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What’s ahead for St. Petersburg’s sustainability and resiliency work in 2020

Margie Manning

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Michael Bloomberg and Mayor Rick Kriseman announced St. Petersburg would be part of the American Cities Climate Challenge in January 2019.

Five years after it was created, St. Petersburg’s Office of Sustainability & Resiliency isn’t slowing down.

Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, solar co-ops and equity investments are among the projects on the drawing board for 2020, Sharon Wright, sustainability director, said at a Jan. 30 City Council committee meeting. So is meeting the commitments of the American Cities Climate Challenge, the Bloomberg Philanthropies-backed initiative to tackle climate change and promote a sustainable future.

St. Petersburg was one of 25 cities selected just over a year ago to participate in the accelerator program for energy strategies. The award, a technical assistance and support package valued at more than $2 million, funded a full-time climate advisor, helped create several energy programs and provided staff training, among other things, Wright told the Health, Energy, Resiliency & Sustainability Committee.

“If we had been given $2 million [in cash], we probably could have done one net zero building, or a couple of improvements. What this is doing is standing up some structures and working with us on data so that we can having lasting programs,” she said.

The Climate Challenge continues through 2020,  and Wright said there’s still a “heavy lift” to meet its goals.

Planned actions she cited for 2020 include:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions community-wide by 20 percent
  • Establishing two solar co-ops, working with Solar United Neighbors
  • Waste minimization
  • Programs and collaborations across city departments, including reviewing codes with the city building department
  • Strengthening regional coalitions with other communities that also have sustainability and resiliency initiatives underway
  • Adding sustainability and resiliency data to St. Pete Stat, an interactive platform that uses live data to measure performance, demonstrate transparency and encourage accountability.

The office also is working on several equity investments, including in Childs Park, the neighborhood between 34th Street and 49th Street, and 5th Avenue South and 18th Avenue South.

 

Wright expects the Office of Sustainability and Resiliency to take more of a role in urban forestry this year.

“The tree canopy analysis will help with equity investments because we want to make sure people have access to shade and cool ways to get around the city,” she said.

Among the 2019 accomplishments she highlighted was an improved scorecard in the STAR Communities rating system, a framework and certification program for evaluating local sustainability that takes into account economic, environmental and social performance measures. St. Petersburg was certified as a 3-STAR community in December 2016, and improved to a 4-STAR community in 2019. There are only five 5-STAR communities and 25 4-STAR communities in the United States.

The STAR Communities program was acquired by the U.S. Green Building Council, which does LEED certifications for buildings and for municipalities.

“We negotiated a deal so we are now automatically a LEED certified city too,” Wright said.

The city’s Integrated Sustainability Action Plan, adopted in 2019,  is built around the STAR Communities framework.

“Even though it’s switching, STAR will be really good to have. These are big goals. We are keeping those as our targets with numbers to collect data against,” Wright said.

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