Charlotte improves on sustainability but ranks only fair nationally

Charlotte is making progress on key sustainability issues such as energy use, air quality, transportation and water use, but it rates no better than average nationally, according to a new report by Sustain Charlotte.

And the city is regressing on issues such as land use and access to healthy food, with a growing percentage of residents needing federal food assistance, the report says.

In compiling its report, Sustain Charlotte used a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and assistance from the Urban Institute at UNC Charlotte and the Davidson College Sustainability Scholars Program.

Nine issues

The study focused on data related to nine sustainability issues: air quality, energy use, equity and empowerment, food, jobs and income, land use, transportation, waste and water use.

“Given our growing population, meeting our current needs without diminishing the ability of future generations to meet their needs requires a fact-based understanding of how well our community is performing on each of these nine issues, and what strategies will lead to improvement,” Sustain Charlotte Director Shannon Binns said in prepared remarks at a press conference Tuesday about the report. “We’ve taken an objective, quantitative approach to assessing our progress on the issues that affect the quality of life for today’s residents as well as those who come after us.”

Based on the data, Charlotte-Mecklenburg was assigned two letter grades for each category.

Grading system

One judged the community on whether it had improved — generally over a period of five to 10 years — ranked from “improving significantly” to “getting much worse.”

The second grade was a national comparison, ranging from an “A,” meaning “well above (the) national average,” to “F,” meaning “well below (the) national average.”

Energy use was the only category for which the report finds significant improvement in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

The report says carbon generated by energy demand in the region may be down about 2 percent from 2006 to 2012. And Charlotte-Mecklenburg has significantly increased the amount of highly sustainable construction through the use of LEED standards, according to the report.

But nationally it ranks about average. And on the number of LEED-certified buildings, for instance, the region ranks well below the national average, despite the recent improvement.

Aspiring to leadership

The report’s energy recommendation include increasing the amount renewable energy produced locally, countywide efforts to reduce residential power use (which is above the national average) and pushing for the preservation of state and local incentives for renewables.

The report finds modest progress on air quality, transportation, waste issues and water use. But water use is the only category in which the report finds the region doing better than the national average. On transportation issues, the region ranks below the national average.

Charlotte City Council Member John Autry, also at the press conference, said the region should take the report seriously.

“Charlotte aspires to be a national leader and this report provides valuable insights and recommendations that will help us achieve this goal — if we act on them,” he said.

John Downey covers the energy industry and public companies for the Charlotte Business Journal.

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