By Abi Wright
Those Bright Lights Just Got Bright Green
We see the stories of local governments and organizations all across the country that are beginning to develop and implement sustainable solutions and programs throughout their cities. Most of these stories come from cities that are normally associated with already being ‘green’, such as San Francisco or Portland and Seattle. One group of city officials, public and private business owners, individuals and non-profits have decided to band together in what would be a seemingly unusual place to go green; In the middle of the Mojave Desert, in a little place called Las Vegas.
Las Vegas, Nevada, gets a lot of heat- and we’re not just talking about the temperature. Most people, when thinking of the ‘City of Sin’ also associate that title with unsustainable practices, excess of just about everything, and an energy- eating main-vein we so lovingly know as ‘the Strip’. Within the last 18 months however, Green Chips, a local non-profit developed to address these issues and serve as an umbrella organization for community retrofits and sustainability intervention, has been working on a plan. This plan was finally unveiled last week as the organization hosted Southern Nevada’s first Convene for Green Sustainability Summit, held at Springs Preserve: an amazing 180-acre cultural and environmental institution which is partnered with Green Chips to provide Las Vegans with a sustainable vision. And what a vision it is… now being put into action with measurable goals set through 2020!
The event started off with a warm greeting from beloved Las Vegas Mayor and Chairman of the Green Chips Board of Directors, Oscar Goodman. Mayor Goodman has been an integral part of the planning and execution of the Green Chips organization, other city-wide sustainable programs and was also one of the very first US Mayors to sign the 2005 U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. Approximately 100 or more other patrons from various businesses and like-minded organizations joined him for his opening remarks- which then were passed over to the opening keynote speaker, Robert Lang, Director of the Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountains West. The Summit was broken into three separate topics and panels of speakers that discussed the key Economic, Environmental, and Social performance measures for the developed ‘Road Map for Sustainability’.
During these discussions, some amazing information was shared on what the real situation is in Southern Nevada. Lydia Ball, executive director for the Clean Energy Project, was one of the economic panelists to bring to light the reality of what NV is facing, “We do not have fossil fuels in this state, “ she says, “1.7 billion was spent in the last year, just to import fossil fuels into Nevada.” That’s our wages going straight into the pockets of people that don’t even live in our state, let alone our country. And she’s right- Nevada has no fossil fuels. It’s a state that is made of over 60% government land, predominantly all located in the desert which also means a very limited supply of water. What about the Hoover Dam and Colorado River? Doug Bennett, Conservation Manager for Southern Nevada Water Authority also had some interesting facts to add: “Currently, only 1.8% of the Colorado River is allocated to Nevada.” The Southern Nevada Water Authority is one of the biggest allies to water efficiency for the region. SNWA has developed a Water Smart Landscape rebate program that since its launch has helped convert 150 million square feet of grass into water-efficient landscaping. That equates to 8.4 billion gallons of water saved per year, and saves enough energy to power 4,000 homes (equivalent to 55K megawatts saved).
Another resonating term that was brought up in every panel was education. In Nevada, the term ‘education’ can bring mixed feelings- usually bitter ones. Currently, Nevada is listed 50 out of 50 for educational ranking and graduation rates. Dr. Ron Smith, Dean of the Graduate College at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), brought with him some astonishing statistics, taken from the National Center for Higher Education. In Nevada, out of 100- 9th grade students, only 48 will graduate high school, 26 will enter college that fall and from those, only 18 will go on to become sophomores. Even more astounding- only 4 will graduate with an Associate’s Degree or Bachelors. Even the Nevada education system is seemingly unsustainable, which is why Green Chips had attendees ranging from UNLV professors and Deans all the way to Clark County School District Officials. In order to make any kind of change, we first have to understand why change is needed. This applies to all people- from children in grade school, all the way up to adults in the workforce. The only way to learn anything is through education whether it’s in the classroom or in the field. In a state where education is more of a joke than a focus, it’s going to be a tough battle, but Green Chips realizes this and is stepping up to the call. Featured presenter, Jordan Howard, an 18 year old graduate of the Environmental Charter High School in Los Angeles, California, had this to say about education and being green: “I didn’t know or care about sustainability and what it meant until I learned that it meant everything… and then it changed my life.”
Solar Panels on parking structure at Springs Preserve
Other panelists for the afternoon included Tom Axtell- General Manager of Vegas PBS, Dr. Robert Fielden- NCARB, FAIA, President of the Board of Directors Home Free Nevada, Henry Shields- Director of Finance and Analysis for Energy and Environmental Services division of MGM Resorts, Rob Dorinson- Founder of Evergreen Recycling, and Gwen Migita- Corporate Director Sustainability & Community Engagement, Caesars Entertainment… plus several other affluent notables within the Las Vegas community.
Probably one of the best presentations made during this event was from the closing keynote speaker, Dan Bena- Director of Sustainable Development for PepsiCo. Bena is responsible for serving as a liaison between government affairs, public policy, field operation and technical functions between PepsiCo and its stakeholder’s. PepsiCo is the manufacturing distributor of all Pepsi products, including Frito Lay- which currently has 18 plants throughout the US that are operating at zero waste. Bena’s message touched upon how it’s a company’s civil duty to operate in a sensible, sustainable, and profitable manner while collaborating with all parties involved to find creative solutions to world problems. One of the best points he made was also one of the most simple: “Who Cares… Wins.” As the 2011 Southern Nevada Convene for Green Sustainability Summit came to a close, one thing was certain: Green Chips cares… and it’ll be everyone in Southern Nevada that wins.