Greenspace: Cities are stars in state's GreenStep program

One by one, Minnesota cities are becoming a bit more eco-friendly. The Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams recently welcomed a 50th municipality, Maple Grove, to its GreenStep Cities program . Rochester , Austin , Red Wing , Northfield and Kasson are all member cities.

"I think a lot of cities like this because it's a nice broad framework for sustainability," said Diana McKeown, Metro director for CERTS. "For many cities, they have environmental commissions, and the GreenStep Cities program gives them ideas on what to work on." The program, in its second year, gives cities guidelines for greening their infrastructure and work practices in order to save energy and resources.

While Minnesota CERTS does work with interested city officials who are considering signing up for the program, some of its success comes from cities that are looking for the green leadership it provides.

"Sometimes I know which cities are joining the program," McKeown said. "Usually, they've asked for a presentation. But sometimes we just find out a city has passed a resolution to implement our program."

Cities' participation in the program is free and voluntary. The program sets out a best-practices set of guidelines and recommendations across five sustainability topics. Those topics include building and lighting, land use, transportation, environmental management, and economic and community development.


"Cities can follow actual best practices that other cities have done, and there is a live person they can talk to about how those are done," McKeown said.

Phil Wheeler, director of the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department, says Rochester has undertaken many projects as part of the GreenStep program, including small changes, such as installing new compact fluorescent light bulbs, and large changes, such as building a geothermal system that uses water from Foster Arend pond to help heat a pair of city buildings.

"The city invested in replacing traffic signals with LED lights," Wheeler said. "It's a pretty short payoff because the LEDs use so much less energy than incandescent bulbs."

CERTS offers a list of best-practice actions in each of the five sustainability topics, McKeown said. Cities can earn higher ratings in the program by completing more and more practices within each area.

"Each action has implementation tools, guidance and lists who's already doing it," she said. "These are practices that most cities can accomplish."

Furthermore, cities are encouraged to track their energy use, so they know what they're saving.

Currently, cities can earn one, two or three stars, depending on how many green steps they undertake, McKeown said. Four cities have already reached the three-star level, and it's likely more will soon follow. Rochester and Austin are both two-star cities in the program.

The program recognizes cities in a variety of ways, including offering online marketing tools such as logos and press releases cities can use on their own websites, CERTS also sends congratulations via Facebook and Twitter.


The program continues to grow and expand. Step 4 will soon roll out, with an emphasis on further measuring results of the resource savings. Ongoing workshops help cities learn how to save energy and become more sustainable. And, of course, the program continues to reach out to more cities in the state to become members.

"The great thing is cities can choose what they want to do, so they can go at their own pace," McKeown said.

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