitable in a relatively short amount of time, making such projects one of the most cost-effective steps on the road to a more sustainable culture.  



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Westchester Going Green: Tarrytown

For the past few years, and even more so currently, Tarrytown has been working hard to become a leader in environmental initiatives in Westchester County. Through the inspiring work of the Tarrytown Environmental Advisory Council, or TEAC, Tarrytown has been able to make a difference in their part of Westchester. For example, Lakis Polycarpou, an active member of TEAC, is spearheading an initiative in Tarrytown in order to create an “Open Green Map” for the town. The Greenmap system has been used worldwide in order to allow communities to help citizens think of their hometowns in more environmental terms by cataloging environmental resources, identifying sustainability challenges, celebrating successes and revealing new opportunities for sustainable development. This system will provide a unique resource for local schools, environmental groups, historical societies, community development organizations, local businesses, policy-makers, planners and others by creating an interactive, visual guidebook for residents. For Tarrytown, the primary goals of this Green Map will be to crowd source information that will support the complete streets initiative, solar mapping to identify best sites for solar power, and importing new climate data to provide a better understanding of new climate risks. The map will identify environmental strengths and weaknesses of the community, in order for the town to better itself environmentally. This will be the first village-scale Green Map in Westchester county – just another example of Tarrytown and the TEAC’s commitments to environmental initiatives.

 TEAC has been working on a Clean and Green Campaign for several years, designed to educate residents and stakeholders on climate change and other key sustainability issues.  Part of that campaign includes neighbor to neighbor gatherings about reducing energy usage, programs at the library, and an effort to reduce the use of non-renewable plastic and paper bags. Furthermore, TEAC  is also working with the village to  adopt a resolution to promote “Complete Streets” infrastructure and to promote ‘greener’ building codes.

 Tarrytown is working hard to complete these initiatives, and to inspire the residents to be part of the commitment to a more sustainable Tarrytown.   Perhaps Lakis Polycarpou, says it best,“While significant environmental action at the national and international levels has stalled in the past few years, there has been an explosion of local action over the same period. Our task now is to find ways to harness this new energy to make truly transformative change”.






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Westchester Going Green: Bedford

For the next article in our ‘Westchester Going Green’ series we examine the energy preservation and sustainability efforts of the town of Bedford. The Town of Bedford has undertaken a unique initiative entitled “Bedford twenty by 2020”, the goal of which is to reduce the town’s carbon emissions and energy consumption by 20% by the year 2020. While this may seem like a huge goal, Bedford town Supervisor Lee Roberts, thinks that by collectively focusing on a few small things, the town can make big strides toward its goal. The town established an advisory panel to help spearhead the effort to reach these goals entitled the Bedford Energy Advisory Panel (BEAP). The BEAP led and completed a town wide Green House Gas inventory and developed a Climate Action Plan (CAP) to serve as a roadmap to meeting the town’s 20% Green House Gas reduction goals. Supervisor Roberts strongly supports the comprehensive plan stating; “This effort affects everything that we do from the food we eat, to the cars we drive, to the houses we build. It is about changing behavior, conserving energy and saving money and it is about making Bedford and Westchester a better place in which to live.” The CAP was created following three years of community engagement and research into best practices for green house gas reduction. In February of 2010, the town board voted unanimously to adopt the CAP and add it to the Bedford twenty by 2020 plan. This made Bedford the first town in New York to link its Climate Action Plan to its comprehensive plan.

The Bedford twenty by 2020 initiative is currently being implemented by the Bedford local government and the BEAP with partnership with the Bedford 2020 (B 2020) coalition, a 501c3 nonprofit organization of Bedford citizens whose mission is to organize, facilitate and assist Bedford residents in carrying out the towns goals set forth in the climate action plan. Bedford 2020’s fourteen member board is comprised of BEAP members, town officials, and Bedford residents. The coalition established nine committee task forces; including five that are in line with the goals of the Bedford CAP to focus on important issues such as energy, waste and recycling, transportation, food and agriculture and land and water management. The other four task forces focus on engaging different community groups such including businesses, religious organizations, schools and civic organizations. All nine committees are actively working on various goals established in the town’s CAP.

