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    Gamut of Green: Memphis is getting greener every day

    By Commercial Appeal Staff -

    Wheels turn for clean-energy transportation

    The city is in the midst of an ambitious effort to install 55 miles of bike "facilities," including designated lanes, on Memphis streets. Portions of Madison Avenue and North Parkway have been restriped to add bicycle lanes, with additional striping to be added on streets from North Memphis to Hickory Hill. Impressed with Memphis' progress in implementing more sustainable transportation policies, The Bikes Belong Foundation has chosen six cities to fast-track physically protected bikeway designs that make cycling safer and more accessible to a wide range of people. Memphis will receive a leg up from Bikes Belong's new "Green Lane Project."

    EV charging stations: Laura Adams foresees a time when visitors can drive their electric vehicles to Shelby Farms Park, pull up to a solar-powered station and go for "a short run" while their cars get recharged. The solar-powered station will have spaces for 10 vehicles and will generate clean power for the electrical grid. Completion is set for late June and motorists will be able to use the station at no cost. More than 70 public charging stations are planned across Shelby County including the first public electric-vehicle charging station on the third-floor parking garage at The Peabody and six stations in and around the Germantown Municipal Square.

    Memphis Area Transit Authority: Buses roll from a new Airways Transit Center that was built with the goal of earning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. The center has recycled glass and mirrors in its floors and in accordance with LEED, native plants were used. The center was built with steel and aluminum that were made with recycled materials. Interior lights respond to natural light outside, dimming when sun streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows and brightening on cloudy days. During the building process, nearly all of the waste was recycled. MATA has also installed bike racks on all 150 of its fixed-route buses. MATA's other efforts to become environmentally friendly include the acquisition of hybrid-electric buses, saving on fuel and reducing pollution.

    Growing a 'greener' business landscape

    Inside the 10-story building at 20 S. Dudley, principals at fledgling companies work hard to get their businesses off the ground. The building, owned by Memphis Bioworks Foundation, houses a business incubator that provides support to startup companies. The missions of a growing number of them are focused on green business. "We think that the opportunities for green companies in this region are significant. In terms of mission, we see this as a great chance to grow jobs in our community in an area that is also good for the environment," says Dr. Steve Bares, president and executive director of the foundation.

    BioDimensions: A bio-agriculture company is one of the businesses that received support from the incubator and is making inroads into changing what crops some area farmers grow, and how they grow them. BioDimensions partners Peter Nelson (left) and Maury Radin are showing owners of small family farms how sweet sorghum can be converted into a variety of biobased products, such as carpet fibers, plastic bottles and ethanol. "We are developing green products to replace petroleum using crops that we can grow, instead of digging oil or fossil fuel products out of the ground, that are not renewable, " said Nelson, director of business development.

    The green economy: Tennessee's green economy was the 14th largest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia last year, according to a Brookings Institute study that says Tennessee and its metros have secured important spots in the emerging green economic sector. The metro Memphis area's overall green economy ranked 46th among the nation's 100 largest metros. Memphis had 11,515 green jobs at the end of 2010 and each one produced $40,621 in exports, a metric that ranked the city fourth nationally. Exporting is important to the green economy, as 26 percent of all green jobs are in manufacturing . Memphis is a "strong player" in the segment as it produces HVAC systems, solar panels and components, energy-efficient appliances and green consumer products, said Jonathan Rothwell, a co-author of the Brookings report.

    Worthy of certification and recognition

    The Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park was one of the first pilot projects to be certified by the Sustainable Sites Initiative for its sustainable site design, construction and maintenance. Woodland Discovery Playground opened April 2011 and reflects sustainable practices in all aspects of its design, such as the Nike Grind play surfacing made in Memphis from recycled sneakers. Permeable materials allow stormwater to water an arbor of trees that connects the play areas. The playground also serves as an educational tool, with children seeking "Green Facts" in a scavenger hunt that promotes, among other things, sustainability.

    City of trees: The city of Memphis and its surrounding areas have hardwood forests in Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park to the north, lakes, forests, trails and meadows at Shelby Farms Park to the east, and an old-growth forest in the heart of Midtown. However, Memphis does not have a Tree City USA designation from The National Arbor Day Foundation. For the past six years, volunteers have met as the Tree City USA Ad Hoc Committee for Memphis in an effort to garner the designation. Benefits resulting from the recognition, according to The Arbor Day Foundation, are a positive public image, education, citizen pride and preference in financial assistance for tree program-type grants.

    Bike honor roll: Memphis received an honorable mention as a "Bicycle Friendly Community" by the League of American Bicyclists. The honor is all the more noteworthy considering that just last year and in 2008 Bicycling magazine named Memphis among the worst cities in the nation for cycling. Since then, Mayor A C Wharton has elevated the issue by naming a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator for the city, and pledging to create 55 miles of new bike facilities by this July. The league also recognized Memphis City Hall as a "Bronze level Bicycle Friendly Business." The city of Memphis encourages its employees to cycle to work by providing showers, lockers and changing rooms. The city has also installed two bicycle racks outside City Hall for employees and others.

