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How Green Is Your City? ISO Certification Helps Answer the Question

By Amy Westervelt

May 21, 2009

Several U.S. cities are competing to be crowned the "greenest" in the country, particularly now that there's stimulus money tied to things like energy efficiency, green jobs programs and public transit improvements.

But with '"first-of-its-kind" programs rolling out seemingly every week, it's becoming increasingly difficult to separate the true leaders from the great marketers.

Case in point, last week Denver became the first U.S. city to achieve registration to the ISO 14001 standard across multiple departments.

If you're asking yourself what that means, you are not alone.

The international standard governs environmental management systems and monitors their continual improvement towards goals such as resource efficiency, waste reduction, and effective management of environmental risks. It’s a voluntary program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but not yet widely adopted by U.S. cities.

According to Denver officials, achieving ISO registration was worthwhile on two fronts: Working toward registration provided a way to both implement and gauge progress on , the Mayor's sustainability plan for the city; and the steps taken to get registered will save the city money.

To qualify, the city also had to streamline and improve the environmental programs, such as its green buildings, green fleets, and renewable energy programs, which could help it win future grants from both state and federal governments.

"As the environmental management system takes effect, we anticipate savings from a variety of areas," says Paul Schmiechen, the city’s lead environmental management system coordinator.

"Energy savings will clearly be one of the largest we should see over the next few years, particularly as we enhance the existing green building program, and we also expect to see savings from using less toxic materials, which will result in lower hazardous waste disposal fees."

Schmiechen gives the city's vehicle maintenance facility as an example. Staff there have switched from using solvent-based parts washers to aqueous parts washers and saved $3,200 per year in reduced material costs and lowered disposal fees, not to mention the less tangible (but equally valuable) "savings" delivered in terms of keeping dangerous toxins out of the city's water, soil, and air.

So why haven't more cities embraced green certification?

Simply put, some cities just aren't ready for it. Though indicate that the majority of large cities have some sort of sustainability initiative in place, there is quite a bit of difference between those that have been working toward their goals since the 1970s and those that have only recently begun to think about what "green" means in their city.

Denver, for example, has a long history of environmental commitment, thanks in large part to its abundance of natural resources and liberal-leaning residents. The city began formalizing its sustainability plan and allotting serious resources to its initiatives in the early part of this decade.

According to Christian Lupo, General Manager of , the firm that helped register Denver, there are also not many certification auditors out there that understand the nuance of registering a city versus registering a manufacturer. By far the majority of ISO registrants to dates are in manufacturing, where the ISO 9000 standard has long been the benchmark for quality control throughout the world.

I like the concept abut your

I like the concept abut your bock is the "greenest". It is a such nice block. thank you.

about ISO cirtification

Really good blog post. I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Yes ISO cirtification can help to judge how green is your city is......? Thanks for sharing this information and I’ll love to read your next post too.

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Great blog post. It’s

Great blog post. It’s useful information.

San Jose Green Washing

As an inside--outsider, to the Capitol of Silicon Valley Public works, it is pretty easy to point out to non--insiders that San Jose will never meet Reeds Goals in the areas he outlines for greening the city. Ironically, it can be done for so little money if only he was getting sound advice.
Simply, Upper management, RDA, and planning staff needs to go. Labor is being targeted as the problem...They are...but, it is enabled by bad management that puts labor out with shit for tools, or procedures which are hazardous. SEE link>

I will also mention that SJ procurement writes RFP's (for weed abatement) that are inflexible and promotes its preferred non-green vendors methods.
AND; *Labor needs to clean its ranks,,,,,,weed out the criminal factions; biker interests significantly undermine and seduces the moral of non-members. This is a serious problem as it leads to staff turning a blind eye!

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