Small towns making a big difference in sustainability

Mary Kate Miller
October 25, 2017
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Are big citites the only places doing their part?

We heap a lot of praise onto large cities making a difference by adopting greater sustainability initiatives. There’s reasons for this praise: in general, people living in close quarters can be better for the environment and with a greater population, there’s more money for sustainability efforts.

Even though small towns, by and large, have been slower to adopt eco-friendly initiatives — many have their own set of woes, like shrinking jobs that have taken precedence — that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Some small towns have proven to be mighty in their pivot towards sustainable initiatives.

Greensburg, Kansas

After a devastating tornado in 2007, Greensburg used the aid funds in order to rebuild the town as America’s greenest, which in part included a plan to shrink the town’s carbon footprint by half.

On the morning of the tornado, Greensburg was a struggling 1,400-person farming community when it was hit with 200-mph plus winds that devastated a whopping 90% of the community. After that, Greensburg was faced with a tough situation: They could rebuild with disaster funding to bring things back to the way they were...but that wouldn’t do anything to prepare them better for a disaster in the future.

Greensburg also proved that it’s not the type of community to do things halfway. According to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, they made their goal “100% renewable energy, 100% of the time.”

Their planned initiatives were all laid out in the Greensburg Sustainable Comprehensive Masterplan. The plan also included initiatives to rebuild city buildings to green standards, make the downtown area more walkable, and to include infrastructure that would manage stormwater to avoid a potential flooding disaster.

Eleven years later and Greensburg is doing such a great job of following through on their green initiatives that they’re adding more. This December they will be breaking ground on their hotly anticipated Eco-Homes project.

Columbus, Wisconsin

Columbus is a small town in rural Wisconsin that reported a population of 4,998 in 2014. Similar to Greensburg, Columbus’ sustainability efforts began with the decision to use a large sum of money — this time a $40,000 grant from a regional energy wholesaler — to make the town more sustainable. How? They actually created a new position that was dedicated towards economic development and sustainability.

Committing resources in this way had a huge effect. Columbus switched to high-efficiency LED street lights. They also switched to hybrid municipal vehicles and added charging stations in municipal lots. They also began offering small subsidies for homeowners who conserved energy and planted trees. Because the more stakeholders you get involved, the more widespread the sustainability efforts will be.

South Daytona, Florida

This 13,000-person community has become a green Mecca in small-town Florida. South Daytona has earned the designation as a Green Local Government at the Gold Level, as awarded by the Florida Green Building Coalition (FBS).

As you might have guessed, South Daytona’s sustainability efforts have been primarily focused on the building sector. The town was one of only thirteen entities in Florida to win the title. They have reduced emissions by replacing traditional parking lot lights with energy efficient fixtures.

What else did South Dayton do to deserve such an auspicious award? They helped to conserve energy use, used hybrid vehicles, offer a comprehensive recycling program, and they have excellent practices when it comes to landscaping and water irrigation.

These three little towns are making a big difference in our move towards sustainability. If you’re interested in bringing sustainability efforts to your small town, now you can hold Greensburg, Columbus, and South Daytona up as examples of small towns that have made a huge difference. We’ll be hoping that this push towards sustainability catches on as more towns get “green” fever.

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