Focus on Sustainability: VFA Environmental Excellence Awards

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The Valley Forward Association has named its 2012 Environmental Excellence Award winners. VFA President and CEO Diane Brossart provide a peek at some of this year’s winning sustainability programs.

Ted Simons: Vote 2012 coverage heats up on "Arizona Horizon" as we host the first live televised debate for Arizona's U.S. senate seat. Watch as Jeff Flake and Richard Carmona face off about the issues that matter to you. Don't miss this one-hour special at a special time. It's the U.S. senate debate, live on "Arizona Horizon." Wednesday at 5:00 on eight HD. Tonight's edition of "Horizon's" focus on sustainability looks at the 2012 environmental excellence awards as honored by Valley Forward, a nonprofit organization that brings business and civic leaders together to improve the livability of valley communities. Earlier I spoke with Valley Forward president and CEO Diane Brossart about this year's honorees. Thanks for joining us. Good to have you here.
Diane Brossart: Thank you. It's good to be back.
Ted Simons: Let's start with the basics. What is valley forward?
Diane Brossart: Valley forward is a 43-year-old environmental public interest group, business-based, so it's companies large and small along with the public sector, educators, other nonprofits, coming together to look at ways to make the valley stronger, more vibrant, more environmentally friendly, and sustainable.
Ted Simons: And one of those ways is the environmental excellence awards. What exactly is honored with these awards?
Diane Brossart: There's a range of categories that the awards recognize. It started off being buildings and structures and site development and landscape, and over the years it's grown to include education, media, art, technology, just a variety of topics and how they impact the environment and quality of life in the valley.
Ted Simons: And as far as the criteria is concerned, what are you looking at? Who judges?
Diane Brossart: We have an expert panel of judges that are selected for their expertise in the various categories. So there's a couple architects, a couple landscape architects, Chevy Humphries from the Arizona science center was our lead judge and she got to sit with us in a dark room for two days strait and look at over 120 entries. We had a lot of entries this year. So, that's the good news for the valley.
Ted Simons: As far as the entries are concerned, we had a lot of winners as well. The big winner is always called the Crescorida. What does that mean?
Diane Brossart: Crescordia is a Greek term, it means "to grow in harmony." That's the first place award in each category. There's one award per category. Or the judges can elect not to award a Crescordia in any given category.
Ted Simons: So those were category -- but the big overall winner it seemed from that evening was Maricopa County watershed stewardship kind of program. What are we talking about here?
Diane Brossart: That program won a Crescordia, the first place award and that's the SRP award. And by the way, we've been presenting this award with SRP for 11 years. So, they've been great and it was kind of neat that the project that won in their category was about water, because so much of what they do is about water. It won the president's awards, which is the best of show for us, and what it is, it's a mentoring can program, and it mentors the next generation of stewards, particularly as it relates to water. And it looks at watersheds in Maricopa County, and brings people through a 10-week curriculum that involves classroom work, and field work, and combines the two, and they have to do a certain amount of community service out in the world, and then they become certified master watershed stewards. So it's really kind of neat.
Ted Simons: Yeah it is indeed. And it did win the big award for the evening. There was a multiple award winner, the South Mountain Community Library. This is quite a structure.
Diane Brossart: Have you been to that library?
Ted Simons: No, but the photographs and the visuals are just stunning.
Diane Brossart: It really is. It's beautiful. It won both in buildings and structures, and in public art it won first place Crescordias. New 51,600-square-foot library at South Mountain Community College, and the neat thing about it is it's got a dual use. It's both a public library and a school library. So -- and it's not only is it gorgeous, but it blends in with the natural environment, which is so beautiful and pristine out in that area, and uses a number of environmental design techniques and sustainable green things in it.
Ted Simons: When I think of the awards and I think of moving the valley forward, sustainability, modern architecture, the whole nine yards, I think of something that looks like this.
Diane Brossart: This project has it all.
Ted Simons: OK. Other winners, we have the influx initiative, sounds like a partnership between Scottsdale and Tempe?
Diane Brossart: It is. The partnership has work so well other valley communities are adopting it. It's very neat. It's taking vacant storefronts and turning them into public art displays. Very cool. In one example an artist put a bunch of Teddy bears in the window and a sign that said "bear with us." And it connects people to the business community and temporarily fills a space and a need. So it's been very well received, and is going in other communities, and it's just something different.
Ted Simons: The pop-up thing so to speak. Basically pop it up into a vacant storefront. If you get the things out, gotta move out, but at least until then you got something in the store.
Diane Brossart: Right. This is the silver lining of the great recession. Have to be more creative.
Ted Simons: Salt River Fields a Talking Stick for site development, that was one of the winners, again, when I think of modern forward thinking architecture, sustainability, all that business, I think of something that looks like that ball field out there.
