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Shades of Green

10 reasons Cincinnati is greener than you think

By Hannah McCartney · April 18th, 2012 · Green
Cincinnatians just love to joke about that old, clichéd quip often attributed to Mark Twain: “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always 20 years behind the times.” The colloquialism is used to exemplify anything considered remotely backward, from legislation to fashion to potholes. Signs of life, though, are sprouting up around the city like a canary dandelion through a crack in the cement; some have touted the growth as a renaissance of sorts. In the midst of the change, the beacons in Cincinnati’s (literal) smog are becoming ever-present. Here’s a list of a few things going on that prove the ’Nati means green business:

The fight for Riverside Drive

The conflict has yet to be resolved, but the tenacity of the Riverside Drive Bike Lane Project supporters ought to speak for something. The idea for the project arose in April 2010, after the city developed a “Bicycle Transportation Plan” in hopes of integrating a healthy network of cycling routes around the city. Although the city’s hesitations to kick start the project have resulted in tension and delay, it’s a fair speculation that overwhelming community support at city council meetings might have been what recently caused city council to unanimously defy the city’s department of transportation’s urges to halt the long-awaited project in March. 

The push for renewable energy aggregation

Residents’ homes could be powered in a completely different way if the city of Cincinnati chooses a “green” energy provider this spring as part of an energy aggregation program that will allow citizens to “pool” buying power. Seven energy providers sent in proposals in February, all of which were required to quote their best rates using renewable energy credits (RECs). Should the city choose a provider sourcing its energy from renewable power, Cincinnati could become the largest city in the country to source 100 percent of its energy supply from renewable resources — a move that would have a monumental impact on Cincinnati’s carbon footprint. The city manager is expected to release a decision soon. 

Local food movement 

The “locavore” movement is one that’s often thought of being associated with West Coast, joint-tokin’ hippies, and perhaps justly so — San Francisco, after all, is where the term was coined and where the practice continues to flourish. A healthy diet of farmers’ markets and a strong foodie population, however, prove the movement has spread here as well. Take Snowville Creamery as evidence: Because yogurt and milk are staples in almost every household, Snowville’s products are heavyweights in promoting the loca-lifestyle around these parts. Word on the street is that Snowville, which currently sells only milk and cream, will soon begin producing yogurt that’s as pure as the cows that provide it. Warren Taylor, Snowville owner and CEO, is a self-professed “dairy nerd” who’s adamant about contributing to an atmosphere of sustainable, local farming that he’s sure will one day change the world. And he’s one of many. 

The Cincinnati Bike Center at Smale Riverfront Park 

Cincinnati will reportedly be the third city in the country to operate a Bike and Park Center, which will feature an arsenal of bikes for rent and showering and changing facilities to encourage bike-commuters, lunchtime jogs or bike rides along the Ohio River Trail.

“The massive growth in cycling culture was really attractive here,” says Jared Arter, general manager of Smale Riverfront Park’s new Cincinnati Bike Center, set to open May 1. Arter recenty transferred from Chicago’s Bike and Park Center to open up shop in Cincinnati. Referencing Queen City Bike and MOBO Bicycle Coop as evidence of a healthy pro-bike movement, Arter says, “Cincinnati cycling culture is already right at the bubble, and it’s going to burst … we’re just here to help push it over the edge.” Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of encouraging cycling as a commuting channel, Arter says the Center uses solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling and upcycled materials, including reused lockers from an old high school. 

The city’s expanded recycling program

From first glance, you might wonder how Cincinnati managed (or chose to) spend $3.6 million in 2011 to overhaul the city’s recycling program. A 75 percent increase in household recycling participation is nothing to scoff at, though, nor is the magnitude of the nearly 19,000 tons of waste that were diverted from Rumpke landfill in 2011 as a result of the program’s changes, which included the RecycleBank incentive program, new, larger bins and less frequent pickups. The city’s Office of Environmental Quality demonstrates ambition in continuing to boost numbers. Sue Magness, recycling coordinator for OEQ, says 60 percent of what’s going into landfills is still recyclable. Talks of a pay-as-you-throw program to hold consumers accountable for their waste is buzzing, although implementation, she says, is likely far off. 

Solar trashcans

If you’ve walked around downtown Cincinnati lately, you might have noticed the futuristic, techie-looking waste receptacles popping up to replace old traditional trashcans. These solar-powered gizmos are BigBelly solar compactors — the trash cans with $4,500 price tags. The cans require less frequent pickups — and subsequently less fuel — because the solar compacting method means they hold significantly more trash, plus the cans use GPS transmitting to alert collection crews when they’re full. According to Larry Whitaker, assistant to the director of the city’s Public Services department, there will be more than 100 placed in high-traffic areas around the city by the time this piece is published. Spreading the cans across the city is a lofty investment, but it’s also a solid symbol of the city’s dedication to a clean, litter-free landscape and the mettle to try new things. 

Green Umbrella’s new website

Green Umbrella, a greater Cincinnati non-profit dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability in conjunction with a flourishing economic landscape, has basked in relative obscurity since its founding in 1998, but the name is slowly earning clout as the “green” brand for the city. The sustainability alliance now collaborates with more than 100 area entities to promote mutually beneficial economic and environmental impacts. At the end of March, Green Umbrella launched a new website that’s become the hub for all things green in the city. There’s nowhere else for the sustainability-inclined to find a comprehensive list of green happenings around the city. Make it your go-to every time you’re in need of a reminder that people really do care. Things are happening everywhere. (greenumbrella.org)

Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council’s composting toolkit

Efforts to promote sustainability have long been targeted to families or individuals, but businesses are another less tangible demographic that tend to receive little much-needed limelight; after all, businesses are the lifeblood of any community, essential to healthy economy and discourse. The Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council’s mere existence represents an understanding of Cincinnati’s sustainability landscape and what’s needed most to improve it. GCGBC’s composting toolkit is a nifty how-to on developing a business model that seamlessly integrates composting, an often-misunderstood sustainability practice that’s become the talk of everyday “green” culture. Corporate heavyweights such as Procter & Gamble, Cintas, Macy’s and Luxottica have already jumped on board. (gcgbc.org)

Large-scale recycling at work programs

Keeping tabs on a family of four and one recycling toter at home is one thing. It’s another beast entirely to organize an army of 5,000 employees into a composting, recycling cooperative machine — but it can be done right. That’s what Fifth Third’s Madisonville Operations Center has accomplished since rolling out a composting and recycling program in November — an effort piloted by the minds of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third corporate headquarters. Recycling was also just implemented at the downtown location, home to about 2,500 employees. Developing the initial program took about five months, according to Scott Hassell, a CBRE employee and leader of Fifth Third’s Environmental Sustainability Program, and was eased by the free Recycling at Work Program offered by the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District. “We knew it was the right thing to do, and we knew if we did it the right way we could keep costs constant or even see reductions.” Scott says Cincinnati’s efforts have piloted a campaign to implement recycling in all Fifth Third facilities in the U.S. by the end of 2012.  

Cincinnati Zoo 

It only makes sense that a zoo, which by its very nature is dedicated to preserving animal and plant species, would take a strong stance on environmental conscientiousness. The Cincinnati Zoo, however, has taken firmly proactive measures to establish itself as a nationwide idol in spreading practices of sustainability into virtually every facet of business. The zoo uses pervious pavement to conserve water, houses the largest solar array in an urban, public space in the country and makes use of a generous amount of upcycled materials. The list goes on and on. 



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