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Fayetteville (AR) Mayor Coody Realizes “Unanticipated Benefits” from Newly Created Sustainability Director

August 11, 2008

Fayetteville (AR) Mayor Coody Realizes “Unanticipated Benefits” from Newly Created Sustainability Director

The population of Fayetteville (AR) has taken a leap since the year 2000 increasing by 21 percent in the last eight years. With the benefits of a more populated city also comes its share of problems. Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody and the city have hired a Sustainability Director whose sole responsibility is to encourage, implement, direct, and supervise programs and initiatives to provide a more sustainable economy and environment, not only for the current residents of Fayetteville, but for the whole of future generations to come.

Even before he became mayor, Coody believed in the need to protect the environment, and as soon as he took office he proved he was committed to conserving energy and costs by implementing plans such as having the city’s transportation division retrofit all the traffic lights with LED lighting. This not only conserved a significant amount of energy, but also resulted in a savings of $53,000 of per year. It continues to save the city operation and maintenance costs because the LED lights have changed the maintenance schedule from once a year to once every ten years.

Nevertheless, Coody knew that he could not accomplish all he wanted without staff members who were dedicated to the job, and thus hired John Coleman as his Sustainability Director and created a Sustainability Team, made up of representatives from all city departments in order to make sustainability a priority throughout the city government.

“Since John Coleman was hired, the city has had unanticipated results. There has been more done than ever could’ve been without the position,” said Coody. The first job of the Sustainability Director was to reduce utility consumption and costs as much as possible, and this in itself resulted in saving the city $330,000 in the first year compared to what would have been spent had Fayetteville continued to do business in its original manner. Intensive energy audits and technology upgrades continue to allow Fayetteville to use 20 percent less energy than before.

However, Coody is just as excited about the relationships that have been built as he is about the financial and environmental effectiveness of having a Sustainability Director. What Coody calls “a great coalition” has been built between the staff of the city and the University of Arkansas. A new Applied Sustainability Center has been established at the University’s Sam M. Walton School of Business, and the school and the city are working together to raise awareness about sustainability in Northwest Arkansas.

As successful as his decision has proved itself to be Coody faced the challenges of getting the approval of the city council for the new position he would create. Coody said that “Some in the city council did not want to expand, and some of the residents criticized the position assuming that the Sustainability Director would just be someone who would tell them to turn off their computers and lights at night.”

Coody had to prove to the city council that the position would pay for itself and save the city more than it would cost. He began by doing something that had never been done in the city before. He calculated the total utility costs which he estimated would be $400 to 500 thousand dollars. The numbers that came back were shocking. The utility costs totaled $1.9 million dollars, more than double of what was expected, and the numbers helped convince the city council to agree to Coody’s idea.

Currently, Fayetteville has won the 2007 Mayors’ Climate Protection Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and has been recognized in several publications including The Washington Post, Newsweek, and Governing Magazine. The city continues to take one step at a time towards greenhouse gas reduction and has developed three plans (City Plan 2025, the Downtown Master Plan, and the Alternative Transportation and Trails Master Plan) with green in mind to prepare Fayetteville for its continuing growth. The city is also looking into a wind energy program, and is in the process of the planning stage of holding a sustainability conference to draw national speakers to their city in October.

Fayetteville is proud that they serve as a model for smaller cities. “Other cities are looking at Fayetteville as an example to follow because cities that have less than a quarter million people have a hard time relating to bigger cities such as Chicago and Seattle, but they can see and realize that if Fayetteville can do it so can they.” Coody quoted Albuquerque (NM) Mayor Martin Chavez in stating that, “Leaders can do big things or small things. We need to choose big things, and doing big things is solving problems we would not wish on our future generations.”