Sustainable or superficial?

The efforts of the city of Mercer Island to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by the City Council are laudable. Certainly it is a good thing to conserve energy and reduce waste. But as managers of a city government that looks after a community already tuned into the environment, it is a no-brainer.

Recycling, turning off lights or replacing older, less efficient vehicles and equipment is simply good management — already business as usual for the city. Any good manager and his team (which we have here) will reduce costs any way they can.

There is more that could be done. The city encourages carpooling, yet only a dozen or so employees do so. The city does not offer bus passes and less than a handful take the bus. Flexible scheduling for city workers helps reduce traffic during peak times but not the total amount of emissions. Worrying about the carbon footprint of the city seems rather superficial when faced with the amount of noxious emissions generated by Islanders driving alone on the I-90 express lanes.

With ‘green’ practices, we can still drive, leave lights on and use energy at will — software and timers and different fuels will do the conserving. We can reassure ourselves that we can still carry on as before — because we are more efficient. City employees and the rest of us will continue to drive trucks and cars, albeit more efficient ones.

Our environment will not be very sustainable unless we learn to change our behaviors and get out of our cars, hit that light switch or sort that trash.

So what should the city do? Set incentives for shaping behaviors beyond its own walls. Work with businesses and builders to take on these practices. Through codes and regulations, encourage them to generate less trash and get employees to drive less. Perhaps offer incentives to developers to offer discounts to buyers or renters who do not own cars. Partner with other communities to build affordable housing close to transit so that workers could live nearer to where they work — whether it is here, in Bellevue or Seattle.

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