To reach the 20% reduction of Green House Gases, the BEAP along with B 2020 provide recommendations and information to town leaders and citizens on how to reduce carbon emissions. Community members are encouraged to use these resources to educate themselves on how they can reduce their own energy use and help the town achieve its goal. The program works to educate residents on the benefits of reduced carbon emissions by helping them understand how these simple changes can save them money, conserve energy and provide cleaner and safer air to breathe in their community.

The “tips” page on the Town of Bedford’s website (http://www.bedfordny.info/html/green_tips.htm) provides Bedford residents with valuable resources and information on how to reduce their own household’s carbon emissions. The tips include; changing your light bulbs to energy efficient CFL “energy star” brands, purchasing energy star rated appliances when replacing old ones, purchasing locally produced food which is not shipped to the area for consumption, reducing thermostat temperatures by two degrees in the winter and raising them by two in the summer, turning off appliances, chargers, and computers immediately after use, and driving one’s car in a efficient manner by reducing speeding and quick acceleration which produces additional carbon emissions and reduces energy efficiency. Information is also provided on “green” building and energy technologies so that residents will perhaps consider in investing in these when building or renovating their homes. Residents are encouraged to obtain an “energy audit” of their home to identify areas of improvement. The Town of Bedford has delivered these tips to their residents in a variety of creative ways including WebPages, YouTube videos, and links to other sites such as Energy Star and NYSERDA’s green building page as well as other helpful resources. By providing these sources the town hopes to empower residents to make simple changes to reduce their own carbon emissions.

The “tips” page also encourages residents to reduce consumption of various products which are harmful to the environment and which raise carbon footprints. These tips include reducing or not ordering print catalogs, using tap water or filtered tap water instead of bottled water, carrying school and work lunch’s in reusable containers and reducing junk mail by signing up for services which help stop its delivery to your home. A link is also provided to a website where residents can analyze their own “carbon footprint” and thus assess their own ways to reduce it. Bedford residents are also encouraged to walk or ride bicycles to reduce emissions by leaving their cars at home.

Residents of Bedford are encouraged to join the twenty for 2020 campaign by signing a pledge on the “Green Page” of the Bedford website (http://www.bedfordny.info/html/green_pledge.htm). Residents who sign on to take the pledge receive a Bedford twenty for 2020 decal and additional resources on how to begin to reduce their household carbon emissions. Residents who take the pledge will also receive email updates on the town’s activities.

B 2020 Task Forces

The energy task force is exploring the viability of smart grid and metering technologies to reduce community energy usage. The town is also working to reduce green house gas emissions from municipal buildings, which currently account for approximately 74% of the town’s emissions. Municipal vehicles account for 20% of these emissions. The B 2020 transportation task force is working to promote a local shift to electric and fuel efficient vehicles and vehicles that emit fewer pollutants. They hope to accomplish this goal by working with local government and police to enforce anti-idling laws, and by promoting carpooling and encouraging residents to use public transportation. The land and water preservation task force of B 2020 is another large piece of the town’s efforts to achieve their CAP goals. The task force works to preserve the water quality and supply for the town, monitor land use and conservation, and plant and protect local trees. This task force routinely holds public meetings to address water quality issues particularly focusing on the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides, which could contaminate water supplies. The task force has partnered with the Bedford Garden Club’s BRANCH OUT program to preserve and plant trees on city streets and municipal areas. They have also created a partnership with the New York State Watershed Agricultural Council to plant and preserve trees in watershed areas.

