The future of sustainability
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of City of Longmont, Colorado for our focus on Economic Growth and Sustainable Communities in the U.S.
The City of Longmont, Colorado embraces diversity, innovation, and savvy strategic planning in its mission to excel and grow as a thriving, sustainable community. Founded in 1871 and located northeast of the county seat of Boulder, and 33 miles north-northwest of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver, Longmont offers residents and visitors a vibrant, welcoming atmosphere for living life to the fullest, while just minutes away, the pleasures of hiking, biking, fishing, boating, and golf await at Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park.
Among its many accolades and achievements, Longmont is one of 38 communities in the U.S. recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a silver-level bicycle-friendly community and in 2018 was awarded the prestigious All-America City Award from the National Civic League (NCL). The award recognizes Longmont for identifying its most challenging issues and working collaboratively with the community to create innovative and effective problem-solving strategies. Downtown, the Main Street core, which suffered severe decline during the 1980s, now exemplifies the power of ongoing revitalization – home to over 300 shops, galleries, restaurants, and hotels. Also noteworthy is Longmont’s reputation as the Biggest Little Beer Town in Colorado with world-class, award-winning breweries, such as Left Hand and Oskar Blues, 300 Suns, Großen Bart, Shoes & Brews, Bootstrap Pumphouse, and Wibby Brewing. For recreation enthusiasts, the City has three public golf courses, 1,500 acres of parks, five skateboard parks, two dedicated dog parks, and two indoor and two outdoor swimming pools.
In 2013, the Longmont City Council voted to finance and build out its own municipal, gigabit data fiber-optic network, NextLight to every house and business. The entire community now benefits from that enhanced connectivity. In 2016, in its quest for a more sustainable future, Longmont adopted its first Sustainability Plan. The Plan lays out a roadmap for achieving the City’s sustainability vision and supports the guiding principles of its Comprehensive Plan called “Envision Longmont.” The Sustainability Plan focuses on actions in ten primary topic areas to promote the triple bottom line of environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic opportunity for City residents and businesses. Areas addressed for implementation within the next five to ten years are: air quality; buildings & infrastructure; community cohesion & resilience; economic vitality; energy; food system; natural environment; transportation; waste; and water.
“We’re on the Front Range of Colorado, the eastern border along the Rocky Mountains, and the population in this whole area is exploding right now,” according to Lisa Knoblauch, City of Longmont Sustainability Program Manager. “Longmont is just shy of 100,000 residents and growing quickly. We took that into account in projections for the Sustainability Plan, particularly from the standpoints of resource conservation, community well-being, and business sustainability. We work closely with our Planning and Development Services, Community Services, and Longmont Power & Communications Departments to ensure that we are equitably meeting the needs of all residents as our community grows and changes. We are a diverse community and maybe not as affluent as others around Boulder County or the Front Range, so it is important to take different aspects into consideration with regard to sustainability, particularly around social equity. It’s both exciting and challenging.”
Longmont’s first Sustainable Business Program falls under the Sustainability Plan and is on track to officially launch in 2019. The purpose is to support and recognize businesses making substantial efforts to reduce their environmental impact, act socially responsibly, and contribute to the economic vitality of the city. The program will provide resources and support to businesses and industries interested in enhancing the sustainability of their facilities and operations, as well as to encourage their employees and customers to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. City staff, in collaboration with sustainability partners, will provide one-on-one assistance to implement sustainable business practices at no cost to the business.
“Twenty-six percent of the Longmont population is Latino-Hispanic, so our programs, seminars and resources will be bilingual to give everyone access to information on how to become a sustainable business,” Economic Sustainability Specialist, Berenice Garcia Tellez explains. “We work closely with the Longmont Chamber of Commerce, Boulder County’s Partners for a Clean Environment, and Longmont Power & Communications. These partners offer many resources for businesses, including training and efficiency rebates, and they give back to the community as well. We love that. According to my research, we will be the first city in the country to implement social and economic measures in its Sustainable Business Program, some of which include incentivizing volunteerism and local sourcing of supply materials. Green business programs often focus solely on the environmental aspect.”
The Program will have three levels of recognition: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. All recipients will receive public recognition by the Longmont City Council, a highlight in a press release, and an invitation to a special celebration where awards will be given to the top three businesses of the year. “We want to target small businesses first, because that equity piece is important,” Tellez adds. We also want to invite key sectors in the area, including breweries, restaurants, landscaping, construction, and manufacturing, so we have all the angles covered and can assess whether we are asking the right questions. Before launching the full program, we will be doing a five-month pilot project with 15 participants, so we can integrate their feedback and ensure we address the right questions around key pollution prevention, resource conservation, and socioeconomic concerns.”
Another major sustainability initiative involves an innovative RNG (renewable natural gas) project being instituted at the Longmont wastewater treatment plant. Essentially, it uses the methane from the decomposition process at the plant to create renewable natural gas. RNG is a biogas, not a fossil fuel. “We clean and compress the methane to a usable form to fuel our sanitation trucks,” says Knoblauch. “That’s a big win for us from the sustainability standpoint; to move those trucks off of diesel to a renewable fuel source we’re producing ourselves at our wastewater treatment plant.”
According to Charles Kamenides, City of Longmont Waste Services Manager, the process will capture the methane, but that is only one of its benefits. “Our trucks drive throughout the city all week, and we will basically eliminate the exhaust caused by burning fossil fuels,” he says. “The trucks get about three miles per gallon of diesel, so we’ll be able to reduce those emissions from our community, and also reduce our cost for purchasing diesel fuel. We have 18 trucks running on a daily basis and we’re going to launch with 11 new CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles, so that will make a huge impact.”
“The project really worked out well, timing-wise, because our Council provided the directive to manage the methane and find a viable use for the biofuel,” Kamenides adds. “This RNG project was determined to be the most beneficial overall to the environmental, social, and economic values of the community. It also coordinated well with the life-cycle of our truck replacements. We intend to replace the remaining sanitation collection vehicles to CNG as we reach replacement cycles.”
Across the country, methane reuse is becoming a topic of consideration for larger cities and organizations, but Longmont’s progressive thinking to mitigate methane release and create alternative fuel is ahead of the game. What makes the Longmont project truly unique is its indoor fueling facility. It is one of possibly two plants in the U.S. to have that indoor fueling capability. Longmont is extremely grateful for regional financial support for the project. The Regional Air Quality Council granted the City $385,000 to offset the cost of transitioning from diesel to CNG vehicles. The difference in price is close to $40,000 per truck. DOLA (Department of Local Affairs) also granted Longmont $1 million to help make the program happen.
Sustainability creates opportunity and benefits for all and is broadly defined as meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The City of Longmont is setting a prime example for all communities looking to become more sustainable. “We have so many positive things going on in the realm of sustainability,” Knoblauch says. “We’re making significant plans to take care of the environmental, social, and economic needs of our community. It’s an exciting time to be in Longmont!”
AT A GLANCE
Who: City of Longmont, Colorado
What: Sustainable community, population just under 100,000
Where: Front Range of the Rocky Mountains between Boulder and Denver, Colorado