• Asheville, North Carolina, United States

file under: Sustainability, United States, North America, Government

Securing a Sustainable Future

Going green is at the forefront of many city planning discussions, but reducing the carbon footprint of a growing, thriving community is no small task. When Asheville, North Carolina, USA, set lofty sustainability goals, city government officials knew they needed to plot the right course for success.

This is an open source approach to improving sustainability for all communities. We wanted other people to take this plan and find something to implement right away. -Maggie Ullman, Asheville sustainability coordinator 

Looking to instill sustainability and creative energy management in all city functions, Asheville partnered with CDM Smith to create an award-winning sustainability management plan that encompasses solutions for transportation, water, wastewater, solid waste, green building and land use planning. Aided by CDM Smith’s research and development (R&D) efforts, the plan provides an integrated approach to help the city cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2 percent each year, until an aggressive 80-percent total reduction is achieved.

Rising to the Challenge
According to Maggie Ullman, Asheville's sustainability coordinator, “We’re a very progressive and engaged community, and are fortunate that our city is passionate about our position as a leader in the southeastern United States. We’ve always been on the forefront of these issues—with recycling in the 1990s, alternative fuel vehicles in the 2000s, and addressing global warming when things were heating up in 2005.”

Committing to GHG reductions, Asheville joined hundreds of cities around the world to sign the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and became a member of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. The city also established an Office of Sustainability and created the Sustainable Advisory Committee for Energy and the Environment (SACEE). David Spector, CDM Smith principal project manager, emphasizes the importance of laying this groundwork for the planning effort. “The SACEE made the original reduction recommendations, identified the need and scope for a plan, and served as a key driver throughout the project.”

Building a Plan Together
To make decisions that balance environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic vitality, the planning team looked beyond simple energy and GHG reduction and created best practice recommendations to improve sustainable government and community operations. This flexible strategy for prioritizing and implementing projects is helping Asheville reduce fuel consumption from commuting, city fleet vehicles and transit ridership; water consumption and energy use for water treatment and distribution; and waste production in city facilities and the larger community.

The plan recommended more than 100 actions within several focus areas, detailed consensus-based goal-setting, and an implementation planning strategy to help propel Asheville forward. “It’s easy to walk away with a list of ideas. The real challenge is prioritizing and incorporating them,” notes Ullman. “CDM Smith was able to pull from a depth of knowledge to develop the plan, create ongoing strategy, and help us stay on target.”

Jeff Payne, CDM Smith vice president, credits the project’s success to great partnership. “This project involved a lot of key stakeholders—not only between CDM Smith and the Office of Sustainability, but with management across all city departments. There was a lot of collaboration and team spirit from the beginning.”

Results for the Future
The plan has already generated several system improvements to reduce Asheville’s carbon footprint. In its first year, a concentrated 40-hour workweek over 4 days for city employees has created a tremendous reduction in GHG emissions, thanks to fewer commuting trips and miles put on city fleet vehicles. Electricity use has also been reduced by more than 7 percent, due to education measures and new software that automatically shuts down city computers if left on overnight. Money saved from these energy improvements is used to fund future projects. In addition, early results have helped the city secure funding through several federal grants totaling $1.6 million.

The plan was selected for the 2010 Sustainability Award, given by the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association. “This recognition is a testament to the foresight and leadership in Asheville, to an interdisciplinary CDM Smith project team, and to the success of CDM Smith’s R&D program,” explains Spector. “The awards jury called this a ‘very original document at the forefront of work on sustainability principles.’ ”

A Greener Reach
More than just a blueprint for Asheville, the plan serves as a case study for other communities. “This isn’t just a way to take care of ourselves,” says Ullman. “This is an open source approach to improving sustainability for all communities. We wanted other people to take this plan and find something to implement right away; it’s a big testament to CDM Smith to build something so transferrable.”

Payne adds that the plan has built a broad knowledge base and led to other sustainability planning projects. “In many cases, these new projects build on our expertise and help grow sustainable, strategic community practices around the world.”