Westchester County’s Greenest Towns Receive Green Star Awards

Co-written by Michael Oleaga and Kelly Ann Povero

After five months of interviews conducted by Pace students, set out to address issues related to environmental health, climate change, and sustainability throughout several dozen towns in Westchester County, the “greenest” towns were announced at the Green Star Awards on March 24.

Six towns that received Green Star Awards were: Bronxville, Chappaqua, Katonah, Larchmont, and Yorktown, with White Plains winning the title of “greenest” town.

“It feels good,” said White Plains Commissioner of Public Works Joseph Nicoletti, Jr. for his town being recognized.

“It’s a lot of different things [in order to make the town green] like alternative fuel vehicles,” said Nicoletti who stated the use of alternative fuel that has been initiated since the late 70’s and early 80’s and other mechanisms contributed White Plains being called the “greenest”.

Grassroots Environmental Education, a non-profit organization, teamed with Pace’s Academy for Applied Environmental Studies carried out the five month long process which culminated on March 24 with the awards ceremony.

Using a comprehensive checklist developed by Grassroots called “How Green Is My Town?” (HGIMT) over 100 Pace students conducted interviews with municipal, school, and business officials in 43 Westchester towns.

The University is the first to complete the pilot program that Grassroots hopes to use a model for change on a national stage. Students interviewed school board officials, town and village officials, and local businesses to get thorough idea of which towns were pushing toward a more economically and environmentally efficient life.

Students first took an online practice exam to ensure their proficiency in the material. The test consisted of a compilation of questions regarding green laws and implementation within the town. After the students passed this test, they were given a lesson directly in class by the HGIMT Program Director Michael Crowley. This allowed the students to build strong interviewing skills prior to speaking with city officials.

“The most meaningful thing is not just the statistics from the evaluations but the fact the students are having fun through environment,” said Crowley.

Students participating in the program had known or were in the process of learning the basic knowledge of the HGIMT program, as well as many general aspects of going-green. The students were given a comprehensive packet of information to refer to if an interviewee had questions about a topic.

“We salute our students and professors as they worked hard and dedicated themselves to help make this program successful,” said Director of the Pace Academy of Applied Environmental Studies Michelle Land. “We’re proud of what you’ve accomplished and proud that Pace has played an important role in the early development of what we all hope is a landmark national program.”

Land added that based on the survey results in the Westchester County municipalities that Westchester is amongst the leaders in the nation in protecting environmental and human health.

“States and local governments can improve their capacity to address problems that the federal government isn’t yet addressing effectively or simply chooses not to address.  Generally speaking, in most cases it is the local governments that can create laws that’ll be more protective of the environment than federal laws; they obviously can’t roll it up but they can revamp it,” said Land.

Crowley added that Grassroots is currently working with Adelphi, Hofstra, and Stonybrook Universities on expanding the HGIMT program after what is being touted as a successful program by Pace. The ability to work with multiple universities gives HGIMT the opportunity to get youth involved in an extensive project that can change the future.

According to the HGIMT results, key statistics, in terms of energy, found 90 percent of the 43 towns use energy efficient bulbs, 66 percent have investigated sustainable energy sources and utilized them where appropriate, and 100 percent of towns mandate recycling of bottles, cans, cardboard, and paper from town offices.

For a complete review of the process and the how your “green” town rated, visit http://www.HowGreenIsMyTown.org/Westchester.

Published in the March 30, 2010 edition of The Paw Print.