Grier Heights youth uncover hidden costs of transportation choices

When we educate residents about the impact of our area's sprawling land use patterns and transportation habits, we usually share the statistic that the average Mecklenburg County household spends 26 percent of their income on transportation costs, much more than the national average of 19 percent (learn more in our 2014 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Sustainability Report Card).  But for teens who have never been behind the wheel, that's a very abstract idea. Last Friday, we created and facilitated a game to bring this statistic to life. Teens in Grier Heights mapped areas they'd like to access by bike, walking, or transit. Continue reading

Mixer attendees learn about sustainable energy innovations

When was the last time you thought about the sustainability of the hot water or heating source at your workplace? Boilers aren't at the forefront of most peoples' minds when you ask them about corporate sustainability. But they're a major user of energy in many business and industrial settings. During last night's Green Drinks Charlotte + Sustain Charlotte Monthly Mixer, Frank Salensky, CEO of Sustain Charlotte's Silver Partner Greffen Systems, explained to more than 50 attendees how his company saw potential for improving the energy efficiency of boilers. They developed a sustainable business model that's saving customers money while also reducing carbon emissions.  Frank Salensky and Erwin Morrison discussed Greffen Systems' commitment to sustainability.  Frank explained that Greffen's M2G is an advanced intelligent boiler control that optimizes the heating efficiency of hot water boilers. A unit attached to each boiler monitors the temperature of the water in the flow and return every 10 seconds. This control system keeps the boiler from firing unnecessarily. Greffen Systems products reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption by up to 30 percent with typical payback in fewer than 24 months.  Erwin Morrison and Frank Salensky ended their presentation by explaining why they support Sustain Charlotte through partnership and noted, "It's incredible what Sustain Charlotte has accomplished in only five years!" We're so grateful for the generous support of Greffen Systems and all of our partners. To learn how Sustain Charlotte can partner with your organization, visit our partnership page.  Continue reading

West Charlotte youth create art for neighborhood traffic calming signs

"Slow Down. Children Playing in Neighborhood." "Stop. Kids Crossing." "We Don't Like Speeders" Those were just a few of the messages written by youth during last week's workshop at Arbor Glen Outreach Center in West Charlotte. Over the past year that Sustain Charlotte has worked with residents in the Reid Park neighborhood, we learned that their top sustainability concern is a lack of safe and connective pedestrian and bicycle transportation infrastructure for residents. This includes crosswalks, sidewalks, speed bumps, and bike lanes. Traffic calming yard signs made by West Charlotte youth at recent sustainability workshop. Youth from Reid Park and the surrounding neighborhoods gathered at the Arbor Glen Outreach Center last Friday evening to do something about this problem. Continue reading

Innovative Environmental Sustainability Projects Coming to Charlotte

At the June 10 Environment Committee meeting of Charlotte City Council, Rob Phocas from Neighborhood & Business Services explained a variety of innovative environmental programs that the City is planning for both its own operations and the entire community. The committee's approved Environment Focus Area Plan includes "very aggressive and aspirational goals", according to Mr. Phocas. He showed the diagram below to illustrate how the five environmental initiatives (water, waste, air, energy, and Smart City) will each be supported by goals, metrics, a baseline, mid-term goals, and long-term goals.  The Environment Focus Area Plan sets goals for both City operations and the entire community.  The Energy Secure Cities Coalition (ESCC) is a project to move city fleets toward electric and hybrid technology in order to reduce fuel dependence and protect the environment. The ESCC is looking for 10 pilot cities to transition their municipal fleet. Council Member David Howard asked if this effort would include all city vehicles. Mr. Phocas replied that this program would cover light duty vehicles, and there are other programs in place to reduce emissions from heavy equipment and CATS vehicles.  Continue reading

It's official, the City LYNX Gold Line streetcar is scheduled to open July 14!

In light of yesterday's announcement that the CATS City LYNX Gold Line is scheduled to officially open on July 14, we wanted to highlight the many benefits we believe this new system will bring to the city of Charlotte. The following information has been gathered from our May 2013 report, Go for the Gold: Why Streetcars Are a Win for Charlotte.  The report discusses the background of Charlotte’s streetcar project, as well as the expected economic, social, and environmental benefits. The benefits of existing streetcars in three other cities are profiled as well as how planned streetcars are being funded in four additional cities. Some key facts from the report include: Economic Benefits Streetcars generate substantial tax revenue, raise property values, and spur economic development.  Many other cities have experienced significant returns on their investment in streetcar infrastructure.  Portland, OR, invested $103.2 million in their streetcar and has been rewarded with $3.5 billion in development along the streetcar route -- a 34:1 return on investment. Along the Gold Line in Charlotte, property values are projected to increase by $2.3 billion by 2035, generating an additional $5.5 million/year in property tax revenue if a Tax Increment Financing District is created.  Social Benefits Streetcars provide connectivity between activity centers, fostering a greater sense of community and connecting disparate neighborhoods. In 2011, Charlotte commuters experienced 28,974,000 hours of delay; streetcars can help alleviate traffic congestion by providing residents an alternative to driving their own car. Two out of 3 three Millennials favor public transportation as a solution for traffic; streetcars help attract this next generation of workers. Rail commuters are 80% less likely than the average American to become obese.  Not only do streetcars provide additional benefits such as easier loading and unloading for the elderly, disabled, and children, but also because they attract more riders than buses, all of their benefits are amplified.  Environmental Benefits In 2011, Charlotte commuters released 296,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and consumed 14,599,000 gallons of excess fuel while sitting in traffic. Charlotte does not meet the national primary or secondary air quality standards for ozone (smog).  The most significant sources of air pollution are mobile sources (cars). Streetcars will reduce the use of personal vehicles and fuel consumption, thereby reducing the air pollutant emissions and improving Charlotte’s air quality. To read the full report, click here.      

