Smart, sustainable success
A few individual businesses have profited directly from the program. For example, A.Y. McDonald, a Dubuque brass foundry that produces valves and fittings for water meters, fit the new water meters with the “smart” piece that records low-flow leaks. And a business group in town has banded together to research how to save money -- and become more competitive -- by using more efficient lighting.
Another business consortium, the Petal Project, encourages green practices ranging from energy conservation to pollution prevention. Partner organizations include governmental and business entities, and participants include retailers, nonprofits, manufacturers and restaurants. Their mission? To benefit both the environment and the bottom line.
As for the faith communities, they’ve led by example all along. Sister Francine Quillin, pastoral associate of Dubuque’s Resurrection Catholic parish, said sustainability is a matter of stewardship and the responsibility of everyone.
“God said we are to take care of the earth,” she said of her parish’s environmental focus. “Our efforts have drawn the parish together. We have small recycling containers in every office. Bottled water is banned from our campus. Our pastor has made a concerted effort to plant [native] flowers and bushes around the church. And we have planted a rain garden between the school and the church.”
Sister Quillin said the parish’s Social Justice Committee initiated the program with a survey of the way materials and resources were being used. In addition to the already-noted changes, other, less-convenient changes were adopted as well, including last year’s Lenten fast from plastic bags and the use of recyclable tableware that requires hours of additional cleanup time following parish festivals.
When you have buy-in, though, such effort is not only acceptable but often a badge of pride. Schools throughout the city compete for recognition for their environmental efforts, flying a Green Vision Education flag as a mark of their accomplishments. Loras College dorm residents vie for the lowest kilowatt and gallon use. Petal Project business participants work for certification.
Buol said city officials often spend time talking with organizations such as economic development groups and municipalities that want to replicate Dubuque’s success. And IBM’s Smarter City model was developed to be replicable.
Are the lessons gleaned from Dubuque’s transformation transferable? Yes, say those who have been in the trenches. It takes some humility, a lot of listening, a willingness to change and a willingness to embrace risk.
“Every successful project invites citizen input,” Buol said. “It creates that buy-in and willingness to work together. You have to give up your fiefdom and learn to collaborate with other groups.”
Sister Quillin has her own list. Those seeking transformation need to face the resistance that will occur (“Nobody likes to change their habits,” she said), accept the greater expense and expect the process to take effort.
The effort, say the participants, pays off in its snowballing benefits. In fact, the addition of IBM’s 1,300 young professional employees to the Dubuque community has created its own dramatic impact.
“IBM’s workforce is very diverse,” Burbach said. “They have challenged the community to add new things. We have new ethnic restaurants -- Thai, Indian. We have an Indian grocery store. We have new loft apartments. It’s spurred [additional] development of the downtown. Old warehouses are being rehabbed; the first floors are restaurants and offices, and the second floors and up are residences.”
Buol said SSD will help lead Dubuque into the future. “It’s changing behaviors, which will make sustainability sustainable for generations to come.”
But foremost, Buol stressed, Dubuque’s sustainability is possible because it is citizen-owned and citizen-driven.
“If citizens weren’t engaged as partners, none of this would have happened,” he said. “You have to show the benefits -- monetary, environmental rewards from sustainability. The ‘what’s in it for me.’ You have to be able to sell it to the citizens. It’s not magic at all.”