Cities, municipalities, and schools stand to save resources that can be reinvested into their communities through sustainable practices
By Tammy Fulop
In today’s energy-conscious world with increased demand for environmental awareness, public organizations have uncovered several unexpected benefits to improving sustainability. Schools and municipalities across the nation are realizing that sustainability planning is not only an important environmental initiative, but it’s also a powerful economic driver that has the potential to make a significant impact on the communities they serve.
In that sense, public entities not known for being “green” have none the less committed to sustainability as a way to improve their overall performance. They are not the San Franciscos of the world, but instead the mid-size municipalities, school districts, and community colleges across the country. They are the public organizations that see the value in sustainability as a business proposition.
The initial capital cost to implement efficiency improvements may be daunting for cities and schools with limited budgets, but the reality is that sustainability programs can actually pay for themselves with little upfront costs and guaranteed return on investments thanks to funding mechanisms like the energy savings performance contract (ESPC). ESPCs use savings from energy conservation improvements to fund infrastructure and maintenance projects, often creating excess savings that can be reinvested back into the community. In fact, in an era of tight municipal budgets and decreased revenue streams, performance contracting has become a key funding tool for sustainability planning and improving infrastructure.
Below, we’ll explore three communities nationwide that have successfully executed sustainability initiatives that are helping them on their path of continued economic growth:
Energy Efficiency Overhaul in Dallas County Brings Economic Development
Recently, Dallas County, the second largest county in Texas, embarked on a $43 million sustainability plan that will serve as a powerful economic driver for the community. The plan is funded in part with an energy performance partnership, and will create 400 jobs and an additional $58 million in business sales; the plan will generate another $2.3 million in state and local taxes all while lowering operational costs and saving taxpayers money. The county worked closely with an energy management specialist to implement an array of efficiency upgrades including: new LED lighting and lighting controls, water conservation, building automation systems, electrical upgrades, air handling unit upgrades, dedicated outside air units, chiller upgrades, and boiler optimization. The improvements have reduced the county’s annual utility costs by 31 percent and will help it compete globally for new businesses and residents to call Dallas home.
Snowline Joint Unified School District Creates Zero Energy Campuses and Improves Learning Environment for Students
Snowline Joint Unified School District in California with its 7,800 students is implementing a district-wide ESPC that will enhance the learning environment and reduce energy and maintenance costs by 28 percent, or nearly $8.5 million over the next 20 years, with no tax impact to local citizens. What’s more, 4 of the district’s 15 sites will become Zero Energy Campuses (ZEC), producing as much as they consume through clean, renewable resources over the next. The cost of the project will be fully funded over time by leveraging California Proposition 39 (Clean Energy Jobs Act) funding, and detail the energy and operational savings that will result from the project’s installation.
Walla Walla Community College Attracts New Students Through Sustainability Leadership
Washington State’s Walla Walla Community College is turning its sustainability planning efforts into valuable marketing and educational tools. More than 60 percent of students said a college’s commitment to the environment would impact their decision to choose a school, according to a Princeton Review survey of more than 10,000 college applicants. With this in mind, the 10,500-student college recently embarked on an ambitious sustainability plan enabled by an energy savings performance contract and state grant. The plan includes installation of roof-mounted solar panels, single-axis tracking panels across four of the campus’ eight buildings, a solar carport on a specialized frame with eight new electric vehicle charging stations, and a sophisticated energy metering system that will provide energy data in real-time to students and staff. It’s clear that sustainability planning efforts can reap far-reaching positive impacts in their communities beyond energy savings and reduced carbon emissions. By uncovering these hidden benefits—including job growth, student recruitment, local business sales, and increased tax revenue—public entities can significantly drive community growth.
Tammy Fulop is the Vice President of Energy and Sustainability Services at Schneider Electric. She may be reached at