Talking green with Mayor Nutter

As part of the PR blitz for today's official unveiling of the big Sustainability Plan, Greenworks Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter and Sustainability Director Mark Alan Hughes held a meeting this afternoon with the DN Editorial Board, and Earth to Philly was invited to sit in. A few quick notes on how it went:

Nutter reiterated his intent to achieve, by 2015, the goal of "Greenest City in America" by focusing on job creation (adding 15,000 new "green" jobs), largely funded by naiotnal economic recovery dollars. One of the attractive things to Washington, he said, is that Philadelphia, the biggest city close by, can become an "incubator of innovation," bringing together different sustainable and/or economic-recovery agencies to work on concentrated areas as a proof of concept for "greening" our overall economic system.

He also spotlighted efforts to make it easier for builders in the city to "build a green building" by improving the energy section of the building code. But he also noted that while one of Philly's assets is that it's "a great, old, historical city, one of the challenges of Philadelphia is also that it's a great, old, historical city." In other words, unlike, say, Greensburg, Kansas, which is vowing to achieve "Greenest City in America" status after much of it was destroyed by tornadoes, Philly has plenty of existing ancient structures and materials that will need to be adapted and retro-converted.

I wanted to know how Nutter saw the culture of Philadelphia being transformed to support the "Greenest City" concept in such a short time. "This is a mindset issue," he replied, and then delved into ways that official programs can influence mindsets. The recycling initiative is a key example: "We're the biggest city [in the U.S.] that has single-stream weekly recycling," he observed, and while noting that the rate of recycling has increased under his leadership, he really wants it up to 25% by 2015.

In some cases managing public perceptions is as important as doing the actual work: Residents balked at trucks for recycling pickup that looked like regular garbage trucks, because it seemed to confirm their suspicion that the recycling they so carefully sorted was really just being trucked to a landfill along with the other trash. So the city changed the look of the trucks to clearly distinguish them from garbage trucks.

He also said that having a recycling container inside along with his trash can has kept the option in his and his family's consciousness, and that they've actually "spun around the ratio" between trash and recycling, now putting out more of the latter than the former. He ackowledged that there were still untapped channels to get the word out to young people especially, and quickly backed Sandra Shea's suggestion of viral marketing. And he pointed out that planting trees in neighborhoods is not just a functionally green boost (increasing the amount of carbon dioxide conversion) but one that affects people's mindset - and their property values.

Whether or not Greenworks will really make Philly the "Greenest City in America" is up for grabs - I'm still looking for the great pluses we have to offset the negatives of having to adapt a centuries-old physical (and cultural) foundation. But it's certainly a huge step in the right direction, and enough to make us hopeful for the future of Philadelphia.

You can read the whole thing in PDF form at the Web site set up by the city. It's a big document - maybe once you've finished the whole thing, they'll have completed the Web version that right now - ahem - just says "coming soon" when you try to click on its components.