Sustainability: Valley Forward Environmental Awards

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The 34th Arizona Forward Annual Environmental Excellence Awards were recently handed out. The awards are for projects, organizations and buildings that set standards for achieving a balance between the built and natural environment with a focus on sustainability. Diane Brossart, president and CEO of Arizona Forward, will discuss the award winners.


Ted Simons: Arizona forward's environmental excellence awards were recently handed out. The awards are for projects, organizations, and buildings that set standards for achieving a balance between the built and natural environment with a focus on sustainability. Diane Brossart, president and CEO of Arizona forward joins us now to talk about some of the -- We can't talk about all the winners, we would be here all night.

Diane Brossart: Like we were.

Ted Simons: What is this award ceremony, that are these honors about?

Diane Brossart: This is the 34th year of recognizing contributions to the environment. This year some of them throughout the state of Arizona primarily in Maricopa County for the majority this year, but next year we're taking the whole thing statewide, which is really exciting. Big news.

Ted Simons: Valley forward started with the valley, now you're going north, central, south, and now it's going to be everywhere.

Diane Brossart: It's going to be everywhere. The 13th year presenting in partnership with SRP, and Lori singleton was chair of the event for the last 13 years, and so we're all revved up and ready to go.

Ted Simons: What are the criteria, and who judges? How does that work?

Diane Brossart: We select a panel of jurists for their expertise in each category, which ranges from building and structures, media, art, education, lots of different things. Don was our lead judge this year, sort of the generalist who sat through two days of judging. The other jurists are were one day. You thought you had it bad, you really didn't.

Ted Simons: And did people or groups did they summit or do you guys go out and find things that go, that looks cool.

Diane Brossart: No, they summit. This was a very competitive year. We had over 100 entries. I was pleased they were a full spectrum of projects that were some overriding themes, lots of solar projects, a few river restoration, a loot of desert preservation types initiatives. And a bunch of projects that focused on education.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the winners. We'll start with the solar project, that was among the big winners, the SOLANA generating station.

Diane Brossart: This project won the best of show. Each project, each category has one -- From the -- We picked the best off, and this one is the world's largest paraBol I can plant and the first solar plant in the nation to produce electricity at night. A first for Arizona. It's really located 70 miles west of Phoenix, just outside the town of Gila Bend, situated on three square miles of agricultural land. It's incredible. It's unlike any traditional solar plant. It continues to produce at full capacity even when the sun goes down and stores that, and supplies clean energy to APS for its customers as part of a 30-year power plant agreement.

Ted Simons: That baby was the big winner.

Diane Brossart: That was the big winner.

Ted Simons: OK. Next one is the Coconino building program. What's this all about?

Diane Brossart: Another first. It is the first in the country of its kind, encourages sustainable building practices throughout Coconino county, and provides free sustainable building consultation, site evaluations and design services. It was adopted in 2003 and so far more than 4,000 members of the community have been able to use the program's resources.

Ted Simons: Is this a test project? Is in the real deal?

Diane Brossart: This is the real deal. They have resulted in real life projects, working with consultants and teaching people about green design and energy conservation, and that good stuff.

Ted Simons: All right. Fresh express was a winner.

Diane Brossart: This is a really cool project. It's a collaboration that provides fresh produce in a 25-square-mile area between downtown Phoenix and downtown Tempe that's part of the discovery triangle region. It's been deemed parts of it a food desert. They can't get access to affordable fresh produce, so the team launched fresh express in April, as a not for profit mobile produce market operating out of a retired repurposed bus. Municipal bus. So it sells affordable high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables at elementary schools, low-income housing projects, senior living facilities, and community centers.

Ted Simons: I think that got the biggest response from the audience. People just loved that idea.

Diane Brossart: They do. And Don, the president of Phoenix community alliance and discovery triangle goes, you guys should have a people's choice award. I go, why, because you think you're going to win it.

Ted Simons: People love that idea, he made a wonderful speech, and it was very heartwarming, which is kind of the idea behind this thing. It's what's good about Arizona, and how we are moving forward.

Diane Brossart: Absolutely. And I'm so excited to -- We've got a good smattering of projects from around the state. We had added a new category this year, the governor's award for technology energy and technology innovation. And received lots of entries in that category. And the stewardship award also is statewide. So it's good to see.

Ted Simons: Transit 2000 among the winners. What's this about?

