The Thurston Green Business designation is a coveted award, given annually to over 100 deserving businesses. And among those winners, a select few are honored as the best of the best – the small, medium, large, and municipal “business of the year.” This year’s winners are true champions of sustainability, and they’ll be recognized at the upcoming April Thurston Green Business Forum on April 12. We’re thrilled to shine a spotlight on these remarkable businesses in this issue of the VOICE.
MUNICIPALITY OF THE YEAR: City of Olympia
Congratulations to the City of Olympia, the Thurston Green Municipality of the Year!
As the Capitol City of Washington State, Olympia is a bustling hub that offers residents and visitors an incredible place to live, work, and play. With its beautiful parks, marinas, and festivals, as well as a mix of local and national businesses, diverse music and culture, and exciting entertainment options, there’s always something new to explore and enjoy in Olympia.
But even as we celebrate our vibrant community, we also recognize and honor the indigenous people who have stewarded this land since time immemorial. The Steh-Chass Band of Indigenous people of the Squaxin Island Tribe have a rich history and culture that has shaped our community, and we are committed to working in partnership with them to create a more equitable and sustainable future for all.
How has COVID-19 changed your organization’s sustainability efforts?
As a result of COVID-19, the City’s sustainability efforts have undergone significant changes. With many employees transitioning to remote work since March 2020, the number of individuals driving to work and during work has decreased substantially. This, in turn, has led to a reduction in the energy used to power City buildings and vehicles.
Fortunately, the City was able to facilitate this transition smoothly thanks to updates to our telework policy. This policy now allows every employee to work from home, provided their job duties can be completed remotely. In a post-pandemic world, the City remains committed to encouraging staff to telework whenever possible.
Where have you been the most successful in your green business practices? What have been the biggest challenges?
The City of Olympia isn’t content to simply talk about sustainability – they’re putting their money where their mouth is by championing sustainable procurement practices. From purchasing recycled copy paper to investing in electric vehicles, the City is taking a proactive approach to promoting a more sustainable future.
But their efforts don’t stop there. The City has also been retrofitting their facilities to meet high-efficiency energy standards and installing solar panels to reduce their carbon footprint even further. By doing so, they’re not only promoting fiscal responsibility, but also supporting local economic growth, preserving natural resources, and meeting their social responsibilities.
As a member of the Washington State Purchasing Cooperative and other national government purchasing cooperatives, the City of Olympia is also leveraging their purchasing power to influence sustainable purchasing solutions on a larger scale.
The City of Olympia has made significant strides in its commitment to sustainability by using the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) to report on the City’s commitments under the Global Covenant of Mayors (GCOM), Cities Race to Resilience, and Cities Race to Zero. To measure our emissions community-wide and for city operations, we follow the US Community Protocol.
Despite these successes, there are still significant challenges to overcome. With a large and diverse workforce spread out across various buildings and locations, it’s not always easy to get everyone on board with green business practices. While some are already committed to sustainability, others need to be taught, encouraged, and reminded to adopt these practices consistently.
Tell us more about your buying & selling green practices.
As part of its ongoing sustainability efforts, the City has been steadily integrating digital signatures and electronic approvals into its various business processes. This has allowed for contracts, invoices, reports, and City Council records to be reviewed and approved electronically, greatly reducing the need for physical paper documents.
Over time, the City has made significant strides towards paperless operations, with more and more processes being conducted entirely digitally each year. These efforts have led to tangible reductions in both paper use and carbon emissions, helping the City to make significant progress towards its sustainability goals.
What have been your biggest successes in energy efficiency? What have been the biggest challenges?
The City of Olympia has made significant strides in energy efficiency. One of our major successes was replacing 324 lights at the City-owned Family Support Center, reducing their wattage from 80 to 27. Additionally, we replaced the high bay lights in the Olympia City Hall Lobby with LED fixtures. These efforts have resulted in measurable reductions in energy usage and carbon emissions.
We are also proud to have achieved the SolSmart Gold designation, making it easier and more affordable for homes and businesses to go solar in Olympia. This involved creating a solar resource webpage, streamlining the solar permit process, and supporting solar group purchase programs.
To track our sustainability efforts, we use CDP to report on our commitments under the Global Covenant of Mayors, Cities Race to Resilience, and Cities Race to Zero. We also follow the US Community Protocol to measure our emissions community-wide and for city operations.
However, we have faced challenges such as rising costs for electricity, fuel, parts, and supplies. Additionally, obtaining materials needed to make improvements in a timely manner has proven to be a challenge. Nonetheless, we remain committed to our sustainability goals and will continue to explore innovative solutions to overcome these challenges.
Our Strategic Energy Management (SEM) plan, developed in partnership with PSE, is just one of the many initiatives we have implemented over the past eight years to achieve this goal. We have installed solar panels on several city buildings, including City Hall, Hands On Children’s Museum, and the Timberland Library, reducing our reliance on traditional energy sources. Additionally, we have made improvements to our HVAC systems, using the Allerton System Control to enhance efficiency. Our commitment to sustainability extends beyond our own operations, as we purchase “Green Power” from PSE and have joined forces with neighboring cities to accept the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan as our regional framework for climate action.
We have made significant progress in our sustainability efforts, with our Climate Program Manager leading the way since 2020. Our employee-led internal Climate Action Workgroup has been instrumental in developing new ideas, opportunities, goals, and plans to support our efforts. In 2022 alone, we accomplished several milestones, including the electrification of all new construction and major renovations of city-owned buildings and projects receiving city funding of $50,000 or more, thanks to the passing of Resolution M-2289 by the City Council. We have also begun evaluating the feasibility of retrofitting existing buildings to become all-electric by 2030, developing electric vehicle parking standards, and creating a fleet electrification plan and vehicle acquisition policy.
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