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Janik: Is sustainability a guiding light or a boondoggle?


The idea of sustainability conjures up strong emotions. Those who embrace the idea view it as a way to foster environmental conditions that support current and future generations, a life saver. The naysayers think of it as a way for big brother to reduce our freedoms. Can we bridge that gap?

We just experienced the hottest July on record and the longest dry spell in recent history. Clearly, we need to find ways to mitigate these extremes. With guidance from our sustainability director and SEAC (Scottsdale Environmental Advisory Commission), council recently agreed on the elements of a pathway to sustainability. The three elements include water, heat/air quality and waste. While separate pathways, they are inextricably linked to each other.

General Plan 2035 provides a broad outline of goals for preservation of our environment. The Sustainability Plan refines these ideas. Implementation begins with goal setting and data collection to measure progress. Some programs are well on their way while others are in their infancy.

Water is at the forefront of sustainability. Scottsdale has made significant progress with conservation measures. While surviving the hottest July on record, we reduced our water use by 7% compared to July 2022. Potable water deliveries are on a downward trend even though the number of connections has increased by 9%. Our water department instituted Watersmart, an online portal designed to help achieve efficiency in water use including leak alerts.

In 2023, residential and commercial turf replacement incentivized 440,000 square feet of grass removal. WIFA (Water Infrastructure Finance Authority) approved a $250,000 grant for Scottsdale for this hugely successful program. Developers are also on board using advanced water-saving equipment in their new green builds. The next initiatives propose targeted reductions in golf course potable water and HOA irrigation water usage, and a parallel increase in water recapture rates for HOA’s. Each has a goal of 10% over 10 years. We will build on our successes.

The heat problem is more complex. Through a grant from COS (City of Scottsdale) to ASU, we have generated a heat map of Scottsdale that provides baseline data for our city. The map outlines the areas ripe for the implementation of strategies to cool things down. Let’s plant some trees! Problem, they need water. With data to pinpoint ideal locations and species of trees that provide abundant shade and are drought resistant, we can achieve a net positive for the environment.

Moving forward, we can set measurable goals for temperature reduction. UV rays from the sun react with the products of combustion from car exhaust, power plants and lawn equipment to produce ozone. Ozone is harmful to young children, elderly and those suffering from breathing disorders. Unfortunately, Valley ozone levels are too high to avoid frequent health alerts and fines imposed by the EPA.

A $4.8 million grant from US Dept of Transportation Federal Highway Administration aims to curb traffic congestion and improve air quality. Use of electric yard equipment, reduction in idle time at that drive-thru (consider parking and walking in), driving earlier in the day or after sunset (ditto for fueling up), and fewer total miles driven will reduce ozone levels. EV vehicles will be a huge help as they become more affordable. Reduction of particulate matter in the air goes hand in hand with ozone reduction to alleviate health issues. Dust control measures are continuing. Implementation of these measures will put us on a path to improved health.

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. This is particularly true with food waste. Arizona is #1 with the highest share of food wasted and lowest amount of food recycled. Opportunity abounds on this front with immediate actions available to all of us. Residents can compost their organic waste or subscribe to a residential pickup service that converts food waste to fertilizer. The city can begin the process of eliminating the food waste from public venues (already started).

Benefits include reduction of pressure on landfills, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (food that contaminates recycled material decomposes in landfills emitting methane that is 25 times as harmful as carbon dioxide). Consider donating unused food to non-profits. Turn the “waste stream” into usable products including bioenergy, fertilizer and animal feed, among other items. Our downtown businesses are also participating in waste reduction and recycling and hope for some cost reductions.

There will be fits and starts along the way, but don’t let that deter you. Sustainability is the journey of our lifetime. Don’t let it pass you by.