Focus on Sustainability: Maricopa County Sustainability

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Maricopa County has launched a new phase of its six-year-old Green Government Program. The county has implemented hundreds of green measures, such as recycling, energy conservation and installing four megawatts of solar panels. Jonce Walker, the sustainability manager for the county, will talk about sustainability efforts by the county.

Ted Simons: Our Focus on Sustainability tonight looks at Maricopa County's "Green Government" program, an effort that involves hundreds of measures including recycling, energy conservation and the increased use of solar power. Jonce Walker is the county's sustainability manager, here to give us a better definition of the "Green Government" program.

Jonce Walker: The "Green Government" program started back in 2007; actually, we're on our third version now. What it is, it's a comprehensive policy document that kind of leads by example in terms of sustainability. Getting all our ducks in a row so we can lean in terms of sustainability.

Ted Simons: And it reads, no sustainable way to conduct the county's business. Expand on that.

Jonce Walker: Right, right. Looking at policy that we have done for a long time, and taking kind of a fine-tooth comb of sustainability and saying, why are things done that way, can we do them better, and how can we do things that benefit what's called the triple bottom line. The residents of Maricopa County, the employees, the economic prospective, and the environment.

Ted Simons: Define sustainability.

Jonce Walker: That's a good one. The way we define it in Maricopa County is making delicate decisions that advance what I said, the triple bottom line. For a long time we made decisions based on economics alone and ignored the social and environmental aspects. Now all three are equally important. We write policy that advances all three of those, economics, social equity and trying to find the right dynamic.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about recycling and the effectiveness there. I noticed the R-, reduce, reuse, recycle.

Jonce Walker: The mantra from the 70s.

Ted Simons: That's right. How is it going?

Jonce Walker: We own and operate about 10 million square feet of space and lots of waste comes through. We've created a single stream recycling program, kind of like what you have at your house curbside, everything goes in that bin. We do that now for the county. We were previously paying money to have things thrown in the trash, right? Now we're reselling those on the market and generating revenue for the county.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Air quality, efforts to improve air quality.

Jonce Walker: Yeah, the situation here is pretty interesting. What we've done internally is incentivized transit. The county employees have the highest folks, employees who use multimodes of transportation. We try to incent and make it easier for people to do. We have installed bike racks around to get people to use bikes, installed showers and things like that.

Ted Simons: That's outdoor air quality. What about indoor air quality?

Jonce Walker: And throughout we have a policy to build LEED buildings. LEED means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. What that means is just building a better building, a high-performance building. We pay attention to things going inside, likes paints, to make sure there are no volatile or organic compounds that are off-gassing in the space. The finishing and the furnishing is nice. Not creating an environment that's hard to be in.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about energy efficiency and solar panels in particular. How much you got going, how much planned?

Jonce Walker: We just finish a building with four megawatts of solar installed, that includes our solar photovoltaics, which is what most people think of when they think of solar. We also do solar hot water heating for our jails. We have the largest photovoltaic system in downtown Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Interesting you say that. Whenever we talk about solar, the critics will say it's more expensive than conventional. What's the county doing getting in this line of work.

Jonce Walker: What we did first was make sure all our buildings are efficient. We didn't want to slap solar on kind of leaky buildings. We did a massive utility grade audit, shored up the buildings and made them efficient. Then we looked at solar as kind of the icing on the cake. We think it is smart because we're going to stave off future energy rising costs. We do them, there's a lot of work that goes into making sure those projects pencil out and make sense for the taxpayers.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask, how much does all this cost, and is it even close to paying for itself?

Jonce Walker: Usually a large photovoltaic system will pay for itself within 12 to 15 years, and the panels are warrantied for about 25 years. We're doing everything to make those buildings efficient up front, and then adding solar later. Anything we can do to reduce that energy bill, about 20 million bucks per year, for the county is good business sense.

Ted Simons: What about overall costs for this "Green Government" program?

Jonce Walker: It's just myself.

Ted Simons: Well, as far as efforts, everything from getting dirt roads paved and the whole nine yard.

Jonce Walker: Exactly. When we write these measures that go into the plan, there's about of them now -- everything there is on equal footing. Economics is certainly in that scenario. All the policies and programs implemented have to have an instant return on investment, economically, it's just changing the way we do business. Let's do it this way, you save some money and make sure it's better for the sustainability pursuit. Not just economics, but creating places better for residents of Maricopa County. We think there's value in that. The number to do these measures, you know, I'm not sure what that would be. But I can tell you that just managing the loan there's been about $2 million in savings over the past four years.

Ted Simons: I noticed this was phase 3, or phase 1 and 2, were they successful? And what can we expect for phase 4?

Jonce Walker: Phase 1 and 2, phase 1 started with the leadership of Don Stapley, Maricopa County supervisor. That was written quickly, about six months to take that. It was a good first step. We needed to do quite a bit more and kind of make the document itself user friendly, really. So when version 2 came on we added social media and several other departments. The county has about 50 departments and about 25 of them are involved with the sustainability plan. In Phase 3, just more dynamic. We have a new website, It's a very transparent document.

Ted Simons: Phase 4 soon?

Jonce Walker: It takes about two years to do one.

Ted Simons: We're trying to push the profits. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Jonce Walker: Thank you.

Jonce Walker:Sustainability Manager, Maricopa County;

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