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  • Pima County seeing added value of sustainable operations

    Apr 05, 2019 | Read More News
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    File: solar power panelsPima County sits in a climate change hotspot – one of the hottest and driest regions in the United States and, according to climate models, things will get hotter and drier even as the population grows by as much as 70 percent come midcentury.
    The environmental consequences of climate change, if unmitigated or unprepared for, almost certainly will translate into financial costs. Higher temperatures, less rainfall, and more extreme weather events strain utility demand and prices; costs of goods and services; cost of emergency services; infrastructure repairs from heat-induced damage, flooding, erosion and more.
    Sustainability is far more than just soft, fuzzy, feel-good projects. Pima County recognizes that the responsibility for solving the biggest environmental challenges lies with our biggest institutions.
    With that in mind, the County in 2007 began to take steps to prepare for a potentially uncertain climate future with the adoption of the first Sustainable Action Plan for County Operations (SAPCO). Supervisors adopted the five-year road map in 2007, then renewed it in 2012.
    Last November, the County Board of Supervisors adopted a new sustainability plan with a seven-year timeline that ensures County targets coincide with the 2025 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction deadline of the Paris Agreement. That Agreement seeks to reduce worldwide carbon emissions to hold global temperature increases below 2°C (3.8° F) above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
    The 2018 SAPCO outlines the specific targets and recommended mitigation strategies the County will pursue to reduce current greenhouse gas emissions from operations to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Pima County will therefore need to reduce its projected 2025 emissions by 50 percent by 2025 through energy and fleet efficiency measures, and increase its use of renewable energy.
    File: bicyclist commutingTogether, the SAPCOs have been highly effective, saving the County millions of dollars in energy costs by emphasizing energy efficiency, renewable energy production and increasing the use of reclaimed water in County parks and the purchase of eco-friendly vehicles and office supplies.
    "In local government, there is always a challenge for resources, but for every sustainability project we undertake, we consider what value the project will deliver," Sustainability and Conservation Director Linda Mayro said. "Some of these projects, like our solar installations, create cost savings over time, so they have direct value to Pima County operations. But, they also mitigate our carbon emissions and therefore have a direct, positive impact on climate change, which indirectly and broadly benefits our community."
    The 2018 SAPCO also seeks to build on the success of previous iterations, which have been used as a model by other counties across the country for developing their own sustainability plans. The plan is broken into five action areas – carbon, water, landscapes, materials and workforce – each with defined goals and baselines to determine success and implementation timelines for achieving those goals. Among the goals for the 2018-2025 plan are:
    • Reduce carbon emissions from County operations in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement.
    • Reduce the intensity of potable water use in County operations and continue allocating reclaimed water for groundwater recharge.
    • Utilize the County’s ongoing protection and restoration of extensive healthy landscapes as a strategy for climate mitigation and frontline adaptation by protecting native species and natural and cultural resources, installing green infrastructure and restoring riparian areas, and expanding support for local food systems.
    • Adopt mindful purchasing practices that are preferential toward environmentally-friendly (or “green”) office products and equipment and adopt mindful disposal practices that make landfills the destination of last resort.
    • Foster a safe work environment by preparing Pima County employees for climate change risks they may encounter at their work sites and provide the resources necessary to adequately prepare Pima County employees for climate change risks that may affect their home environment.
    File: Santa Cruz RiverThe Office of Sustainability and Conservation publishes an annual Sustainability Report Card to chart the County’s overall progress toward achieving the carbon reduction and climate adaptation goals adopted by the Board of Supervisors.
    Pima County's Sustainable Action Plan is also one of the most rigorous efforts regionally. It relies on establishing targets and measuring performance over time and reporting this information annually. This methodology allows us to evaluate our effectiveness and adapt our efforts as needed to reach our goals.
    A major feature of the SAPCO is collaboration. It is a cross-departmental effort, necessary to achieve the ambitious climate mitigation and adaptation targets it sets for County operations. Fourteen County agencies are taking part: Administration, Attractions and Tourism, Community Development and Neighborhood Conservation, Emergency Management, Environmental Quality, Facilities Management, Finance and Risk Management, Fleet Services, Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation, Procurement, Regional Flood Control District, Regional Wastewater Reclamation, Sustainability, Conservation and Historic Preservation, and Transportation.
    Within our office, we work to align internal sustainability projects and recommendations within the zone of overlapping benefits to create both environmental and business value. Through this alignment, we have a much stronger opportunity to also generate social value.
    Even though our efforts are internally-focused, the County’s leadership in sustainability was key to convening and engaging with our partners (City of Tucson and the UA) to join the Tucson 2030 District and work collaboratively towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Pima-metro area. As part of the 2030 District, we are co-producing reports and sharing knowledge to tackle big challenges.
    The SAPCO’s Implementation strategies are based on new or existing departmental management plans and applicable best practices. Departments are responsible for successfully achieving the targets and serve as the primary points of contact for inquiries regarding specific core areas and performance.


    A version of this article, written by Julie Robinson with Pima County's Office of Sustainability and Conservation, was prepared for Trend Report.