Sustainability Coordinator Is New Role For City, Boyle

Nell Boyle is the city’s sustainability coordinator.

 Roanoke City has a new “Sustainability and Outreach Coordinator,” which is also a brand new position. The City recently hired Nell Boyle for that role. Boyle, who used to promote the green building techniques used by Breakell Construction while doing marketing work for that company, is also chair of Roanoke County’s citizen-led RC CLEAR committee.

 That’s the group with ties to ICLEI, (the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) that some say is directly connected to the United Nations and something called Agenda 21 – a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the UN with regards to sustainable development.

 The Roanoke Tea Party and others recently unsuccessfully opposed any connection to ICLEI as the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors voted again to renew its annual membership dues in the organization. Boyle assures that RC CLEAR does not want to tell people where and how to live – it’s simply an educational tool that promotes green living practices like conducting energy audits.

 The ICLEI-provided software allows for “apples to apples,” comparison to other communities that are also working to reduce energy consumption. That’s one major reason Boyle said it’s worth the $1200 a year ICLEI dues. “We are all using the same tool to measure [carbon footprints].”

 In her new position as Sustainability and Outreach Coordinator, working for Ken Cronin, the Director of Sustainability and General Services in Roanoke, Nell Boyle is crafting a plan that includes outreach and the monitoring of city buildings for energy efficiency.  A recent report from Virginia Tech’s Sean McGinnis said strides made by the city to reduce its carbon footprint have slipped a bit over the past year, due perhaps to increased vehicle usage as the economy picks back up.

 “We need to stay with the program,” Boyle advises. “Things will fluctuate; that will have some sort of effect on the measurements we are trying to take. At the end of the day we need to drive these numbers down and maybe work a little bit harder. And we need to get more people engaged.” If all residents for example just swapped out five incandescent light bulbs for the compact florescent models, which use much less energy, Roanoke City could meet its goal in the residential sector for energy reduction.

 Just being aware of things like water conservation, changing the thermostat by one degree, turning off lights, recycling, using compact fluorescent light bulbs, “little things like that, the things your grandparents told you about,” said Boyle, although Grandma probably didn’t know much about CFL’s.

 The City of Roanoke has 51 buildings in its inventory; Boyle will attempt to collate data as part of a strategic plan to reduce energy consumption. The city recently accepted the Better Building Challenge and will aim to reduce that energy usage by twenty percent, by the year 2020. “We take that very seriously,” said Boyle, who will forward data to the players that can help make the changes needed.

 Many of the city’s buildings are older, with poor insulation, windows that need replacing and inefficient HVAC systems, so the energy makeover may not be cheap. Work ongoing now at the Roanoke Civic Center may be a “flagship project for us, because there was a lot of work that needed to be done,” said Boyle. The city will go after some of the “low hanging fruit,” like making sure maintenance is performed on a regular basis. That upkeep can translate in to a 10-15 percent energy savings bonus, according to Boyle.

 Social media, business-to-business connections and outreach programs will all be employed by Boyle as she carves out a brand new position. Developing a cohesive message demonstrating environmental leadership for the city and quality of life benefits associated with going greener are part of the mission statement.

 Sustainability is an economic development factor as well, according to Boyle. “That’s one of the things I’m really excited about.” Roanoke has just recently started to embrace its outdoor amenities as an economic asset; Boyle sees sustainability issues tying right in, “caring for those resources so they’ll be here over time.”

 Boyle said the city should release the latest data soon from the original 12 companies that were part of the Clean & Green Business Coalition – firms that pledged early on to reduce energy consumption. In that program’s second year they saved 1.2 million dollars in energy costs, according to Boyle, who uses them as an example when talking to other businesses in the city.

 There is help for people that want to reduce their energy consumption; information is available on the saveaton.org website and Facebook page. RC CLEAR and the city’s Clean & Green committee, another ICLEI affiliate, helped put together the Save A Ton campaign, designed to show valley residents how they can reduce their carbon emissions or greenhouse gases by one cubic ton a year.

 The Salem-based Café 2 program also provides discounted energy audits. RC CLEAR sponsored a series of free energy audits for local homeowners and businesses over the past year.

 Contact Nell Boyle at nell.boyle@roanokeva.gov for more information about Roanoke City’s sustainability.

 By Gene Marrano