Recent Successes

The Town of Bedford has had multiple recent successes in developing this Climate Action Plan. Recently, Bedford was awarded two separate grants to fund further development and programs for the plan. The first grant was awarded in April 2012 by the U.S. Department of Energy to Bedford and its partners NWEAC and NYSERDA. This grant will help to develop best practices for increasing Home Performance with Energy Star upgrades in Bedford and NWEAC communities, which will hopefully become a model for other small or medium sized municipalities. In June, Bedford and NWEAC were awarded an additional $1.26 million dollars to specifically fund the town’s Energize program and create specific finance and marketing tools to promote residential energy efficiency; building upgrades and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) benefit funding options. Honorable Lee Roberts believes that community energy use could be reduced by 15% if every homeowner signed up for the Energize Bedford upgrade program. The Energize program has used grant funds to engage marketing experts and spread the initiative to additional residents and NWEAC communities, as well as to develop a comprehensive web-based tool for estimating scaling demand for Home Performance upgrades of existing buildings. Bedford hopes that a successful reduction of energy usage and carbon emissions will help the town and region serve as a model for similar programs throughout the nation.

Bedford has furthered their efforts by joining multiple collaborations to share ideas and work with other organizations on sustainability and climate change. These include ICLEI, a membership organization of local governments and national organizations that are committed to sustainable development as well as “Cities for Climate Protection” (CCP) a flagship campaign, designed to empower local governments to take action on climate change issues. The CCP program is a performance-oriented campaign that helps local governments establish frameworks for addressing climate change issues.

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Westchester Going Green: White Plains

Continuing our focus on the municipalities of Westchester County in our ‘Westchester Going Green’ series, we have decided to examine some of the trailblazing efforts undertaken by the the city of White Plains. White Plains has pursued a variety of initiatives to preserve the environment of the surrounding area and promote “green” practices and long-term sustainability.

The city of White Plains has taken the lead on the promotion of the use of electric vehicles and the installation of charging stations in the city for use by residents and visitors who own electric vehicles. This process began with White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach attending President Clinton’s Global Initiative. Mayor Roach then made a commitment to action that addresses critical issues that are common barriers to implementation of electric vehicles (EVs) on a large scale and that leverages White Plains’ assets which make it a prime model for full scale EV implementation. The plan works to leverage the cities location in an affluent area and densely populated region in which eight million people reside within 30 miles of the city center. White Plains hopes to partner with various organizations, both public and private, including the NYPA, ConEdison, The Metro North Railroad, car dealerships and real estate groups to accelerate the use and acceptance of electric vehicles in the city.  The City of White Plains  hopes these partnerships will help raise public awareness about electric vehicle use and to acquire financial and technological resources to install charging stations throughout the city.

White Plains has installed five charging stations in the parking garage near the Metro North train station at 16 Ferris Avenue. The dual—charging stations were installed with funding provided by ChargePoint America a program paid for by the U.S. Department of Energy to help promote the use of electric vehicles in major cities. The city has begun a permit program for these ten parking spaces in the Metro North parking garage to encourage residents to purchase and use electric vehicles as spaces in the garage are very hard to acquire. White Plains intends to continue installation of additional charging stations at other locations throughout the summer with the hope of becoming a model for electric and alternative energy vehicle use in the Hudson Valley. White Plains leaders hope the installation of these chargers near downtown shopping areas will help draw customers from outside the city and increase commercial purchases in the area strengthening the local economy. Installation of charging stations will also hopefully encourage local residents to consider purchase of electric vehicles potentially reducing polluting emissions in the city and surrounding areas.

To promote their electric charging stations and electric car usage, the city of White Plains has undertaken a variety of events and programs to raise public awareness and provide information on electric vehicles. In March of 2012 White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach hosted an event entitled “Visioning the White Plains Electric Vehicle Ecosystem” in which representatives from various organizations interested in electric vehicles were in invited to present information and ideas. Organizations represented included; BMW, Ford, IBEW, Con-Edison, Hertz, Electric Drive Trade and many others. The agenda for this event included discussions about the city’s Transit Oriented Development Plan (TOD), installation of bike lanes, addressing electric vehicle range concerns, setting a quantifiable goal for the number of charging stations to be installed in the future, possible areas to focus on the use of electric vehicles, and planning for the effects of charging stations on the electric grid in the future as they become more prevalent. 

