Analyzing Sustainability: Boondoggle or Guiding Principle?



Scottsdale’s city council has outlined a plan for sustainability focusing on water, heat/air quality, and waste. Through programs such as Watersmart and the use of grants for conservation and air quality improvement measures, the city has reduced water use by 7% and plans on reducing golf course and HOA irrigation water usage by 10% over 10 years. The council is also promoting the composting of organic waste, encouraging electric vehicle use, and implementing strategies to reduce city heat, including planting drought-resistant trees.

Sustainability Challenges and Solutions in Scottsdale

Sustainability, a divisive issue, is seen by supporters as a way to foster environmental conditions for current and future generations, while critics view it as a means to limit our freedoms. Regardless, it’s clear that we must address this issue given we’ve just witnessed the hottest July on record and the longest dry spell in recent history.

Scottsdale City Council, with guidance from our sustainability director and the Scottsdale Environmental Advisory Commission (SEAC), have outlined a roadmap to sustainability. It incorporates three elements: water, heat/air quality, and waste – all of which are interconnected.

The Scottsdale General Plan 2035 provides an overview of our environmental preservation goals, with the Sustainability Plan refining these ideas. Implementation begins with goal setting and data collection to track progress. Some programs are well underway, while others are just beginning.

At the forefront of sustainability is water. We’ve made significant progress in conservation, reducing water use by 7% in July 2023 compared to July 2022, despite increasing connections by 9%. The WaterSmart online portal enables more efficient water use through features like leak alerts.

In 2023, we incentivized the removal of 440,000 square feet of grass in residential and commercial areas. This initiative was supported by a $250,000 grant from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA). Developers are also utilizing advanced water-saving equipment in their green builds. Future initiatives aim to reduce potable water usage in golf courses and increase water recapture rates for Home Owner Associations (HOAs).

Heat is a more complex problem. We’ve produced a heat map of Scottsdale, providing baseline data to identify areas suitable for strategies to reduce temperatures. By planting drought-resistant trees that provide adequate shade, we can achieve environmental benefits. Our next steps involve setting measurable temperature reduction goals.

Ozone, produced from UV rays reacting with combustion products, is harmful especially to young, elderly, and those with breathing disorders. To improve this, a $4.8 million grant from the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration aims to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Measures include encouraging electric vehicles, reducing idle time, and controlling dust.

We also tackle food waste, with residents encouraged to compost their organic waste or utilize a pickup service that converts food waste to fertilizer. This not only reduces landfill pressure and greenhouse gas emissions, but also provides opportunities for bioenergy and other usable products. Downtown businesses are already participating in waste reduction and recycling initiatives.

Sustainability is a journey with many challenges, but we need to persevere for the health of our city and future generations. Read more about Scottsdale’s Sustainability Plan here.

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