Kermit the Frog once sang, “It Ain’t Easy Being Green.” Apparently, he never visited North Little Rock.
The choice of North Little Rock as a 2011 City of Distinction in the category of green and energy conservation initiatives was an easy one. City government not only goes green itself, but encourages residents to go green. In fact, it makes it easy for them to do so.
Terry Kessinger, North Little Rock’s sustainability manager, said practicing green at a grass-roots level has resulted in substantial greenhouse gas reductions, energy savings, quality-of-life improvements and job creation in the city.
A simple look around town proves his point. The city identified seven areas in which it could help residents embrace sustainability:
• Responsible revitalization of downtown businesses and neighborhoods.
• Expanding trail and transportation options: The city’s completion of the northern portion of the Arkansas River Trail helped land it a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community Award, and a public CNG fueling station was opened in 2010,
• Enhancing the city’s services for recycling materials.
• Becoming a healthy community by promoting good nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
• Saving energy and money for both local government and citizens (the city offers free energy audits).
• Becoming better stewards of the environment, evidenced through 18 consecutive years of Tree City USA designation.
• Encouraging citizens and businesses to take an active role in the city’s future.
The city’s residential curbside recycling program has accounted for more than 2,000 tons of recycled newspaper, aluminum, glass and plastic, and more than 39,000 cubic yards of lawn waste for composting and recycling.
North Little Rock has recycled almost 4,000 used tires and partnered with Pulaski County to collect more than 500 tons of used electronics equipment. And, of course, the city’s free leaf vacuuming service throughout the fall and winter is popular among residents, who need only rake leaves to the curb each week. The city sweeps them up and converts them to compost.
“We believe that local sustainable options provide economic and quality of life options,” Kessinger said. “North Little Rock has become one of the most active green cities in the U.S.”
North Little Rock’s Certified Arkansas Farmer’s Market caters to local “locavores” who crave fresh, local, homegrown food. This commitment to locally grown produce reduces the gas emissions used to get products to market and supports local farmers, Kessinger pointed out.
Earlier this year, the city awarded almost $19,000 to seven community garden projects.
“Community gardens not only produce nutritious food and reduce family food budgets, they also preserve green space, provide opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections, encourage self reliance, and provide a catalyst for development,” Kessinger said.
In 2010, Mayor Pat Hays created the “Fit 2 Live” initiative to encourage healthy eating and active living. This year, the program received a $1.5 million federal Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant to implement policy, systems and environmental changes aimed at preventing childhood obesity and promoting healthy, active lifestyles in the city and within the North Little Rock School District.
North Little Rock was one of just 10 cities nationwide to receive grants from this year’s round of funding.
North Little Rock is a leader — a veritable zeppelin, if you will — in the use of light emitting diodes (LED).
LED lighting is better and more energy efficient than traditional incandescent lighting. A single LED traffic light, for example, uses 12 to 20 watts of electricity compared to 100 to 150 watts used by an incandescent bulb. And North Little Rock uses LED only in all of its traffic lights.
In addition, the city worked with the state Highway Department to convert all state and U.S. highway lighting to LED.
Not only has North Little Rock integrated sustainability into the everyday lives of its residents, it has colored its economic development green as well.
In 2008, the city offered carbon credits to help lure a caterpillar manufacturing plant to town. The plant opened in 2009 and created more than 600 new jobs.
The city’s Green Agenda Committee helped develop an ordinance requiring any new city building more than 5,000 square feet — new construction or remodel — to meet LEED Silver standards. Check out the work of the GAC at NLRGreen.org.
Last year, Hays and the city were recognized by Wal-Mart and the U.S. Conference of Mayors with a Climate Protection Award. Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named North Little Rock a finalist for the Siemen’s Sustainable City Award.