In April 0f 2012, the City of White Plains partnered with FCWC and the New York City and Lower Hudson Valley Clean Communities (NYCLHVCC) to host a viewing of the successful documentary “Revenge of the Electric Car” at the Cinema De Lux. This documentary follows the reemergence of electric vehicles in the auto industry and the current competition to produce the most efficient and reliable versions for consumers.  That same week, city staff worked with NYCLHVCC and FCWC to put on an electric vehicle showcase at the annual “Sustain White Plains” event, which highlighted a number of upcoming electric vehicles from BMW, Mercedes Benz and CODA. The city has also worked to lead by example by working with NYPA to indentify funding for the purchase of municipal electric vehicles. The city has made a commitment to acquire a minimum of three electric fleet vehicles by the end of the calendar year.

 In addition to  the electric vehicle charging station installation, recently White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach announced that Zipcar Inc. the world’s top car sharing network will be bringing their services and cars to White Plains allowing residents without vehicles increased access to affordable transportation while cutting down on congestion and pollution emissions. Much of Zipcar Inc.’s fleet is comprised of electric or hybrid vehicles aligning with White Plain’s goals to be a leader in electric vehicle usage.

In the future White Plains plans to continue its promotion of electric vehicle usage by hosting a variety of events this coming fall and winter and continuing to create partnerships with organizations promoting electric vehicle usage. Future plans including the hosting of the “Green Grand Prix” a showcase of electric vehicle technology aimed at promoting a cleaner environment. The “Green Grand Prix” will include a two stage road race and NYElectrahon race and will also include informational seminars and electric vehicle showcases. The city also continues to work with Hertz on an electric vehicle car sharing program to be based in White Plains.

For those community members who choose to pursue other forms of human powered transportation, the City of White Plains has pushed forward initiatives to encourage walking and biking as viable and safe forms of transportation. On June 16th, White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach launched the first ever dedicated bike lanes within the city. The bike lanes will serve both recreational bikers and commuters, connecting downtown White Plains and the train station to outlying neighborhoods. Mayor Roach views dedicated bike lanes on city streets as a “low cost way to implement traffic calming tools.” Bike lanes provide numerous benefits such as slowing car traffic on city streets, improving traffic flow, and significantly reducing bike and car related accidents.

To encourage walking within the city Mayor Roach held a “Walk with the Mayor” event on Saturday July 28th at Eastview Middle School starting at 8:45AM. This walk is part of White Plains year long initiative entitled “Healthy Living, Healthy Lifestyles.”  The event was open to people of all ages to encourage exercise and healthy living within the community. 

Continuing their efforts to promote energy conservation, the City of White Plains recently invited the internationally acclaimed exhibition dasHaus to downtown White Plains to help educate the community on cutting edge renewable energy solutions for homes and businesses. DasHaus works to connect renewable energy professionals in the United States with industry professionals in Germany. The exhibition was open from July 10-19 and was visited by hundreds of White Plains professionals and community members. Visitors to the dasHaus exhibit were educated on multiple sustainable “green” building technologies including; thin film photovoltaic solar panels, heat recovery climate control systems, solar powered LED lighting systems, energy efficient appliances, vacuum insulated panel systems, and VRLA battery systems. White Plains leaders believe dasHaus can be a great learning tool for families and residents who own homes or are planning on buying homes in the future. 

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Westchester Going Green: Rye

The next municipality we’d like to feature in our ‘Westchester Going Green’ series is the City of Rye and their work towards sustainability planning and environmental protection. In 2010, the City of Rye formed a “Sustainability Committee” to work on drafting a sustainability plan for the city that will encompass Rye’s unique environment, social, and economic characteristics. To accomplish these goals, the sustainability committee has undertaken three main activities including; exploring the best practices and programs of other cities and towns with sustainability plans, providing opportunities for public input and feedback, and recommending programs and initiatives that will result in cost savings and environmental benefits for future generations based on energy audits.

