sustainlouEarlier this decade, sustainability wasn’t on Louisville’s radar.

Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government didn’t have a plan or an office dedicated to making Louisville more sustainable. Today, it has both, pointed out Emily Chandler, interim executive director of the Louisville Sustainability Council, a nonprofit public private partnership.

The Louisville Metro Office of Sustainability was created in 2012 and Sustain Louisville, the city’s sustainability plan, was adopted the next year. Last week, the city released its annual progress report.

“Louisville has made great strides,” she said. “Are we California? Are we Austin? No, we aren’t there yet, but we have come a long way in a short period of time.”

Sustain Louisville now has 17 goals and more than 80 initiatives. This year’s highlight in the progress report included ranking 24th on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of cities with the most Energy Star buildings; replacing diesel-powered TARC buses with 10 all-electric buses; planting 9,586 trees in the city; and becoming the 13th city in the United States to receive a 4-star rating from sustainability nonprofit STAR Communities.

“We are implementing a full range of programs that will make Louisville a healthier and more environmentally friendly place to live,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a news release. “We are making progress, and we are working hard to achieve even more.”

The city has made improvements internally. Energy used in city-owned buildings declined 11 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to the progress report. The Metropolitan Sewer District also reduced the number of sewer overflows by 75 percent since 2011, and Metro Parks now maintains 289 acres of land, up from 235 acres in 2014.

The city touted its 4-star rating from STAR Communities as one of its top achievements in 2015. Seattle and Northampton, Mass., are the only two cities that use the STAR Communities rating system to achieve 5-star status.

To receive 4 stars, cities must have a total of 400 points or more in eight categories: built environment; climate and energy; economy and jobs; education, arts and community; equity and empowerment; health and safety; natural systems; and innovation and process credits. Louisville scored 404.5 points, according to the STAR Communities rating.

The ranking is valuable, Chandler said, because it provides “transparency and detail” about what Louisville is doing right and where it needs to improve or change.

Louisville received the most points in the natural systems category because, among other things, it has city codes that require green infrastructure in new developments and has created incentives to help developers incorporate green infrastructure into developments.

However, the city ranked poorly in the subcategory of environmental justice because it has not identified priority environmental justice sites where it needs to work on air and water quality as well as reducing toxic environments.

Louisville needs to identify those sites and create a plan that would promote developments with sustainability in mind. The plan could serve as a guide for how vacant properties should be redeveloped to help the city meet its Sustain Louisville goals, Chandler said.

“I think what we need to do is be much more strategic and comprehensive about how we develop our less developed areas downtown,” she said.

While Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government still has steps it can take to improve, the city can only do so much, Chandler said. The biggest variable in the plan is those goals that require public participation.

“If we want to move the bar …that requires our private business owners to take those steps themselves,” she said.

People can plant trees, recycle and add solar panels at their homes are a few examples of how they to help the city meet its sustainability goals.

If people and businesses are interested in learning how they can help, the Louisville Sustainability Council is hosting a daylong summit called “It takes a ‘Ville,” from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct.29, at Bellarmine University. The keynote speaker is Shahzeen Attari, an assistant professor at the Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The cost is $50 for nonmembers, $35 for Louisville Sustainability Council members and $25 for students. Admission includes a free drink at the council’s summit kickoff event on Oct. 27, breakfast and lunch, and a one-year individual level membership, with the Louisville Sustainability Council. The price increases after Oct. 14.

The Louisville Sustainability Council also is looking for nonprofits, community groups and individuals with shovel-ready sustainability projects or projects already underway. A select group of projects will be highlighted at the summit. The 10-question applications to have a project spotlighted are due Friday, Oct. 7.

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