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Widening the Circle of sustainability

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/10/09 @ 9:33pm

Leaders from six institutions which hold conservation and sustainability intrinsic to their values and mission provided a snapshot of 'what green means' to University Circle on Wednesday evening. Around 150 volunteers, staff and Circle Neighbors from the Women's Council of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Women's Committee of The Cleveland Orchestra, MOCA and the Western Reserve Historical Society were updated on the green activities happening in Cleveland's second largest employment district, the heart of its cultural life and, increasingly, a location that's putting sustainable ideas into practice.

David Beach, director of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, laid down a challenge to harness the collective brain power in University Circle to work toward a big goal. "We can be a 'zero waste district' or we can figure out how we capture all of our stormwater on site," he suggested. 

Beach also highlighted some of the green initiatives at the Natural History Museum, including financial incentives for staff who bike, walk or take public transit to work, and a shared Prius hybrid for off-site meetings.

Christina Ayers, director of The Cleveland Clinic Office of Healthy Environment, is working on both green initiatives and combating public health concerns, including "the future challenges our patients will face" from greenhouse gases. Ayers outlined a laundry list of green building policies, from adhering to U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating for all new buildings to reducing Clinic waste by 25% and "starting to put pressure on our supply chain upward so they give us less waste."

Non-profit community development group University Circle, Inc. is steering the University Circle Sustainability Initiative, says associate planner Chris Bongorno. UCI is hosting a conversation among the 40 member institutions' "green teams"-groups of employees making the case for their workplaces to reduce their carbon footprint. The goal is to make University Circle a healthier, more vibrant, more sustainable place to live, work, learn and play. Acting as a district will better position the Circle to tackle large-scale issues such as waste, energy and transportation, Bongorno said.

Echoing and amplifying that to include a goal for more equity within and surrounding the Circle was Lillian Kuri, program director for architecture, urban design and sustainable development at the Cleveland Foundation. Kuri is working on making 'catalytic' development like the Uptown project at Mayfield and Euclid more green and transit-oriented ? including goals for LEED-Silver for all new buildings and a new and improved Rapid station at Mayfield Road between Little Italy and University Circle. Her office is also partnering with Shorebank to launch two entrepreneurial ventures that center on green and which employ residents connected to the Circle. For instance, a new laundry facility that doesn't use harmful chemicals, will be owned and operated by Cleveland residents and will count Case as a client will open this summer.

Linda Robson, finance and administrative fellow for energy studies at Case would like the school to expand its commitment-from the admirable if behind-the-scenes task of switching twenty thousand incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs to a broad campaign to reduce waste and expand the use of electric vehicles on campus. Innovation is being driven by Case's food service provider, Bon Appetit, who initiated a compost program and eliminated cafeteria trays, which has the intended effect of encouraging students to take reasonable portions and has already reduced food waste by eighteen percent.

Cleveland Botanical Garden also uses Bon Appetit, which has a commitment to purchase twenty-five percent of its food from local sources. Botanical Garden director Natalie Ronayne highlighted just a few of their own green initiatives, including the expansion of its Green Corps program, which is training Cleveland teens gardening and life skills while converting vacant lots into productive community spaces. They also collect food waste from area Dave's grocery stores to compost and improve the soil at these vacant lots.

Kuri captured the spirit of the event and the Circle Neighbors collaborative when she said "University Circle has the potential to be a regional game changer, but to do so it must address, 'how does economic inclusion for all in the new green economy take place?' We would like to see the Greater University Circle Initiative answer that."

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