Corporate Giants Help Plano Grow - Sustainability: Sustainability Policies And Best Practices

Corporate Giants Help Plano Grow

By Randy Rodgers
Publisher & Executive Editor | Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2018 9:15 am

In the northeast corner of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, Plano, Texas is an economic hub and headquarters to some of America’s biggest companies, including such recognizable brands as Capital One, Toyota, Frito-Lay, Dr. Pepper/Snapple and J.C. Penney.

In 2016, Fannie Mae and JP Morgan Chase announced they would move their regional operations to Plano, bringing a combined 7,000 new jobs.

Consistently ranked as one of the best locations in America for job growth, the city is planning to add more than 40,000 in 2018, with total growth estimated at 43 percent in the next decade. But, with new jobs come more people, more traffic and more pollution. Plano’s population has nearly quadrupled since 1980 to 286,000, making it one of Dallas’ largest suburbs. And, because it’s surrounded on all sides by other cities, Plano can no longer expand geographically.

To cope with all this growth, the city has made sustainability a priority in recent years.

Benchmarks & Planning

In 2015, Plano achieved a four-star rating in the STAR Community Rating System, a national sustainability benchmarking program that rates participating jurisdictions from one to five stars. Heather Merchant, sustainability & environmental education manager, said the city used the system to identify gaps and set priorities for improving health and quality of life in the community. These gaps suggested air quality, energy efficiency and transportation should be the city’s top priorities, which were all incorporated into its comprehensive plan in 2016.

“Mobility and transportation issues have become a really big focus,” Merchant said, “and that ties in with our desire to work on air quality, greenhouse gas emission reduction and improved transit opportunities.” She said the city has plans to invest in biogas fueling stations and has added electric vehicles to its fleet.

While sustainability gets a lot of support locally, Plano Director of Environmental Health & Sustainability, Rachel Patterson, said navigating the winds of Texas politics can be challenging, so developing partnerships, providing education and setting a good example are all important.

One thing everyone agrees on, Patterson said, “is that air quality is a big deal here.” She said the city used some of its federal grant funding to purchase air quality monitors that will help it set a baseline and develop goals for improvement. At the same time, plans are under way to update the city’s greenhouse gas inventory, which hasn’t been done since 2007.

Transportation

Merchant said transportation planners are realizing that conventional methods of dealing with traffic congestion aren’t sustainable in the long run.

“They’re adding more lanes on our regional highways and tollways, but we know just adding lanes isn’t the answer,” Merchant said. “So, they’ve formed a transportation management association that a lot of these corporate offices will be part of, and they’ll be working together to figure out what they can do as companies to solve this mobility problem.

“They’re looking at staggered work times, having shuttles that pick their workers up at designated parking lots, ride-share programs and contracts with Dallas Area Rapid Transit… so it’s being approached from a lot of different angles,” Merchant said.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) operates a regional bus and light rail network that includes stops in Plano. Merchant said an innovative collaboration between DART and Uber allows transit passengers to use a cell phone app to schedule and pay for trips that include a combination of the transit system and online ride-hailing systems like Uber. This, along with a new bike sharing service and a network of trails and bike routes, is helping solve the “first-mile, last-mile” transit problem, Patterson added.

Four major expressways come through Plano, and much of that traffic is pass-through or bringing commuters from other places.

Affordable Housing

Housing, especially affordable housing, is also a challenge for the city, which in turn puts more pressure on the transportation system.

“Plano is essentially built out as far as its housing stock and available land go,” Merchant said. “So, the housing that is available is very competitively priced, which makes it difficult for some people. A lot of the workers that are coming in are settling in surrounding communities.”

The city owns 24 three- and four-bedroom single family homes scattered throughout the community and helps more than 900 additional families through a U.S. HUD voucher program. Patterson said the Plano City Council recently passed resolutions supporting grant applications for at least three new affordable housing projects in the city.

Tree Canopy

With extreme heat and air quality among the city’s biggest concerns, Plano is focusing on expanding its urban tree canopy. A 2016 study revealed its canopy covers just 21 percent of the city, about half what it could potentially achieve. Less than 2 percent of its 1.69 million trees are located on public property. An Urban Forest Master Plan recently developed by the Plano Parks & Recreation Department calls for adding about 600 trees per year to public property during the next 25 years, and a partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation is helping add hundreds more to residential properties in the city.

In a recent tree distribution project, 360 trees were given away to homeowners in zip codes identified by the forestry master plan as heat islands within the city, Merchant said.

Composting & Recycling

Plano collects residential yard waste and operates a composting facility that produces commercial-grade mulches and soil amendments packaged under the brand Texas Pure Products. Tested and certified by the U.S. Composting Council and rated by the Organic Materials Review Institute for use in organic gardens, Merchant said the popular mulches, compost and soil blends are sold in bulk or in bags at the city’s facility and in retail outlets throughout the area.

“We also have a hazardous waste curb-side collection program,” Merchant said. “The things that are still reusable and good are put on the shelf for residents to come and shop through for free. The paints that are still good go into our paint recycling system and come back out as what we call ‘conservation colors’ for residents to take for free,” she said. The Household Chemical Reuse Center is open several days a week and is staffed by trained Live Green in Plano volunteers.

Plano has had a strong construction and demolition recycling program for more than 10 years, with many projects diverting more than 90 percent of their materials away from the landfill, Patterson said. When new construction or remodel projects of a certain size are granted building permits, commercial builders pay a deposit based on the type and square footage of the project. Remodel projects that divert more than 30 percent, and new construction/demolition projects that divert at least 60 percent, qualify for a full refund of their deposit as long as they use one of 28 city-designated companies to haul the waste for recycling.

Education and Outreach

The citizens of Plano have strongly supported local sustainability events hosted by the city, which have included a drive-through recycling event, an annual litter cleanup day and a Learn to Live Green expo that once attracted more than 18,000 people. Many of the city’s events take place at its LEED-platinum Environmental Education Center, built in 2010. The center is exclusively used for education – it has no office space – and is surrounded by heat and drought tolerant landscaping and interpretive displays. The city employs five full-time educators and a volunteer coordinator.

“No matter what you do, education is so key to behavior change,” Merchant said. “We have some really strong water conservation programs in the city, and because we have a person dedicated to education and outreach in this area, we’ve been really successful in getting a solid base of residents on board. I don’t know that we would be so successful in our whole water conservation effort without having this dedicated staff person who has built so many programs around this topic,” she said.

Besides hosting live classes and workshops, the outreach team has produced a variety of online learning modules on topics such as green building, water conservation, composting and stormwater management, among others.

Corporate Support

Patterson said the city’s corporate citizens have also stepped up as strong partners.

Plano’s Corporate Sustainability Forum meets every other month, bringing together sustainability officers from some of the city’s largest businesses to share and network with each other. Initially started by the city in January 2017, Patterson said, the corporations themselves are now setting the agenda.

“We’re there to support it, of course, but it’s really for them,” Patterson said. “It’s really important to have those corporations involved to understand and support where we’re going as a city. The last meeting we had was at Toyota and we had representatives of 11 or 12 really big companies and it was great to see them networking and learning from each other,” she said.

Sustainable City Network will host a free 1-hour webinar featuring the city of Plano, beginning at noon Central Time on Thursday, May 17. Register or learn more at https://sCityNetwork.com/Plano.