Nestled in the heart of a culturally rich and active local community, the University of Michigan’s goals seem to mirror the objectives of local Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is a buzzing hub of innovation; start-up entrepreneurial enterprises, and cutting edge technology and research firms seem to make up the nucleus of the local economy. As such endeavors prove costly, efficiency seems to be a priority amongst local people, a primacy that is reflected in their business approaches. Efficiency can be achieved on a variety levels: capital allocation, minimal time and energy expenditure and strategic business structures that minimize costs and boost profits. Such efficiency standards can be met with numerous approaches; however, Ann Arbor companies seem to set the standard by equating efficiency with green sustainability, and considering local options and mindful environmental practices to reach the bar.
While residing in Ann Arbor for four years, I noticed incentives for reducing waste around the city. Many food businesses receive base ingredients from local farmers, and donate leftovers to the homeless population. Local farmers' markets are highly publicized and well frequented by students and locals alike. Clothing and product drives reallocate excess, and a noticeable shift towards biodegradable materials for disposable products has become widespread in University and local business food and product packaging. A new wave of businesses promoting increased accessibility to public transportation has emerged. Through the means of more expansive bus routes and initiatives to provide larger capacity cabs, Ann Arbor is moving more people and burning less fuel simultaneously. Within the community, there is a strong biking population and more recently, an emerging skateboard culture. Governmental regulations have rejected proposals for increasing parking accessibility, and this has proved to deter individuals from driving--a positive for fuel conservation. Additionally, the physical layout of Ann Arbor makes walking or alternative transportation an easy, viable and reasonable option, along with the construction of new dormitories, co-ops and apartment buildings on Central Campus; people are being brought closer to their destinations. Ann Arbor makes it easy to be environmentally conscious by providing the means to promote desired actions.
Recently, I have moved to a neighborhood just north of downtown Chicago, Illinois. My fascination with urban living and sustainability was redefined. Generally speaking, subways and buses are the predominate mode of transportation for many city dwellers. As a graduate student, I have the option to purchase an unlimited public transportation card for six months. My commute to school on the subway has opened my eyes to the amount of fuel, finances, energy and time allotment that is being saved per person. Calculate $2.50 per one-way ticket, the price of a car, gas, parking and time in the context of city, and number is likely astounding. Chicago utilizes public transportation in a way unlike most other big cities, by utilizing both above ground and underground subway transport. By doubling the expansive public transportation network, Chicago transports more people and employs more individuals to service and maintain the tracks and trains. Read: Public transportation is quick, efficient, expansive...and arguably entertaining.
Additionally, the state of Illinois encourages and provides a number of incentives for renewables and efficiency efforts--a mixture of grants, shorter permit process timelines and tax cuts. These opportunities are available for commercial, industrial, residential, educational and institutional interests, and help to further the employment and adoption of new technology and environmentally beneficial practices. Some of these practices involve: green building designs, geothermal heat pumps, solar space and water heaters, photovoltaics, hydroelectricity, LED lighting, renewable fuels and biomass. The implementation and employment of new technology through state and federal incentives encourages a healthier environment and provides a financially feasible way to reduce operation costs and conserve valuable resources, materials and energy. Such information for your own city is available through DSIRE, an online database funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
On a smaller scale, I have noticed a number of changes within my two short months of residence: public restrooms are beginning to remove paper towel dispensers and replace them with strong air current dryers. Inner city farmers markets are extending their hours of operation to weekdays, specifically lunch hours, providing an alternative for the working world’s lunch break and grocery run. Recycling containers are found on every corner and clothing dispensaries for the needy are numerous. Water bottle fillers that provide a “number of bottles saved” to users are engineered into many of the public water fountains, becoming a city norm. By providing such numbers for users, individuals are tangibly made to feel as though they are furthering change, thus encouraging usage. A number of restaurants provide cloth napkins, regardless of their level of formality. Chicago provides easy ways for people to minimize waste and reuse or reallocate resources. Small incentives and practices add up, and the collective result could be major.
We are the generation that will turn the tables. We will change and revitalize the American culture by using innovative ways to introduce and implement sustainable and efficient business regimes into our communities. Our health, safety, and happiness derive from our atmosphere. If we focus on sustainability, and intentionally challenge ourselves to reuse materials in innovative ways, we will revitalize our communities. Look at your lifestyle, identify the source of waste, start small scale and take an active role within your community to further new practices and become a catalyst for reform.