Sustainability: Whole community must contribute to effort

Mercer Island is uniquely situated to make a significant contribution to the challenge of our generation: To curb greenhouse gases and reduce the effects of global warming. As a community, we have a real opportunity to work together to build our sustainable future by “thinking globally and acting locally.” Last week, the City Council took an important step toward helping Mercer Island become a sustainable community. We unanimously approved a Sustainability Program that focuses on “leading by example” by conserving our natural resources and reducing the city’s carbon footprint for the benefit of future generations.

Saying we are going to do something about global warming was easy. Actually doing something meaningful about global warming is more challenging. The Sustainability Program is dedicated to achieving tangible improvements in local conditions while judiciously using limited staff and tax resources. City staff will evaluate all sustainability programs based on their impact in curbing carbon emissions and the cost-effectiveness of such efforts. But to be successful, we will need your help and the help of the School District and local business owners.

The Mercer Island Sustainability Program contains the following elements: (1) establish a baseline for what we currently emit into the atmosphere; (2) set achievable goals to reduce our emissions; (3) develop and implement actions to meet our goals; and (4) measure our results. In the next three months, we will determine a baseline, or the city’s “carbon footprint,” which is a measure of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. The council will discuss the city’s carbon footprint and set goals for our work plan at our September 4 council meeting. Please join us to provide your input as we determine what actions are appropriate for Mercer Island.

More than 50 percent of Mercer Island’s greenhouse gases come from vehicles. The second-largest source of greenhouse gases in our community, more than 20 percent, comes from heating and lighting our homes, schools and offices. Thus, the focus of the city’s efforts will be to reduce emissions from these sectors — such as converting the city fleet to biofuels or other non-petroleum product, and encouraging the School District, local businesses and companies that do business on the Island to do the same and to promote bicycling and walking. Other measures will include increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings, starting with our own city and school facilities, increase recycling, studying renewable energies such as solar and wind and maintaining healthy forests and open spaces throughout the Island.

The issue of conserving our limited natural resources has long been supported by Mercer Island citizens. In the early 1990s, the Island was the first community in King County to begin diverting 60 percent or more of its residential waste stream through recycling. Island households have demonstrated repeatedly their ability to dramatically curtail water consumption during drought times.

Finally, our community continues to support and value our parks and open spaces as areas that will provide opportunities for recreation, solitude and carbon sources to help with our sustainability initiatives.

Many of Mercer Island’s citizens and businesses have long been passionate participants and leaders in conserving the natural resources of our area. From the Mountain-to-Sound Greenway to the Cascade Land Conservancy to the Wildwood and Pioneer Park volunteers, Mercer Islanders have devoted countless hours of their time to help make a difference. We realize this leadership and commitment to a sustainable future starts in your home. For current and future Islanders, the City Council looks forward to partnering with you, your family, your schools and your local businesses in acting locally to have a global impact.

For more information about the City’s Sustainability Program and upcoming City Council activities on sustainability and global warming, please refer to the city’s Website www.mercergov.org

Steve Litzow and Mike Grady serve on the Mercer Island City Council.

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