Michigan >> The Dwight Lydell Chapter’s annual conservation award recognizes innovations in conservation among members of the local community. The chapter not only promotes sustainability but also highlights the League’s conservation mission through this awards program.
The 2012 Conservation Banquet included a special guest speaker: Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. Two other city staff were also in attendance: Haris Alibasic, Director of the Office of Energy and Sustainability, and James Hurt, Director of Public Services.
These city dignitaries were on-hand to accept the Dwight Lydell Chapter’s Conservation Award in recognition of the city’s sustainability efforts. “It was exciting to have them there to receive our award,” says Georgia Donovan, former chapter president and current first vice president. “They are making Grand Rapids sustainable in so many ways.”
Located in west central Michigan, Grand Rapids has a population of more than 188,000 and a metropolitan area of more than 1.3 million. Today, the city has the highest per capita number of LEED-certified buildings in the country for mid-sized cities and was the first U.S. city recognized by the United Nations as a Regional Center of Expertise for Education and Sustainable Development.
The city’s five-year Sustainability Plan (2010–2015) states that city agencies will provide core services “while doing our part to promote economic prosperity, ensure social equity, and protect the integrity of the natural environment for all citizens.” The plan sets specific goals in the areas of economic, social, and environmental outcomes, and the city details its progress in a report published every fiscal year.
One of the city’s innovative practices is a sustainable energy plan. “When city buildings were made more efficient, it lowered their energy use, which bumped city use of alternative energy up to a 25 percent piece of the pie,” reports Donovan. “While many metropolitan areas are arguing about reaching 20 percent, Heartwell’s goal is 100 percent! Another goal is to increase the city’s forest canopy to 40 percent, which they’ll do by encouraging the planting of 184,000 trees. A boulevard will be created with bioretention islands that will not only look pretty with plants and trees but have storm water directed to them via sump pumps. The mixed species will soak up water and filter out de-icers and chemicals.” Since the city implemented a new single-stream recycling program (which means that all recyclable materials can go in one bin) and a points program for citizens who recycle, recycling has increased by a whopping 80 percent. Learn more about the city’s sustainability plans at www.sustainablegr.com.
In 2013, the chapter presented its Conservation Award to a local technical college that offers sustainability-related courses and operates its facilities in a sustainable manner. Kent Career Technical Center offers one- and two-year programs for high school juniors and seniors. The center’s hospitality and culinary program restaurant, cafeteria, and bakery — all run by students — earned Michigan’s first 3-Star Green Certification from the Green Restaurant Association. The facility includes resource-saving features such as low-flow faucets and LED lighting, uses recycled and plant-based disposable dinnerware, and recycles and composts waste to keep it out of landfills. (Used cooking oil is even recycled for use by the sheriff’s office to lubricate horse hooves!) The center also installed a small wind turbine and solar panels to be used as part of a new alternative energy program and incorporated into other related programs. Principal John Kraus accepted the award on behalf of the Technical Center and was accompanied to the ceremony by teachers and students.
“We were so happy to give this year’s Conservation Award to the Kent Career Technical Center and share in the enthusiasm of their students and staff,” says Donovan. “I am hopeful that the students will have many choices of jobs in the alternative energy field and see great new inventions put to use.”