Green builders encourage local action on major environmental challenges
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
00:06:31 — Amanda Burbage , Staff Planner, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission
00:22:31 — Andy Lowe , Albemarle County’s Environmental Compliance Manager
00:45:00 — Cynthia Adams , Director of the Local Energy Alliance Program
01:02:15 — Ann Jurczyk , Virginia Outreach and Advocacy Manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
By Brian Wheeler
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
The James River Green Building Council is thinking globally and acting locally. It held its first annual “state of the world” luncheon Tuesday with a focus on environmental initiatives in the Charlottesville-Albemarle County area.
Four speakers made presentations about local planning, energy conservation and the health of the Chesapeake Bay. These experts said a variety of local initiatives were aimed at addressing major environmental challenges facing the community, the region, and the planet.
“It’s important to know where we are, in order to plan for where we are going,” said Ben Hicks, co-chair of JRGBC’s program committee. “Part of the mission of the JRGBC is to promote and inspire the transformation to a sustainable built environment.”
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The council’s monthly luncheons attract building owners, building professionals and product manufacturers representing a variety of specialties.
“It’s important for these folks to get a big picture every once in a while,” Hicks added. “A lot of these folks in their offices are working on one particular thing, and to see everything come together and understand where the community is now, we can know how to improve it.”
Amanda Burbage, a staff planner at the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission , shared an overview of the Livable Communities Project . Last year, the TJPDC received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in part to help Charlottesville and Albemarle County update their comprehensive plans.
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Burbage said one of the key grant products, a performance measurement system, was under development and still receiving public feedback. She said it will allow the community to benchmark its performance on 67 different indicators.
“This system was actually developed by a group of graduate students from the University of Virginia in the Urban and Environmental Planning Program,” Burbage said. “They did research on other communities that are tracking sustainability and looked at the things communities evaluate.”
Burbage said six system areas were identified: natural resources; housing; transportation; neighborhoods; economy; and infrastructure. Indicators and metrics were identified within each area.
“Every single indicator is linked to goals that are in both the city and county comprehensive plans,” Burbage added.
Andy Lowe, Albemarle’s environmental compliance manager, described efforts by local government to manage energy usage. He said the short-term goal was to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent from a 2005 baseline by next year.
“To date, with our July  bills, our overall reduction is 23.5 percent,” Lowe said. “The combined electrical usage for our three main facilities…[saw] about a 1 million kilowatt reduction, thus avoiding costs of about $75,000, so the results are definitely coming.”
Lowe acknowledged that the city and county government operations produced a mere 4 percent of local greenhouse gas emissions. Overall community emissions have been targeted by both the Albemarle Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council to be reduced by 80% by the year 2050 to mitigate human impacts on global warming.
The Local Energy Alliance Program is a nonprofit organization working to retrofit residential and commercial buildings with energy efficient technologies.
“Buildings account for 54 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from our local community,” said LEAP director Cynthia Adams. “If you are looking at this from a climate lens, that’s the important take away with respect to energy efficiency.”
“Thus far we have over 300 homeowners that have signed up to participate in our program, 255 of which have either completed their retrofit or are in process,” Adams said.
Ann Jurczyk, an advocacy manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told the audience that the Chesapeake Bay’s health was improving slightly, but that it still didn’t have a passing grade.
“Agriculture has done a pretty good job of reducing nitrogen and phosphorous,” said Jurczyk. “Where we’ve got a serious problem still is in storm water. …With a low impact design, everything that you do on the land ultimately can have a positive impact on the bay.”