Feature Article - November 2011
Find a printable version here

Green For Green's Sake

Eco-Friendly Facilities & Operations Yield Economic, Environmental Savings

By Wynn St. Clair

Not every green project, though, needs to be as grand as the University of Arizona's history-making endeavor. There are little things every recreation manager can do to be a bit greener.

In Dublin, Ohio, for example, officials installed a green rooftop at the Dublin Community Recreation Center. The 2,300-square-foot rooftop, a labor of love for the city engineer tasked with educating the public about storm-water issues, features two rain barrels to harvest rainwater for the rooftop plants, and a rain gauge to measure how much water is being diverted from nearby South Indian Run stream.

The green rooftop also includes a walkway, a small patio and educational signage for use during guided tours. There's even a little rabbit that lives up there.

"We weren't sure what the public reaction would be, but they love it and they love the idea of it. It's a significant improvement from what was there," said Jamie Adkins, the city's sustainable programs manager. "We thought this location would benefit the community the most because the recreation center is a community gathering space that also has high visibility."

The roof's benefits include a reduced volume of storm water, along with the pollution that water can carry, flowing off the roof. It also improves climate control efficiency within the building, extends the life of the existing roof and provides aesthetic visual benefits.

The city is working on making the rooftop—and its ecology mission—as accessible to the public as possible. Officials are working at establishing guided tours because safety concerns prevent the public from being able to just wander around the roof on their own. They'll also put the roof's rain gauge information on the Web site and compare that data with the numbers from other areas of the roof that are not yet green so the public can see the difference.

"This was a huge opportunity for us to get the community engaged on this topic with all of the benefits to the environment," Jamie Adkins said. "Plus, it's also really pretty."

In addition to the $22,230 allocated by the city, the project was paid for with a $50,650 grant from the Ohio Environment Protection Agency's Surface Water Improvement Fund. The fund's primary objective is to improve water quality in the state's lakes, streams and rivers—a goal Dublin has met with its rooftop.

"We didn't need it to meet our stormwater requirement, but it certainly helps," Adkins said. "If you have a flat roof, it is well worth the educational investment for the community. It's also a good example for the community. That was our goal: to show them not only do we talk the talk, we walk the walk. It's a small step, but it's a really good step."

In Elmhurst, Ill., the park district also has taken a step toward cleaner, greener parks by partnering with a Colorado-based company to deliver an eco-friendly dog waste program to its parks.

The initiative included the installation, supply and upkeep of waste bag dispensers made from 100 percent recyclable aluminum. The dog waste dispensers are maintained by crews driving hybrid vehicles, and are filled with 100 percent biodegradable bags, designed to naturally deteriorate within 18 months. Much like the district's popular adopt-a-park program, the service is funded at no cost to taxpayers through cause-marketing efforts by businesses and organizations.

The Colorado-based company actually sought out the local business to fund the project. Participating companies receive advertising both on the dispensers and the individual bags themselves.

"We calculate it's saved us over $9,000 a year when you consider the savings of vehicle expenses to maintain the dispensers, the cost of the waste bags, etc.," said Megan McNamara, the park district's marketing specialist. "That's a priority for us. We're always looking at any way we can to save taxpayer dollars."

The Colorado company hires people from the community to refill the dispensers and maintain the signage, meaning there is no extra work for district employees. The public response has been extremely positive, with the park district expanding its original offering of 12 dispensers in eight parks to 29 dispensers in 19 parks.

"It's an eco-friendly pet waste service that's even creating jobs in the local community," McNamara said. "It's good for the environment and good for the taxpayers. It's a win-win."