One of the City of Rye’s sustainability committee’s major successes has been the passage of a plastic bag ban within city limits, one of the first of its kind in New York State.  Plastic bags are a major source of litter and pollution and are often used only a single time to transport goods from the store to home. Furthermore plastic bags are almost impossible to recycle and do not biodegrade in landfills. Due to these characteristics bags remain in the local environment for hundreds or even thousands of years, harming wildlife, clogging storm drains and waterways and needlessly filling landfills. Use of reusable cloth bags will also potentially help to cut costs of retailers which embrace the idea and encourage their customers to do so as well. The “bag ban” was supported by the committee and Rye city leaders and passed in December of 2011. The legislation bans use of plastic bags at retail checkout counters and helps to promote use of recyclable paper bags and reusable cloth bags. The ban is part of a larger educational campaign to encourage the use of reusable bags which contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment as a whole.

The sustainability committee has worked hard to reach out to other groups and municipalities including White Plains, Mamaroneck, Rye Brook and New Rochelle with hopes of collaborating on sustainability projects in the region.  Members have also reached out to the SUNY office of sustainability to garner ideas and useful resources for Rye’s sustainability plan.  The sustainability committee has also begun a comprehensive audit of municipal facilities greenhouse gas emissions with the hopes of reducing overall emission within the city. Further plans on this initiative include a residential audit based on census data.

The Rye sustainability committee has made taken positive steps in developing energy efficiency initiatives for the city. This began with a workshop on “green” home building held at Whitby Castle at the Rye Golf Club in April. Rye sustainability members are also investigating the possibility of reducing excessive lighting at night to conserve energy. To further conserve energy the committee has explored opportunities for solar power generation in the city. Members met with representatives from the “Solar Center” an organization which installs and maintains solar panel arrays for energy production. Committee members also participated in the ICLEI webinar on Solar Power Purchase agreements to investigate possible funding and financing for the purchase of solar energy systems.

In the future, the Rye sustainability committee plans to conduct a “Road Show,” presenting their power point of ideas and planned initiatives to community groups and organizations to educate them on sustainability efforts while soliciting citizen’s ideas and feedback for future plan development.   The committee also plans to engage young Rye residents by creating a student panel of environmental educators who will help educate the community about important initiatives. In conjunction with drafting the sustainability plan members will also investigate grant opportunities which may help fund some of their programs.

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Westchester Going Green: New Rochelle

As part of a new initiative here at FCWC we have decided to examine the work that the many municipalities of Westchester County are doing in regards to sustainability, environmental protection and promoting a “green” energy economy in the region.  We hope these short articles will not only provide you, our member, with information on what other municipalities are doing in the region but also encourage collaboration between each other in creating and promoting these projects. We believe this type of collaboration will be beneficial in promoting each other’s projects and lead to a stronger more sustainable future for Westchester County.

The first municipality we would like to highlight as part of the ‘Westchester Going Green’ series is the City of New Rochelle, which has been extremely progressive in creating and promoting a “green” sustainability plan for their city. New Rochelle has embraced the idea of “environmental sustainability” by working hard to meet the current needs of their city without compromising the needs of future residents. To accomplish these goals, the City of New Rochelle has created a twenty year sustainability plan entitled “GreeNR.”  GreeNR contains 43 initiatives addressing energy and resource conservation, economic vitality, and social equity.  GreeNR sets forth specific goals along with short-term, medium-term, and long-term recommendations to achieve this goals as well as metrics to measure success. By having such a specific strategic plan, New Rochelle hopes to fully integrate sustainable principles into all aspects of the City for both current and future generations of residents.

In developing GreeNR, New Rochelle enlisted a wide range of experts and community leaders as well as soliciting extensive input from the public.  New Rochelle has met the challenges of the current economic climate head on by designing programs in GreeNR that limit short term expenditures and rely on grant funding, partnerships and current staff resources. The majority of these programs will result in savings to the City government and to New Rochelle’s residents through reduced public and private costs. Recognizing the potential for change in the future, the authors of the sustainability plan acknowledge that GreeNR serves as a flexible blueprint for how the City can best shape and sustain its future. New Rochelle hopes to serve as a model for sustainable development in the region by demonstrating sound programs and practices to achieve GreeNR’s goals.

