Across South Carolina, cities are seeing green. They’re sharing that vision by taking steps ranging from creating policies to encourage energy-efficient businesses to partnering with private companies on green development projects.
In the Upstate, the City of Greenville is working with community leaders to create a vision for the future. Russell Stall, executive director of Greenville Forward, sums up that vision: "There are 38 Greenvilles in the U.S.A, and we want to be the greenest."
Stall’s organization of public and private sector leaders is working closely with city leaders on four focus areas: health and wellness; a culture that values education; transportation and connectedness; and the environment.
The city is using green building methods to construct facilities, and Stall expects to see more buildings meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and Energy Star certification in the future.
Another important issue is containing sprawl in Greenville, Stall said. Cities need to create communities that are walkable, and downtown Greenville certainly is, he said.
Greenville City Manager Jim Bourey said his city supports green initiatives and has made steps to lead by example. The city has hired an employee who focuses solely on sustainable development and land usage issues.
The city is promoting public transit by taking over city bus operations and revamping the fleet. The city has converted its diesel fleet to biodiesel, is using some hybrid vehicles and is looking at electric cars in the future.
City buildings have been updated with energy-efficient HVAC units and lighting, and plans are in the works to plant numerous trees in landscaped areas around town. Greenville also has an extensive recycling program in the city, Bourey said.
The vision extends across Greenville County, where other cities, including Mauldin and Simpsonville, are pushing green initiatives such as creating pedestrian-friendly communities and including environmental elements in their comprehensive plans, Stall said.
"There are lots of people and businesses in this community who have dreams and visions," Stall said. "The pride we have in our community helps make initiatives work."
But often, businesses are not aware of what services are available or how much money they could save by using environmentally-friendly methods, said Jane Hiller, an account representative for Sonoco Recycling in Columbia.
That’s where the city can step in. For example, the City of Columbia has a Green Business Member program, which is a voluntary program to recognize businesses that take steps to be greener and to encourage others to improve their environmental record.
The program includes about 80 workplaces as members, including businesses of all sizes, nonprofits and even a church, according to City of Columbia Sustainability Facilitator Mary Pat Baldauf.
"A majority of businesses are seeing savings, especially those that have adopted energy conservation steps," Baldauf said.
To become a Green Business Member, businesses must apply and complete a goal sheet on ways to be greener. These goals often include improvements in recycling and energy and water conservation, said Hiller, who also is chairwoman of the city’s Green Business initiative.
The Green Business program offers boot camps where members can learn tips and share best practices. There is an annual conference where members can receive more education and offer advice to each other.
"It pays off," Hiller said. "If you’re losing less energy, your energy costs go down." For example, she said if a business recycles cardboard, its garbage expenses decrease.
Hiller said some business members have told her that they have saved up to $100,000 a year.
"Businesses want to do the right thing, but they also like to save money," she said.
North Augusta Brick Pond Park
Other cities face more specific environmental concerns. In North Augusta, industrial activity had ripped gaping holes in the riverfront area. For a time, industries dug clay from excavation pits for their pottery and brick manufacturing. After the industry left, these massive, man-made ponds became flooded with stagnant stormwater.
The city partnered with the North Augusta Riverfront Co. to redevelop the area. The company was brought in to design a development that would blend in with the rest of the city and offer a lot of green space, said Turner Simkins, project director for the Hammonds Ferry residential development. The initial plan was to fill portions of the ponds, as it would have been ideal to have more development space, Simkins said.
The west side of the ponds already had clean water and was home to animals such as blue herons and ducks. The east side, however, had stagnant water and was, as Simkins said, "gnarly, black and not inviting."
The developers started wondering why one side was "gnarly" and the other clean.
Simkins brought in an official from the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, of which Simkins was a board member, to investigate. The researcher determined that the eastern pond contained more nitrogen than oxygen and was filled with old stormwater.
"It was dead, ecologically speaking," Simkins said.
The developers soon decided against filling the ponds. Instead, they worked to restore them. Together, the city and the North Augusta Riverfront Co. secured a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and began the renovation.
"We decided to use a restoration model and clean the water out," Simkins said. "We created a public nature park."
The decision meant the developers would lose 100 lots, thus decreasing their revenue and reducing future city tax revenue, but it was worth it, Simkins said.
"We created a real asset, and we hope to get an even higher value out of it than before," he said.
Citizens got involved in the process, with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops installing duck boxes and vegetation, and other nonprofit organizations donating time.
Today, local wildlife has a new habitat and residents have a beautiful new park.
Brick Pond Park includes 30 acres of ponds and wetlands and 10 acres of trees that connect to greenway trails. The area is home to turtles, migratory and wetland birds and even a few alligators. It also serves an educational role in the community, with schools using the park as an outside classroom.
Brick Pond Park also provides the city with a new method to handle stormwater run-off. Stormwater from the downtown area and U.S. 25 now runs into the ponds and is naturally cleansed by the new system. The ponds are interconnected and a waterfall was constructed to help circulate water, which treats the water, said Tanya Strickland, the city’s environmental coordinator.
The city now manages the park. "The end result is significant," said Skip Grkovic, director of Planning and Economic Development.
Reprinted from the Municipal Association’s "Cities Mean Business" magazine, summer issue.