    Community and school gardens

    The Memphis landscape is a patchwork of "food deserts" -- neighborhoods where fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find. In recent years, a host of organizations and churches have launched initiatives to give residents opportunities to buy fresh produce in their neighborhoods, either through farmers markets or community gardens.

    Common Ground: Nestled in a discreet lot at the corner of Linden and Lauderdale is a meeting ground that is cultivating more than produce. The Common Ground Community Garden near Downtown grew out of an idea by St. Patrick Catholic Church members Anne Stubblefield and Allen Stiles in the fall of 2009, and has continued to develop in the neighborhood. The pair brought the idea to Grow Memphis, a nonprofit organization that provides advice and support for developing community gardens. "We coordinated the concept with Grow Memphis. There was so much unhealthy food around, it seemed like a good idea to bring organic vegetables to the neighborhood, " said Stiles, 71. Beans, peas, okra and radishes are among the vegetables grown in the beds. All of the produce is organic. The vegetables grown in the garden are donated to the St. Patrick Center food pantry. Produce is also distributed to residents in the neighborhood who help in the garden.

    Green Leaf Learning Farm: For Marlon Foster, a garden can be something to build a community around. "When three generations of neighbors are on their hands and knees in the dirt some of the most fruitful conversations and relationships grow out of these interactions," said the founder of Knowledge Quest, a nonprofit organization that provides many after-school activities for children in Memphis. For 15 years Foster has toiled in some of the hardest-luck neighborhoods in the city. That drive to be an agent of change has taken him to Klondike Elementary in North Memphis. Now, a community garden is ready for spring planting and the school's garden club has a new after-school program. While the addition of a garden may seem mundane, its impact should not be understated. In areas like these that have been neglected for so long, basic things like access to fresh fruits and vegetables takes on a greater significance.

    Building smarter and reusing wisely

    Newly constructed LEED-certified buildings are all the rage when it comes to energy efficiency today. But slight modifications to older homes can not only be energy efficient, but also offer an old-world charm that promotes a sense of community that is lacking in newer designs. "The most sustainable house is the one that already exists, " says John Pruett, principal in Pruett Architects. June West of Memphis Heritage shares a similar philosophy. Her organization has long been in the business of stripping teardowns of their useful components. The result has been a growing cache of crown molding, floor wood, solid wood doors, glass-pane windows, scrolled banisters and fireplace components that lends a green twist to home renovation by helping people realize the value of reuse.

    New fire station opens doors: Firefighters at Germantown Fire Station 4 have stopped camping out now that the city has opened its new firehouse. Once the documentation is sent to the U.S. Green Building Council, the two-story station is expected to be the first certified "green" public building in Shelby County. The county currently has 11 LEED-certified "green" commercial, industrial or retail buildings. City officials hope the station qualifies for a silver rating as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or a LEED, building.

    Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis: The organization is committed to sustainable building and has built more than 100 homes using EcoBuild guidelines, a MLGW construction standard. EcoBuild homes use 30 percent less energy than typical residences; the power bill for a 1,200-square-foot EcoBuild/Habitat home is around $100.

    Sustainable neighborhoods: The University Place development in Memphis was chosen a Hope VI pilot projects to build publicly funded energy-efficient neighborhoods. University Place, a collaborative effort between the Memphis Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, replaced the Lamar Terrace public housing complex. University Place features energy-efficient appliances, and all buildings are LEED certified.

    Green campuses and curriculum

    A few years ago, green curriculum or dining options would have seemed like cutting edge improvements of a campus' environmental impact, but no longer. Area campuses are seeing the positive impact of such sustainable practices.

    Christian Brothers University: There's a new green pathway in academia at Christian Brothers University. In response to an increase in students' interest in environmental issues, assistant professor Dr. Ben Jordan is helping to carve out a new curriculum at CBU with the development of a new minor field called sustainability studies. The minor takes an interdisciplinary approach, making use of courses already on campus such as environmental biology and environmental ethics.

    Rhodes College: Rhodes College was a local epicenter for a national initiative pertaining to food. Simply known as "Food Day,"a grass-roots movement with a to improve American diets and fix our food system. Rhodes started off this school year with several revamped activities pertaining to food on campus. Anthony Siracusa, community service coordinator for Rhodes, explains, "This fall we issued students their own set of reusable 'to go' dining containers. The students have to bring this dishware with them in order to take food from the cafeteria. And when they return to the cafeteria, they swap out the dirty set for a clean set. These 'to go' containers are a clear reflection of Rhodes' commitment to institutionalize sustainable practices on campus."

    University of Memphis: Like a plant taking root, sustainability practices are sprouting up across the University of Memphis campus into the surrounding community.Before students step into the classroom, they now go through a "Green Freshmen Orientation" that supplies all incoming freshmen and their parents with reusable bags and distributes free reusable water bottles, as well as magnets listing the U of M's recycling information. Recycling bins are located across the campus, garnering recycling profits that average $4,000 per month. Off campus, the U of M is the host of monthly cleanups at McKellar Lake, inviting the public to join students and faculty, as well as staff from City Beautiful, and other groups to help clean up the area and recycle approximately 90 percent of what is taken from the lake shores.

    Text compiled and edited from The Commercial Appeal files