ORLANDO – As one of the world’s top tourist destinations, Orlando is known for a lot of things, including close proximity to the theme parks, the attractions on International Drive, and the growing nightlife and arts events in downtown.
If Mayor Buddy Dyer has his way, Orlando will quickly become known for something else: being a trailblazer when it comes to being environmentally conscious.
“Downtown has always been a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation,” Dyer said. “Over the past few years, our urban core has taken a leadership role in one very specific area of innovation – sustainability.”
During his State of Downtown address on Wednesday at the Amway Center, Dyer noted that in the past four years, Orlando has made a lot of progress in creating a truly “Green” and environmentally-friendly city – an approach the City Beautiful not only plans to keep working on, but also significantly expand, the mayor said.
In the past few years, Dyer noted, the city has reduced its energy consumption by 20 percent as a city government, and provided energy retrofits to more than 1,200 local homes so homeowners can save money on their electric bills.
“We’ve added more than 19 miles of sidewalks and bike paths, making our city and our downtown more walkable,” he said. “We put plans in place to offer our residents new and expanded methods of alternative transportation through the creation of SunRail and the expansion of our downtown bus circulator, LYMMO.”
SunRail is a 61-mile commuter rail line that will include four stops in downtown Orlando.
“We’ve converted public landscaping to plants and grass that require far less irrigation, saving more than $500,000 per year,” Dyer said.
The mayor added that Orlando has also been a leader in LEED certification, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1998, it’s a rating system for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods.
The city has encouraged the owners of private sector buildings and community facilities to achieve LEED certification, the mayor noted, including the Orlando Science Center and the Amway Center.
“These initiatives, and many others, now save taxpayers more than $1 million per year,” Dyer said.
It’s an impressive effort, said Maylen Dominguez, president of the Orlando Utilities Commission’s board of directors.
“We continue to work together to make Orlando a national leader in sustainability,” she said. “We’re also showing our customers how to save energy and money. Twice this year we voted to lower our electric rates, which is not just good for our customers, but for our businesses and our city.”
There are more innovations on the way, Dyer noted.
As part of the second phase, the city now has an interactive forum hosted on www.GreenWorksOrlando.com, powered by the company Mind Mixer. The site provides questions that residents can answer, as a way to engage residents on green issues.
The site also provides points that can be earned in a “Rewards Store.” The points can be redeemed for things like a tour inside the Lake Eola Fountain, an air boat ride at the Orlando Wetlands Park or an opportunity to choose the color of the Lake Eola Fountain for one night.
Dyer said he’s also established the city’s first GreenWorks Task Force, which will be chaired by former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, and will be responsible for crafting and implementing a set of new “green goals” for the community.
Those goals are expected to include developing a green building code that encourages developers to meet green standards, launching bike and car sharing programs, establishing long term carbon emission reduction goals, and working with OUC to covert street lights from traditional bulbs to LED energy-saving bulbs.
Dyer also announced that starting in November, the city will launch a new single-cart recycling program.
“At that time, all current residential recycling customers will begin receiving their new 95 gallon recycling cart,” Dyer said. “Say goodbye to those tiny red and blue bins. And say goodbye to separating your recyclables. Instead, you can now put all of those recyclables into one giant teal and burgundy cart. This change will allow us to double the number of people who recycle in Orlando and the amount of material we recycle. It will also save us more than $125,000 per year.”
This program, he added, would be fully implemented citywide by Christmas.
During the State of Downtown address, Dyer also introduced Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who praised the city’s efforts to develop and meet sustainability goals.
“It’s really a great honor to be here with you and see the great work you’re doing to revitalize your downtown,” Sutley said. “You’re on track to make sure Orlando continues to be a wonderful and thriving place to live.”
That includes Orlando’s aggressive efforts to be LEED certified, she added.
“Cities are no doubt the economic engine for the United States,” Sutley said. “That means the decisions we make today on how to build our cities will have effects for years to come. Cities like Orlando that are getting these right are setting themselves up for success in the future.”
Dyer said he plans to make both the federal government, and the city’s residents and businesses, major partners in these ongoing efforts.
“I’m fond of saying success isn’t a destination,” Dyer said. “It’s a direction.”
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