Denver’s Climate Action Plan Step 1: You

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  • February 8, 2018
  • Mallory Baker

Denver has long been known for its vibrant craft beer scene and picturesque mountain landscape. However, the recent Denver Climate Action Plan+ panel asserts that climate leadership should be added to the list of things Colorado’s capitol is known for. Denver isn’t shy about it either. Mayor Michael Hancock would shout it from the city’s new green rooftops if he could. (He probably is right now.)

Denver is quickly working towards some ambitious goals focused on renewable energy, waste and recycling, transportation, and building efficiency. But unlike many of our New Year’s resolutions, Denver’s been a success! Greenhouse gas levels are declining in the city, even as our population rapidly expands. Bonus points because jobs in clean energy are on the rise across the state at a pace faster than the rest of the economy. The green community in Denver is truly thriving.

During the panel, Mayor Hancock and city leaders laid out how they’ve worked to engage and excite residents around climate change throughout the years. It’ clear that they have more than succeeded in their efforts, and they have the data to back it up.

In 2006, following a severe drought, Denver Water launched the campaign “Use Only What You Need”, a novel and light-hearted approach to encouraging residents to make conscious water decisions. And while it received some international flack for being pretty ridiculous, it worked: By deploying eye-catching public installations—including billboards and bus signage—and a catchy name, the city saw a significant decrease in water usage. What is most inspiring about this campaign is that despite exploding population numbers, Denver’s water use levels have stayed relatively consistent. Not only did this campaign tackle the problem, it has had long-lasting effects.

And it doesn’t stop there. In 2005, the city became the first place in Colorado to switch to single-stream recycling, in an effort to get more residents to participate in the recycling program. After this change, volunteers went door-to-door asking people to sign up, distributed pamphlets explaining how and what to recycle, and engaged with residents on social media. These efforts led to an astounding 80 percent participation rate in the city’s voluntary program. Denver still has much to be do though as an important distinction is drawn between “participation” and actual “diversion” rates, where the city’s rate falls below the national average. But they’re off to a great start, as the city not only simplified a process to benefit their customers, they educated them on it. Keep it up!

These are just two examples of initiatives that Denver has taken over the years in efforts to meet its sustainability goals, but there were a slew of others that Mayor Hancock presented during the panel that really resonated with me as they directly relate the issues the renewable energy industry has faced.

There’s certainly no shortage of education needed around renewable energy. While wind, solar, and geothermal are relatively matured technologies, their burgeoning presence in the energy sector has intensified the debate and skepticism. Additionally, every project brought on in a new community requires intense focus on engaging residents who can be uneasy about their new neighbors. That’s fair because change is hard, and we can all relate.

What resonated for me most from the Denver Climate Action Plan+ panel is that the city is a model for how an engaged public that understands what’s in it for them can positively work together. Whether it’s encouraging citizens to reduce their water usage or garnering support for wind energy developments, an engaged and educated public is what truly defines an organization’s success.

P.S. If all this makes you as excited about renewable energy as it does me (hint: it does), I invite you to scope out INK’s work here.