While public policy is the central focus of GreeNR, many of its recommendations aim to empower the community as a whole with the information and tools to make sustainable choices. An important component of GreeNR’s success is engaging the citizens of New Rochelle as active members in undertaking and fulfilling GreeNR’s initiatives and programs. New Rochelle mayor Noam Branson sums up the cities goals and the challenges facing the cities administration and citizens; “In one sense, GreeNR is a great accomplishment, a clear and persuasive plan of action that represents the product of many months of collaborative discussion and planning.  In other sense, however, GreeNR is less an accomplishment and more of a challenge; all of us must now act to implement GreeNR’s recommendations and ensure that sustainability becomes a measure by which City policies and initiatives are measured.  I am proud of what we have done so far and convinced that GreeNR will help encourage better decision-making for many years to come.” This is true of all community based sustainability programs. As the authors of “GreeNR” note, private and commercial sectors of New Rochelle account for 97.5% of local energy consumption, waste generation, water usage and other measures of a sustainability. Thus through “GreeNR”, New Rochelle’s City government will serve as a role model for sustainable actions but it will also develop a broad based public education campaign for residents and businesses to incorporate sustainable actions in their daily activities. The City intends to sponsor educational forums, encourage social competition, and provide information to residents through web pages dedicated to the program.  “GreeNR” leaders will also cultivate partnerships with community groups such as churches, service clubs, parent-teacher organizations, neighborhood associations, business leaders, local colleges, and other community organizations to promote and carry forth the sustainability plan.

The New Rochelle “GreeNR” plan is designed not only to be effective in creating a sustainable future for the city but also to be realistic in its goals. All the goals of the plan are achievable within the twenty year time period. The New Rochelle plan highlights ten key initiatives which will help them reach their sustainability goals in the twenty year period. Examples of the plan’s goals include reducing energy use and green house gas emissions by 20%, cutting non-recyclable waste by 15% and raising recycling by 50%, absorbing or retaining 25 million gallons of floodwater per storm, and decreasing sewage flow by at least 2 million gallons during peak hours. Another four initiatives focus on the caretaking and preservation of land and “green” spaces including; preserving natural spaces and restoring inland water bodies, opening at least one additional mile of Long Island shore to the public, and planting at least 10,000 new trees on public property. Two more initiatives encourage sustainable forms of transportation by building 95% of new homes near mass transit lines and creating a comprehensive biking and walking system which will also promote public health. Yet another initiative involves keeping the public engaged in the entire process by subscribing at least 50% of New Rochelle households to the City’s website.

New Rochelle is already hard at work in achieving these goals and carrying out their “GreeNR” plan. The City is in the process of converting all their street lighting to LED energy efficient bulbs as well as doing the same in their two major parking garages at New Roc and the New Rochelle Transit Center. In addition, they are increasing the energy efficiency of their two largest buildings by replacing the HVAC system to a new energy efficient model and fortifying their windows in City Hall to drastically decrease energy consumption and have installed energy efficient rooftop HVAC units in the Police/ Court building.

To promote public health and enhance the quality of life, New Rochelle is launching its “neighborhood walking groups” initiative to encourage residents to walk together with others in their neighborhood. To celebrate the launch of this program, New Rochelle and partner Sound Shore Hospital invite City residents, to its All-City Walk on Sunday September 9th from 9:00 – 10:30AM. The walk will begin and end at City Hall and serve as the kickoff event for the “neighborhood walking groups” program. Fitness professionals will be on hand to lead walkers in stretching exercises prior to the walk Sound Shore Medical Center will man health related booths to provide residents with additional information to those interested. New Rochelle walking guides will all be available which will highlight scenic, historic, and natural points of interest for residents to walk in the City’s many neighborhoods. Registration for this event begins at 8:0 0ARE on Sunday September 9th at City Hall; more information will be available soon on the City’s website http://www.newrochelleny.com. We hope to see many of you there supporting this great program and your own health!


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