For over a decade, the City of Plano has lived up to its “City of Excellence” motto by being consistently ranked among the most livable cities, not just in Texas, but also throughout the entire country. Recent accolades include Plano named as one of North Texas’ Top-Ranking Healthiest U.S. Cities, by the Dallas Business Journal; and SmartAsset ranked Plano as one of Best Places for Green jobs.
A commitment to green initiatives has played a role in Plano becoming one of America’s most livable communities. Heather Merchant, Sustainability and Environmental Education Manger for the City of Plano, has been with the city’s sustainability program since its inception in 2006. She says that through Live Green in Plano, the city’s education and outreach program that supports Plano’s sustainability efforts, they have been successful in getting citizens to take active roles in all aspects of sustainability.
“We have five full-time environmental educators that focus on different topics within the sustainability realm,” Merchant says. “Those include recycling, composting, water quality and conversation, energy conservation and air quality initiatives. We also focus on litter reduction efforts and volunteer coordination.”
The Live Green in Plano programs provide education and information for people so they can make realistic, daily behavior changes to help them live greener, environmentally friendly lifestyles in the community, thus helping the city meet its goals in the area of sustainability.
The gardening programs exemplify the program’s successes. Through the Plano Community Garden project, residents learn about gardening techniques and water-wise landscaping, using native plants that are heat and drought tolerant for the area, which increases biodiversity and conserves water. The water-wise landscape tour held every autumn features several local homes with exemplary native landscapes, serving as models that people can learn from and gain ideas to implement into their own landscapes.
Fifty percent of the community garden harvest is donated to local food pantries, and garden volunteers get to keep the other half. Along with gardening classes, lessons in composting are also offered. “The secret to gardening is having healthy soil, so we teach people how to divert their organic waste into a compost pile, and then use that finished compost,” Merchant says. “It’s a closed loop that involves soil, health of plants and conserving landfill space, all at the same time.”
Because water scarcity has quickly emerged as one of today’s most pressing environmental issues, the city’s water conservation classes through Live Green in Plano include a sprinkler spruce-up workshop, where people learn to make simple repairs to their irrigation systems, and even learn how to tackle basic plumbing leaks in the home. Participants also learn how to install environmentally sound drip irrigation. Merchant says those programs have been very successful in the city’s water conservation efforts. They’ve also developed a series of online learning modules that are frequently used by the public and the Plano Independent School District. The online learning modules are related to sprinkler control, home energy efficiency, green building and waste diversion.
Merchant emphasizes the sustainability program is propelled by the Live Green in Plano Champions, the volunteer program where community residents can take a five-week course to train in basic sustainability concepts and topics, become familiar with city programs in those areas, and provide 24 hours of community service through the sustainability outreach programs. “They help us extend our arm into the community—they are our ambassadors,” she says.
Other sustainability events held by the city include a compost fair, and the Texas Recycles Day, a one-day collection event that encourages people to bring in specific items to be reused, like textiles and clothing, athletic equipment, medical supplies or pet items, to be donated to organizations that redistribute those goods to people in need.
A document shredding service is also on hand to securely destroy personal documents to help prevent identity theft. There’s also the Great American Cleanup, in which residents help clean up litter throughout the community, which builds pride.
“Our residents have really gotten on board,” Merchant remarks, “we’re really fortunate to live where people are interested in green lifestyle practices and environmental stewardship, and they want to be engaged. They like the quality of life in Plano, and they continue to maintain that.”
Plano mayor Harry LaRosiliere adds, “The City of Plano's commitment to healthy, sustainable lifestyles are validated by our prestigious 4-STAR Community national rating. These sustainability efforts are another reason why individuals and businesses are proud to call Plano home.”
STAR Communities is a nonprofit organization that works to evaluate, improve, and certify sustainable communities.
For more information about the City of Plano’s sustainability program or to volunteer for Live Green in Plano, visit Plano.gov/212/Sustainability-Environmental-Education.
For more stories like this read Natural Awakenings Dallas-Ft Worth magazine at NADallas.com