Our First Mixer with Green Drinks Charlotte Was a Big Hit!

Over 45 people attended the very first Green Drinks Charlotte + Sustain Charlotte Monthly Mixer! The event was held in the beautiful basement of The Liberty in South End. Numerous guests told us, "I didn't know this place even has a basement!" But it does, and it's the perfect location for our new merged mixer. With its dark wood shelving, personal bar service, and private meeting space, we already feel right at home. The Liberty graciously donated appetizers for our mixer, including plates full of delicious house-made soft pretzels. Christina Vernon, Assistant Vice President for a Healthy Environment at our Gold Partner Carolinas Healthcare System, explained the unique sustainability challenges faced by medical facilities. She cited some incredible statistics: A single cardiac procedure generates as much waste as an average American household of 4 people in one week. CHC's acute primary care facilities generate an average of 37 tons per day, or the equivalent of 7 elephants. Christina Vernon explained how Carolinas Healthcare System is committed to sustainability. Continue reading

Children in West Charlotte Plan Their Neighborhood's Future

The key to fulfilling a great plan is beginning with a bold vision.  Last week, Sustain Charlotte staff taught children at the Southview Recreation Center in West Charlotte what sustainability means and how they can help to make their neighborhood more sustainable. This follows our visioning workshop with teens last month at the nearby Arbor Glen Outreach Center.  Recreation Specialist Korey Townsend showed the children his drawing of a sustainable neighborhood.  Continue reading

Sustain Charlotte Seeks a Full-Time Bicycle Program Manager

Applications accepted through June 15, 2015 Position Summary Sustain Charlotte is looking for an energetic Bicycle Program Manager with a passion and talent for fostering collaboration to accomplish shared goals. Reporting to the Executive Director, the Bicycle Program Manager will develop and manage a two-year initiative to build relationships and foster collaboration among the various organizations who offer cycling events and programs in the Charlotte area, assist with publicizing these activities, and establish Sustain Charlotte as the hub organization for information related to cycling. The Bicycle Program Manager will also assist in securing funding via grants and membership to support these activities beyond the initial two-year period. Continue reading

Sustain Charlotte Hosts Sustainability Discussion with Latin American Visitors

Sustain Charlotte staff and board members met with eight Latin American professionals on Wednesday to discuss ideas for implementing sustainability programs in urban areas. We shared the story of why our Executive Director Shannon Binns founded Sustain Charlotte five years ago. Then we explained the goals and strategies for each of our major programs and initiatives. As we reviewed land cover maps showing how sprawl has dramatically altered our regional landscape over the past 40 years, several visitors shared that their countries or regions are also facing similar challenges. Poor land use decisions, over-dependence on private vehicles, and short-sighted planning are not problems unique to the United States.    Sustain Charlotte staff and board members discussed sustainability with Latin American visitors. Continue reading

Sustain Charlotte addresses City Council at Monday night's public hearing on City budget

At last night's public hearing on the City budget, we questioned the proposal to replace our current waste collection and disposal fee with a property tax increase on the grounds that doing this would make the actual cost of our waste “invisible” to residents, and create no financial incentive to reduce how much we throw away. We proposed a variable rate structure based on the amount of waste each resident generates instead, as used in Austin and Seattle and thousands of other American cities and towns. See Sustain Charlotte Director Shannon Binns' comments to City Council below:  Good evening,  My name is Shannon Binns, I live here in Charlotte and I direct a local nonprofit called Sustain Charlotte.  Tonight I want to share with you our perspective on two important issues related to the budget. First, think about the last time you turned down your thermostat because you knew that doing this would save you some money on your monthly electricity bill. Now think about the last time you turned off the faucet or garden hose because you knew it was wasteful to let it run, and that you would pay for your wastefulness when you got your water bill later that month if you didn’t switch it off.  Now think about the last time you didn’t throw something in the garbage can at home because you knew it would save you some money on your garbage bill. My guess is that you thought about a time you turned down your thermostat and turned off the faucet, but had a hard time remembering when you didn’t throw something away to save some money.  This is because putting less in your garbage can at home doesn’t save you money.  No matter how much (or how little) waste you create, the amount you pay is the same.  In other words, the financial incentive you have to reduce your energy and water use does not exist when it comes to the amount of waste services you use. But it doesn’t have to be that way.    Unit pricing, also known as variable rate pricing or pay-as-you-throw, is a system under which residents pay for waste management services per unit of waste collected rather than through a fixed fee or tax, thereby offering individuals an incentive to reduce the amount of waste they generate. In fact, rather than replacing our current flat annual waste services fee with a higher property tax to raise the revenues needed for waste collection and disposal, which makes the true costs of waste services invisible to residents, we urge you to implement variable rate pricing as thousands of municipalities around the country have already done, including Seattle, WA and Austin, TX, to name just two. This approach is not only more economically efficient, but it is also more equitable in that those who choose to reduce their waste are not subsidizing those who choose not to do so, more transparent, and gives residents more control over the cost of waste services, in that they are able to save money by the choices they make. If we move to a variable rate system, it is estimated that we would generate $17M in additional revenue in the first year and see another $2M in tipping fee savings for a net financial impact of $19 million in the first year, nearly enough to cover our current budget gap.  Over 10 years, this approach is estimated to positively impact our bottom line by $233M.   ==== Lastly, I want to reiterate our continued support for investing in Phase 2 of the Gold Line.  Those of you who were serving on Council in May of 2013 will recall that we presented a statement of support for this investment to Council that was signed by over 2,500 of our residents.  Like us, those residents remain supportive of this important investment for our growing city and we do not have time to delay this investment further.   Thank you, and thank you for your service.