Charlotte’s green efforts are having mixed results, studies say

Two recent studies show the Charlotte region’s sustainability efforts are strong when it comes to creating a clean economy but weak in environmental programming.

According to a Brookings Institution report released Wednesday, the region ranks 33rd among the top 100 largest metro areas for green jobs. The study, Sizing the Clean Economy, says the Charlotte area had 15,485 green jobs in 2010, an increase of 4.7% annually since 2003.

But in terms of green initiatives, Charlotte scored low — No. 20 of 27 top U.S. and Canadian cities, according to a sustainability study commissioned by Siemens Corp. that was released June 30.
Siemens’ Green City Index measured 31 indicators in categories ranging from green buildings to carbon emissions. In an analysis of those indicators, Charlotte had “numerous environmental weaknesses to address,” the report states.
Alison Taylor, Siemens vice president for sustainability for the Americas, says there are still positive signs for Charlotte in the study.

“Charlotte’s pretty strong in land use and water,” she says. “Public transit is going to be a challenge. It’s the big-ticket item.”

The city ranks ninth for water and land use and 11th for environmental governance, but was weak when in the other categories. Its lowest rankings (25th) were for buildings and transportation.

Taylor says her team hopes to sit down with city officials soon, as part of its continuing work in developing a Green City Index. Rob Phocas, Charlotte’s energy and sustainability manager, confirms he’s in talks with Siemens.

Among the recommendations Taylor plans to take to the city: Get more citizen input and maintain a level of consistency in Charlotte’s environmental programs.

Both are issues raised by Shannon Binns, executive director of nonprofit Sustain Charlotte. He has been pressing the city to form a citizens advisory committee on the environment. And he’s quick to point out that Phocas’ position is paid for through a stimulus grant that only covers 30 months of salary.

“In terms of a dedicated authority, we have no environmental or sustainability department like many cities,” Binns says. He notes that Mecklenburg County produces a report on the environment every two years. “But I’ve never seen it presented to any elected officials or, more importantly, used to inform new policies.”


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