Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If Columbus OH Can Go Green, Anyone Can!

If Columbus, Ohio Can Go Green, Anyone Can!
by Kate Peake

The city's Get Green Columbus is setting an example with green building, local food, energy efficiency, planting trees and raising awareness.
Columbus, Ohio is going green, with efficiency upgrades, green building, the GreenSpot program and more.

When some people think Ohio certain things may come to mind: perhaps THE Ohio State University, with its major athletic rivalries and world-renowned research, or maybe major league sports franchises, or even perhaps a river so polluted it caught on fire (the Cuyahoga River of Cleveland). True, we Ohioans can sometimes be said to be responsible for selecting the President of the United States. But one of my favorite Ohio thoughts is something Jeff Foxworthy once said: "You might be from Ohio if you know all four seasons: winter, still winter, almost winter and construction!"

It's fun to joke about states and their residents, and I know each has its own history of victories and embarrassments. But one thing I never expected to find out about this state I live in is how we are trying to pioneer living in a greener world.

I recently moved to the capital city of Columbus from Youngstown, Ohio, though I had visited frequently over the past 10 years. Youngstown is one of those places that lives up to its' history and stories. I knew moving to a bigger city would produce a breath of fresh air in many ways; I just had no idea what a big breath it would be.

In 2005, the new mayor of Columbus, Michael B. Coleman, introduced a new initiative called Get Green Columbus. The initiative takes aim at the environment, both literal and figurative, and promotes sustainability, accepting some responsibility for today's world and future generations. It touches on air quality, economics, research and development, natural resources, transportation and waste management.

Mayor Coleman made it clear that he wanted many environmental initiatives looked into, no matter how alternative some may at first seem. He said he intended Columbus to lead by example, and pointed out that everything a city does impacts its citizens. Specifically, the plan meant:

* The city would procure environmentally preferable contractors, goods and services, etc.
* Alternative vehicles and fuels must be investigated and implemented.
* Recycling would become mandatory in all city buildings.
* All new and rehabilitated buildings would use green elements and aim toward complete LEED certification.

One way Columbus is exemplifying Mayor Coleman's plan is through the Waste Not Center (WNC). It receives donations from both individuals and businesses and makes them available to creative outlets, including teachers, artists, and non-profits, all free of charge. The most they pay is a minimal membership fee. This not only reduces waste at the local dump, it demonstrates 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.'

For the past several years, Columbus has been on lists for one of the fattest cities in America. That's why it's especially worth nothing that Coleman is encouraging fitness and green living at once. The city came up with Pedal Instead as a way to stimulate getting fit, while reducing air pollution. In 2007, an estimated 18,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions were saved when free bike corrals were set up at city festivals and even OSU football games.

The mayor also launched GreenSpot, a program designed to inspire, educate and recognize those who are helping out with the initiative. Since July 2008, hundreds of organizations and residents have signed up. It couldn't be easier: sign up on the website and list how you or your business are contributing to the cause. I did it, just by making the commitment to do small, everyday things that add up. Some ways citizens are helping:

* The Columbus Chamber of Commerce is on its way to being the first LEED-certified Chamber office in the country.
* The Tip Top Restaurant downtown has committed to extremely local food: they grow their vegetables on the roof of their building.
* A resident has turned her entire community into a GreenSpot by planting 1,000 native trees in her neighborhood.
* Another restaurant, Black Creek Bistro, recycles its fryer oil into biofuel to run the tractor on the farm where their produce is grown.

All of these individuals and businesses prove it is not that difficult to get behind the movement if you truly believe in it. Columbus seems determined to make a difference. If they can do it, anyone can.

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