Diane Brossart: Well, T-2000 served as a blueprint for the valley's transit investments, providing multimodal transportation option, alternatives to the automobile. And for years we've been a very auto centric society, and we've built on the fringes of the central city. So T-2000 moved Phoenix from the 34th largest transit system in the country to 28th. So that's a big jump. And paved the way for an influx of sustainable, public, and private transit oriented development. Good not only for moving people from point A to B, but for the development that occurs around that, and so it improved connectivity and livability, and got more rapid bus service, and all kinds of -- Light rail, all good stuff.

Ted Simons: All right. Our next one is complete streets.

Diane Brossart: Yeah. It's interesting, because two transportation oriented projects winning -- We had two categories this year that had doubles. So the judges broke their own rule of one. And they were very deserving. This completes -- This ordinance is highly innovative, it is the silver lining in the market crash in that we went from emphasizing sprawl at the far edges of the desert, to walkable neighborhoods, connected by multiple transportation choices in the urban core. The Phoenix city council just adopted this in July, two ordinances aimed at changing the way existing and future streets are planned, designed, and constructed. So it's important to the health and well-being of residents, and very on the cutting edge. Lofts cities across the nation are now adopting complete streets ordinance. So it was very progressive of Phoenix to do so.

Ted Simons: Back to solar, Tucson unified school district, with a solar project?

Diane Brossart: Yeah, there were a couple of solar projects related to schools. Tucson unified won an award, so did the Washington district win one. This is the largest distributed school project in the nation without utility incentives. It encompasses 42 schools and produces 11 megawatts of power. So pretty comprehensive. And we'll supply -- Once it's fully utilized, it will be 80% of the electricity needs, it will meet at each site. Saving the district $170,000, in its first year and more than $11 million in energy costs over the 20-year term of the project. So very nice.

Ted Simons: Now we've talked about the expanded awards. Our next winner is the town of Clarkdale.

Diane Brossart: This is the personal favorite. I actually did that. I kayaked down that river. The mayor of Clarkdale takes people down that river all the time. I'm sure he's going to love I'm telling everyone this. But it is, it incorporates environmental conservation, education, economic development, and collaborative approaches to land management. The project really instills in people a sense of importance to the natural resource of the river. The Verde river is going to be the eighth river in Arizona that could be destroyed by excess groundwater depletion and surface water consumption. So we have to do something about it. By taking these tours and doing education and outreach, people become more vested and watch how they are looking at their water use, and how we get our water.

Ted Simons: All right. Very encouraging there. Another winner, an old familiar -- This is a good thing for expanding this to southern Arizona and other parts around, because the desert Sonora museum can be recognized. That place is recognized a lot.

Diane Brossart: It is amazing. I take it you've been there. And anybody out there hasn't been there, it's really a place to visit. It's an Arizona point of pride. It was ranked by tripadvisor.com bye as the ninth top museum in the world for 2013. Tracks a half a million visitor annually and inspires conservation of the desert. It was founded in 1952 and is recognized internationally as a model institution. It's a 98-acre facility and has a fusion experience. So they have a zoo, a botanical garden, an art gallery, natural history museum, and an aquarium.

Ted Simons: Pretty impressive. It's a really all encompassing situation. Our last one is a bunch of people smiling. What's going on?

Diane Brossart: Those are the president award recipients from SOLANA. A gentleman from APS and SOLANA. So they were very happy and excited about that.

Ted Simons: And that's -- This is one of the -- I do some of these things, a lot of these things are encouraging some maybe not so much. This one, everyone is just so excited, and happy to be celebrating things that are sustainable, that are forward moving, that make Arizona look like we got our act together.

Diane Brossart: Well, so often we look at what's wrong with our state, and focus on the negative. So you're right, this is very positive. I know when people win these awards they probably display 90 their offices and -- as well they should it. Sets the bar of sustainability.

Ted Simons: And real quickly now, is the focus going to continue to expand, or just the areas covered?

Diane Brossart: We promise not to make the program any longer. The categories will change, some of them will change as we go statewide. But we're going to streamline, and we're looking for input on how to make it better. This is we call the academy awards of the environmental community, and I think the recipients feel like they're walking the green carpet.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on another very successful program, and looking forward to seeing next year. That's going to be a hoot.

Diane Brossart: You're going to emcee once again?

Ted Simons: I think so.

Diane Brossart: You did a fabulous job.

Ted Simons: Thank you very much. And good to see you again.

Diane Brossart: You as well.

Ted Simons: We want to hear from you. Submit your questions, comments, and concerns via email at [email protected].

Diane Brossart:President and CEO, Arizona Forward;

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