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How Green is Reno?

National leaders may dither over whether climate change is real or not, but in Reno, the mayor and the city council are making the environment a top priority.

Article and Photography By Matthew Bieker

Over the past decade, Reno’s economic revival has been closely linked to its natural resources and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Located within a few hours drive of Lake Tahoe, the Truckee Meadows and Black Rock Playa, the city’s surrounding landscapes have long been a draw for residents of Northern Nevada.

So it may be no surprise there is a deep vein of environmentalism here. Headed by Mayor Hillary Schieve, who last year joined 392 mayors in officially committing to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement, Reno’s city government has also taken an increasingly progressive stance on climate change in recent years.

Mayor Schieve was the recipient of the 2017 Golden Pinecone Award—an award previously won by Reno’s City Council in 2010 that is given to community members for outstanding environmental contributions by GREENevada. This year, the city has released its first comprehensive sustainability report that tracks Reno’s commitment to environmental practices on a national scale.

“Basically we measure our performance against the national sustainability performance standard for cities, called STAR communities, and it was a fairly intensive process,” says Lynne Barker, Reno’s sustainability manager since 2015. “If you read the introduction to the report, STAR communities have 44 goal areas and they span, basically, the triple-bottom line: environmental stewardship, economic prosperity and social equity.”

The STAR Community Rating System measures dozens of metrics from water efficiency and waste minimization, to civic engagement and public transportation. Cities are ranked as three-, four- or five-STAR communities depending on the average values of these measurements and given a data-driven report on how they can improve their environmental efforts.

The STAR Community program was established in 2013, and Las Vegas and Henderson received their ratings in 2015, so Reno is in some ways new to all this. But Barker says officially registering for a rating is a step in helping City Council know where to go next.

“Most communities have had a formal program for a decade or more, so we are catching up,” Barker says. “Using the standard to evaluate or benchmark where we’re at was a way for us to understand what we were doing in terms of best practice, as well as what our opportunities for improvement are to help us prioritize our resources.”

After compiling data from the city and various county agencies for almost a year, Reno currently ranks as a three-STAR community—the lowest rank—lacking in areas like environmental justice and energy efficiency, but ranking highly in areas like greenhouse gas mitigation and public parkland.

Barker says city leaders are committed to boosting the rating the next time Reno is evaluated, and have taken steps to address one of the area’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters—inefficient buildings.

“We are launching a number of initiatives under the City Energy Project, (and) in October, launched a program called ReEnergize Reno, which is a locally branded better buildings challenge,” Barker says. “The city has committed to reduce energy and water use (by) 20 percent by 2025 in 38 of our facilities, and then we’ve challenged other building owners and facility managers in our community to join us and are basically in the process of securing participants.”

In 2017, Reno’s efforts to bolster the green jobs market and conservation efforts earned it the title of the 31st greenest city in America, according to WalletHub. There is still room for improvement, however, and interested locals can learn more about Reno’s environmental strengths and weaknesses by finding the 2017 Sustainability Report on the City of Reno’s website, reno.gov.

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