Charlotte, N.C., Sets Its Sites On Sustainability

Charlotte, N.C., is making the news this week as the scene of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Whether or not preserving the environment will become a significant theme of the convention remains to be seen. But elsewhere, a unique public-private partnership known as Envision Charlotte is working hard to launch the city into the nation’s headlines as a global model for environmental sustainability.

Envision Charlotte was conceived of as a pro-business approach to citywide sustainability. Launched at the end of October 2011 with the help of  the Clinton Global Initiative [PDF] — part of Bill Clinton’s foundation dedicated to helping business and government leaders find innovative solutions to pressing problems — the program’s partners include such players as Duke Energy, Charlotte Center City Partners, Cisco, Verizon Wireless, the U.S. Green Building Council, Intelligent Buildings and UNC Charlotte. The idea is to leverage sustainability for economic growth as a replicable model for cities everywhere looking not only to go green, but to generate jobs and growth in the process. This partnership is believed to be the only one of its type in the nation.

Charlotte, North Carolina

image via Duke Energy / Smart Energy Now

The initial focus of the partnership is on greening uptown Charlotte’s business community, and on the partnership’s first initiative, which aims to help help individuals and businesses in this area save 20 percent on energy with smart technology and behavioral changes over the course of five years. Those two aspects of the initiative come together in an interesting way in Envision Charlotte’s 65 energy-efficient kiosks in Uptown buildings, which display the number of watt-hours participating buildings are consuming. At a tap, both visitors and building managers can put that energy use in perspective, and receive smart tips for cutting consumption.

Using this information, building managers can intelligently compare their building’s energy performance with that of other buildings within the community, and take actionable steps to improve energy consumption. The kiosks are useful to visitors too, as interacting with such a kiosk might reveal how much energy you could save, for example, with a behavior change as simple as turning off your computer monitor when you leave the room.

These kiosks display near real-time aggregated usage information on interactive kiosks in every participating building in the uptown district, and are part of are part of Envision Charlotte’s Smart Energy Now initiative. This initiate recently won praise from the editors of POWERGRID International magazine (formerly Utility Automation & Engineering T&D magazine) and PennWell Corp., who named it one of its four Projects of the Year [PDF].

The public-private partnership also recently launched its sister initiative, Smart Water Now [PDF], which likewise aims to reduce the district’s water usage by 20 percent over the next five years. Partners on this initiative include CH2M HILL, a global leader in water consulting; Itron, a provider of energy and water resource management solutions for utilities around the world; Verizon; and Siemens.

Envision Charlotte also has initiatives planned around two more “pillars” of its environmental program — around air and waste — though launch dates and partners have yet to be announced.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.