Diane Brossart: That ball field, both my kids play ball out there. It's the first LEED certified sports venue of its kind in the country. LEED means leadership and energy environmental desgn. It's a design term that -- a process are that was coined by the U.S. green building council. Very energy efficient, not only that, but that project happens to really blend with the environment that it's in, and they have Native American customs and colors are found throughout the design, new practice fields, clubhouses, it's a real amenity to the valley. So much of these projects it balances environmental quality with economic growth, and our feeling is valley forward is that the two do go hand in hand and they're not mutually exclusive. So these projects sort of demonstrate that. Set the bar.
Ted Simons: That certainly does. Let's keep it moving here. This next winner isn't really something that has happened yet, it's a plan for Main Street in Mesa. Talk to us about that.
Diane Brossart: That won a Crescordia in livable communities for public policies plans and it's the 3.1-mile extension of light rail along Main Street in Mesa. And apparently that was sort of a blighted area at one time, and it was suffering from some urban decay, and they embarked on a central main plan in January 2010, and involved lots of residents and residents of the area and businesses, and helping to look at the three prongs of sustainability -- environment, economy, and social aspects.
Ted Simons: And it's so neat, because that was the hub of Mesa for many years, as you mentioned, it kind of declined and now with that mock-up that they have there, you can see a light rail going right down Main Street.
Diane Brossart: Mesa is really become a very progressive city over the last few years. They won for the beautiful art facility they have there, the art center, and --
Ted Simons: Downtown Phoenix has a winner as well with the central station, the bus station down there. Again, this is quite the operation they've got going.
Diane Brossart: Yeah. That's right. That's right by -- right here.
Ted Simons: Right outside the door.
Diane Brossart: It's neat not only because when you think of transportation inherently you might think it's not environmental. But this is looking at ways to get people out of their cars, giving them alternatives, and it's all done with environmental design, they've got solar voltaics, it's quite the project.
Ted Simons: OK. So that's the downtown Phoenix bus station. It has that look that says, forward, progressive, sustainable, new.
Diane Brossart: Respect you just feeling more optimistic about what's happening in and around the valley?
Ted Simons: I'm just full of it right now.
Diane Brossart: This program really gives you a sense of excitement about some of the good things.
Ted Simons: It does indeed. A very big thing that's happening near Gila Bend is this solar power plant, the Paloma Solar Power Plant and this won an award, but I got to tell you, we've talked about this on the program before, that is a huge operation.
Diane Brossart: It is. It's an amazing project. That is a collaborative project, and so many of these projects I've found this year have that collaboration and partnership involved. APS, first solar and the town of Gila Bend partnered to make that 17 megawatt facility in less than a month construction took four months to do. It was one of these fast track projects. 275,000 solar panels, that's a lot of solar panels. So it was an unprecedented construction cycle, and it produces enough power to power 4250 homes in Arizona, and displaces a lot, 9.65 tons of carbon dioxide and nitron oxide and so it's green energy. It's good.
Ted Simons: And it's massive. It's just a big project. Not everything is a big project. Not everything is necessarily tangible or a plan for something tangible. We joked about this, I hosted the awards this year, so --
Diane Brossart: Yes, you did a fabulous job I didn't know if that was our secret. The 600 people there --
Ted Simons: not much of a secret. This was the fix a leak public awareness campaign, which is -- which was really fun because again, it's not something you build or something you construct or a plan or architecture, it's public awareness.
Diane Brossart: It is. And that's so important. Especially, in our unique desert environment where water is our most precious resource. You noticed a couple projects that touched on water. This educates people on how to fix and be aware of everyday household leaks. They have leaky lumid flapper, running toilet, whatever it takes to get people -- it was very well received, they had public service announcements and they followed it up with a run, and helped change behavior. Those kinds of messages.
Ted Simons: Before we let you, the one last award winner was, again, a campaign here, the plant -- plant something campaign. Don't just stand there, plant something. I think was the slogan.
Diane Brossart: That was the slogan. It's encouraging Arizonans to improve the green infrastructure of their neighborhoods with the help of fun slogan and a website, getting people involved with it. And the benefits of having trees and plants.
Ted Simons: It seemed like collaboration, regional cooperation, those sorts of things, had quite an impact on this year's awards.
Diane Brossart: Definitely was a theme this year. Very inspiring.
Ted Simons: Yes. And something I would -- and you don't even know what the theme next year is going to be.
Diane Brossart: No. That's the -- are you coming back?
Ted Simons: Sure.
Diane Brossart: OK, good! Great answer.
Ted Simons: Stuff is being done right now that very few people are aware of that will be recognized next year.
Diane Brossart: It's a really nice way to gauge progress in the valley. And it used to be everybody thought of the whole green movement as trendy, and I got to say it's here to stay, it's the way people are doing business, and it impacts the bottom line, businesses are driving the movement and it's very exciting to see.
Ted Simons: Congratulations on another successful award ceremony. We're looking forward to next year. Good to see you.
Diane Brossart: Thank you, you too.

Diane Brossart:VFA President and CEO;

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