Sustainability is a Win for All

MARK H. LUTTRELL JR. | Special to The Daily News


Editor’s Note: This column will appear Tuesdays through April in honor of Sustainability Month for Memphis and Shelby County.

This April marks the third annual Sustainability Month for Memphis and Shelby County. It has been remarkable and rewarding to watch the growth in activity and awareness around this important issue.

Since taking office in September 2010, one of my primary objectives has been to manage Shelby County Government as an efficient organization. Sustainability has been a guiding principle toward achieving this goal. Shelby County spends roughly $6.6 million on utilities for all facilities annually; $5.4 million of that figure accounts for the top 10 energy consuming facilities. By targeting a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption for the top 10 facilities, there is a potential $1 million annual savings to taxpayers. There is also significant opportunity to employ Shelby County residents with construction jobs during the retrofit process and improve air quality by reducing emissions from coal fired energy plants.

Currently, we are upgrading the Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building at 160 N. Main St. in Downtown Memphis. The antiquated design of the mechanical and electrical systems restricted the performance and energy efficiency of the building, so new energy-efficient HVAC and electrical systems are being installed and space utilization efficiency improvements are being made. The project is slated to be completed in November, and the $600,000 annual energy cost for the facility is projected to be reduced by over 20 percent.

In January 2014, Shelby County began assessments to identify specific components for replacement, starting with the Shelby County Correctional Facility. The facility is a priority for energy reduction because it is one of the highest energy users within County Government with an average annual utility cost of over $1.4 million. In partnership with the Office of Sustainability and Public Works, the Corrections staff has initiated an aggressive energy conservation program to reduce electricity, natural gas and water usage at the facility. This project is a part of a broader Green Prison Initiative, in which sustainability is being used as another re-entry strategy. Offenders will be trained on various related skills such as plumbing, electrical and material sorting for recycling.

Shelby County is also engaged in work around greenways and trails. The Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan is a regional collaborative planning initiative in which we are working to develop a network of greenways, parks, trails and open spaces across the region. More than 80 organizations and 300 individuals from throughout Shelby, Fayette, Crittenden, and DeSoto counties have been working together over the past two years to generate this plan. The implementation of this plan will lead to an enhanced quality of life for residents and it will make the Mid-South more attractive for companies looking to expand or move into the region.

Energy efficiency and greenway planning are just two of the areas where Shelby County is engaging in sustainability, but there are various other examples ranging from community health, transportation planning, air quality and conservation. Just last month, Shelby County and partners launched a Low Impact Development design competition with the goal to change the paradigm of local stormwater design (registration closes April 11). As we look at sustainability, we must identify solutions that are environmentally friendly and also solve social and economic issues in our community. The work that has been underway in recent years is a reflection of this type of triple-bottom line approach and I am encouraged by the progress that we continue to achieve.

Mark H. Luttrell Jr. is mayor of Shelby County.