Sunday, December 1, 2013

Building a Greener Grand Rapids, Literally

Sustainability is one of the most important issues today.  We are continuously looking and discovering new ways to live greener lives and ensure the preservation of our environment for future generations.  Grand Rapids is at the forefront of the sustainability effort.  Most residents may not realize the efforts Grand Rapids takes and has taken to push for greener living.  In 2008, Grand Rapids was named “America’s Greenest City” by Fast Company magazine.

Our fair city leads the nation in LEED-certified buildings per capita; a fact that in 2005, Mayor George Heartwell did not take lightly.  That same year he pledged that 20% of the city’s power would come from renewable resources by 2008 and hit this target a year early.  He then pledged that by 2020, the target would be 100% of the city’s power from renewable energy.  This is a large goal, but the steps Grand Rapids has made may walk us right to this target by 2020.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  LEED-certification is third-party verification and recognition that a building was designed and built using high performance standards in human and environmental health.  There are numerous prerequisites that buildings must meet to be certified, and credits they can receive to gain extra points in their certification.  LEED provides a basic framework for buildings, neighborhoods, and communities to implement green building design, construction, and operation.  

Grand Rapids boasts numerous firsts in the sustainable buildings effort.  We have the first LEED-certified YMCA (downtown), Gold art museum (Grand Rapids Art Museum), transit station (Rapid Central Bus Station), Habitat for Humanity Home, church (Keystone Community Church), and healthcare project (Lacks Cancer Center), to name a few.  In 2012, we were voted 1 in 5 model cities for sustainability by Earth Day Network. voted Grand Rapids 1 of 12 cities leading in sustainability in 2013.  

Sustainability and conservation in Grand Rapids is coordinated by the Office of Energy and Sustainability.  The Sustainability Plan sets more than 200 goals for our city to reach every year, such as increasing household participation in recycling to 45,000 by 2013.   Sustainability is not only the building itself, but extends to interior design and furniture.  There are extensive LEED-certification prerequisites and credits for building sustainable furniture and interior design.  Furniture companies such as Custer, a Steelcase dealer in West Michigan, has contributed and participated in more LEED-certified building projects than any other dealer.  The list of sites they have contributed to is extensive.

Grand Rapids has no plans to slow down their sustainability efforts in the years to come.  Our efforts have far exceeded so many cities in the United States and we should feel proud.  You never know when you are stepping into one of our numerous LEED-certified buildings or sitting in an office chair that was built using sustainable resources.  These efforts are not always clearly recognized or realized, but they are helping preserve our city and environment.