No matter how you look at it, Denver, Colorado, is an eco-friendly town. A broad network of urban and mountain parks and a commitment to making the city a clean and livable place is what people say they like about this western metropolis. That's also what attracted President Barack Obama to sign into law the $787 billion stimulus package. As eyes focused on Denver Tuesday, locals hoped others saw a city that is taking the lead in finding solutions to climate change.
With 1,400 kilometers of bike paths in the metro area, Denver is among the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. On Bike to Work Day in late June, 35,000 Denverites road bikes to their jobs, including Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Hickenlooper is among 850 mayors across the United States who have pledged to address the impact of climate change. Last year, Hickenlooper initiated "Greenprint Denver," a five-year, citywide plan to reduce global warming emissions by 20 percent.
"We have got to stay focused and make sure that we are not wasting energy, so [we need] better insulation, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and the city has to take the lead," he says. "Greenprint Denver is to get all the city agencies working together to make sure that every single vehicle is getting maximum gas mileage and how to make sure that we are addressing everything the most efficient way possible and then making it possible for our citizens to share in that efficiency. It is a great way to actually put money into people's pockets these days."
Greenprint Denver did an inventory of the city's greenhouse gas emissions. Michele Weingarden, who heads the program, says that helped them identify special projects to lower Denver's carbon footprint.
"So Greenprint Denver is working on energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, water conservation, greening homes and businesses, expanding recycling, planting a million trees and building green," she says.
Hickenlooper says people in the metro area not only understand the problem of climate change, they are committed to solving it. Recently taxpayers voted to expand public transportation by adding nearly 200 kilometers of new light and commuter rail.
"We went out and passed four-tenths-of-a-cent-sales tax over the whole metropolitan region. That's eight counties roughly the size of Connecticut, and yet we got every single mayor - 32 mayors, Republicans and Democrats, little tiny towns and big cities. Every mayor supported it because we realized we are here for a quality of life. We want to grow. We want a strong economy, but we have to do it in a responsible way."
In a former warehouse in Denver's historic Lower Downtown district, John Powers runs the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado.
"The intention was to create a hub for nonprofits, to get the synergies. They could get services, such as, we have very highspeed Internet, things they couldn't get on their own, but collectively we can provide for them. So it was a place to get them to be able to work more efficiently and effectively and get more per dollar. We also wanted to make it a healthy building. So that is why we made it green."
Using off-the-shelf technologies, Powers says the alliance has turned its 1906 building into a model for 21st-century energy efficiency.
"We've changed out our lights, and we are saving approximately 40 percent. We've done more insulation. We put film on the windows that make them heat mirrors that keep heat in the winter and out in the summer. And we have cut our annual electric consumption from 750,000-kilowatt hours to 480,000-kilowatt hours."
The building also has systems in place that drastically reduce water use.
"We've changed our toilets, urinals, faucets. We've cut our water 90 percent. That is pretty amazing when you consider it by itself, but also it is even more amazing when you realize that there are double the number of people working in the building before we got it and easily 10 times the number of visitors."
In a tour through the building, Powers points out strategically placed signs in the corridors, in the bathrooms and offices that explain the technologies being used here. He says it's an effort to get consumers to make some changes.
"The features are wonderful and important to show people what they can do in their own lives, but actually we use them like honey to attract bees to show people the value and importance of collaboration in a healthy environment and setting. This is a mission-driven organization in a mission-driven building. So it is a holistic approach to get people to work together to solve these looming dominant problems."
That's the message that Barack Obama carried to Denver this week, with the hope that Denver's green ideas - from the flower planters, recycle bins and bike paths to the transit system, solar arrays and sustainable buildings - will flourish across the country.