Almost two years in, the City’s Sustainability Committee has racked up some solid wins.
By Diana Simeon
For the crew at Fire Station 1 on Chagrin Boulevard, communal meals are a regular part of the schedule. In the summer months, those meals include a healthy dose of vegetables grown just outside the Station’s back door, including tomatoes, beans, and potatoes.
That’s just one way that the Fire Department is making its operations more sustainable. The other: composting all food waste at both stations. (Fire Station 2 is on Warrensville Center Road.)
“Everything goes in the compost bucket, which is picked up on a weekly basis,” says Fire Chief Pat Sweeney. “The neat thing is that we are then able to get some of the compost back to use in the vegetable garden.”
The composting program is just one of the ways in which the City is striving to create a more sustainable community, an effort that was formally launched in 2014, when then-Mayor Earl Leiken created the Climate Change Task Force.
In early 2019, Mayor David Weiss elevated the task force to a full-fledged City Council committee, the Sustainability Committee, and hired a consultant to work with members on City-wide issues. The goal: to prioritize sustainability in City operations, while helping residents and businesses become more sustainable as well.
Almost two years in, the Committee’s racked up some solid wins, including the composting program – which is also in use at City Hall and the police station – and the adoption of a 100 percent renewable electricity program for City buildings and streetlights.
It’s also hard at work on a road map to help the City achieve future sustainability goals over the next several years and even decades from now.
“It’s very encouraging that Shaker is making this a priority,” says Michael Peters, a Shaker resident who serves as the City’s sustainability consultant. “We have a dedicated Committee and a dedicated staff person. This puts us well ahead of most cities.”
Focus on Energy
Among the main areas of focus since 2019 has been energy.
The first step to improving the City’s energy footprint was understanding how the City is using it.
“We subscribed to a software called EnergyCAP, which is basically a cloud-based repository of all the City’s energy bills,” explains Peters, who is also the managing director of Coventry Labs, a sustainability consultancy, and a contributing writer to Shaker Life. “This helps us understand the big picture and also allows us to drill down to see, for example, information about the lights in the Police Department’s parking lot.”
When it came time to renegotiate the electric contract for the City’s seven buildings and hundreds of streetlights, Peters worked with the Law Department to lock in a three-year, 100 percent renewable energy plan – achieved through renewable energy credits – that would save the City 40 percent as compared to its previous, non-renewable plan.
“We’ve made a lot of progress. We are tracking our energy use and now we have these three-year contracts that are 100 percent renewable,” says Peters, adding that this makes Shaker the first city in the region to adopt a 100 percent renewable electric plan.
In addition, the Committee is also working to help the City use energy more efficiently. This effort started with an energy audit, which was free thanks to a program offered by the Council of Smaller Enterprises, a division of the Greater Cleveland Partnership. “This helped us determine the best return on investment for improvements, given the City’s limited budget,” explains Peters.
Shaker is the first city in the region to adopt a 100 percent renewable electric plan.
This was determined to be LED lighting. For starters, the City now replaces old bulbs with LEDs. “We have thousands of bulbs,” says Peters. “So this is not insignificant.”
Additionally, the City will use the savings from its new electric contract to replace outdated lighting fixtures with LED versions. Another goal: upgrade streetlights to LED, but this is more challenging and will take longer to achieve because streetlights are owned by FirstEnergy. That effort is starting with an audit of all streetlights in the City, so the Committee can get a handle on the scope of the project.
Longer term, Peters and the Sustainability Committee are exploring the potential for solar on City buildings and elsewhere, as well as working with the Recreation Department on the purchase of an electric vehicle to replace a 16-year-old former police cruiser as a proof of concept for eventually greening up the rest of the City’s fleet. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has temporarily put this effort on hold.
“We will get there,” says Peters. “But in the meantime, we are negotiating with the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council, which has agreed to fund a couple of EV charging stations for us.”
These stations – at Thornton Park and City Hall – will bring the total number of public EV stations in Shaker to four. The other two are at The Dealership (3558 Lee Road) and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland (21600 Shaker Boulevard).
The Green Team and More
Another way the City is seeking to make its operations more sustainable is the establishment of an internal Green Team. Made up of City employees, the Green Team has been working to evaluate how day-to-day operations could be, well, greener.
“This has ranged from simple things we can do to reduce consumption to making sure we’re recycling as much as possible,” says Peters. For example, shredded paper cannot be recycled through Shaker’s recycling program with Cuyahoga County. So the Green Team is working on a way to allow departments to easily combine shredded paper in central locations in City buildings for collection and recycling by an outside vendor.
Meanwhile, much of the work of the Sustainability Committee – and its several subcommittees, which include Recycling, Storm Water & Greenspace, Renewable Energy, and a High School Advisory Group (see sidebar) – has focused on helping residents become more sustainable.
“One of the big wins has been the residential composting program,” says Peters. In 2019, Rust Belt Riders selected Shaker Heights as the first community in which to roll out its residential composting program, including at several City buildings, where staff are able to compost food waste, coffee grounds, certain paper products, and other common waste (see sidebar).
The Committee also worked with Peters on the City’s LEED for Cities application. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. In 2019, the City was selected to be part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Cities and Communities Grant Program. This program will allow the City to become LEED for Cities Certified in 2020, which means the City has met certain requirements across six categories, including water efficiency, energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation and land use. Currently, there are almost 100 LEED certified cities and communities in the United States.
Committee members also work to raise awareness of existing programs among residents, whether about how to recycle correctly or how to reduce storm water run-off, which can earn residents a credit on their regional sewer district bill.
“There is also an ongoing perception that Shaker is not solar friendly, which is not true,” says Peters. “So sustainability committee members, led by citizen member Norman Robbins, went to 40 block parties last year to talk to residents about solar.” Residents interested in sustainability are welcome to attend meetings and/or join the one of the subcommittees.
“We have a lot of residents who are passionate about this and this is a real way to get involved,” says Peters.
Originally published in Shaker Life, Fall 2020.
Read The Power of Youth sidebar about the Sustainability Committees High School Advisory Group.
Read the Rust Belt Riders Makes Composting Easy sidebar about composting services in Shaker Heights.