Why Going Green Makes Cents

June 1, 2015, Department, by James Politte

Many park departments have created environmental sustainability plans in an effort to conserve resources for future generations. Plans serve as education tools for park staff, as well as the public, and provide a roadmap for the future. Goals can be oriented toward such focus areas as energy conservation, water use reduction, air emission reduction, waste management, land use, transportation and fleet management, procurement and more.

Plans, strategies and goals are typically unique to the communities that parks serve. Allowances for incremental improvements may need to be accepted by governing municipal bodies before you implement changes, such as buying newer, more efficient traditional vehicles, versus moving to hybrid or zero-emission vehicles. When making a purchasing decision, in addition to considerations such as cost, you may need to weigh the fuel mix for electricity generation in your region. 

It’s All in the Details 

What is the environmental footprint of your agency? How many people live in your community? Is your area impacted by a significant number of tourists? How many parks do you have? These are a handful of examples of questions you may consider as you take a scan of your agency and the community it serves. You may find, using NRPA’s PRORAGISTM database or scanning NRPA’s 2015 Field Report, that your agency may not have enough parkland as compared to agencies that serve communities of similar size. Luckily, there are a lot of tools out there to help you evaluate your agency’s operations from a green perspective — saving natural resources and money!

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Power Profiler tool indicates that the mix of fuels used for electricity generation in the area where NRPA is located (Ashburn, Virginia), includes 46 percent coal, 38 percent nuclear, 11 percent gas, 2 percent non-hydroelectric renewables, 1 percent hydroelectric and less than 1 percent oil. In comparison, the fuel mix in Los Angeles, California, includes 50 percent gas, 15 percent nuclear, 15 percent hydroelectric, 10 percent non-hydroelectric renewables, 7 percent coal and 1 percent oil. Non-hydroelectric renewable energy sources can include solar, wind and geothermal. These sources are sustainable, as they aren’t limited resources (at least in terms of the next few billion years). Nationally, 67 percent of electricity is made from fossil-based fuels like coal, and natural gas. 

How much energy or water is being used at your facilities? Start saving resources — including money — by using the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager to establish a baseline for resources you’ve used in the past. Data on consumption, cost information and operational use can be entered for each building your agency would like to evaluate. You can also compare scores for similarly sized structures. The Portfolio Manager reporting will display your current building performance level in comparison to buildings across the country, but won’t provide specifics as to why your building may score well or poorly. It will allow you to compare any two 12-month periods to measure trends over time. By using this tool, you will also be able to evaluate savings realized from energy-conserving projects you might implement as part of your sustainability plan. To get started, you’ll just need copies of your energy bills on hand and some information about the specific building you’d like to analyze.

Add a Green Team

Consider establishing a green team at your agency. Team members should represent various departments and job functions in an effort to capture ideas and implement projects that will help you achieve your environmentally focused goals. The green team will help initiate more collaboration within your organization as well as create an environment that supports education and innovation. 

Green teams can identify areas where quick changes could be made that could have a positive impact on your bottom line, such as:

Energy Conservation (commercial buildings): 

  • Lighting: Responsible for almost 35 percent of the electricity used. Save energy by employing occupancy sensors, upgrade from T12 fluorescent lamps to T8 systems with electronic ballasts, or switch to LEDs. 
  • HVAC: Systems are typically responsible for more than 52 percent of annual energy consumption. Adding or making adjustments to programmable thermostats is a great first step in optimizing an existing system. Consider installing a demand-controlled ventilation system to save up to $1 per square foot per year.

Water Conservation: 

  • Faucets: Install touchless or self-closing faucets. Add new faucet aerators to reduce water use by up to 60 percent.
  • Toilets: Install high-efficiency toilets (HET) or waterless or no-flush urinals. 
  • Landscaping: Water-efficient landscaping can reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides, as well as decrease maintenance requirements. Develop a landscape plan and use native plants where possible, grouping them based on water needs. Plant turfgrass in areas only where it serves a practical function. Recycle fallen trees into medium-sized wood chips that can be used in perennial beds, around the drip line of trees and as pathway material between raised planting beds in a community garden. Organic mulch helps reduce evaporation and has the added benefit of improving the condition of the underlying soil as it decomposes.

Network and Learn From Peers

Developing a sustainability plan doesn’t have to occur in a vacuum. Reach out to other public agencies, private business and environmental groups nearby and around the country to glean best practices when it comes to sustainability. Learn from their experience. Use other resources like the Open Forum in NRPA Connect to bounce ideas off your peers in the park and rec field. 

Staff tasked with managing an agency’s conservation efforts would also do well to attend NRPA’s 2015 Annual Conference, held September 15-17 in Las Vegas, Nevada, to explore sessions geared toward greening your agency. Click here for current sustainability and conservation-based education offerings, and check back often as new courses are added to the schedule.

James Politte is NRPA’s Webmaster.