By TRENTON JOHNSON
Special to the Record-Eagle
LANSING — A set of initiatives by the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth is making it easier for communities to go green.
Jeff Spencer, the department's Green Communities Coordinator, said the idea started a year and a half ago in collaboration with the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Townships Association and Michigan Association of Counties.
The Green Communities Challenge's main objective: encourage communities to become more energy-efficient through local government operations.
The program also provides information to communities and shares ideas to assist them in becoming green, he added.
Eighty-five localities now participate, including Traverse City, Emmet County, Alpena County, Charlevoix, Detroit, East Lansing, Grand Rapids and Muskegon County, Spencer said.
Its goals include developing recycling and household hazardous waste programs for residents and businesses, developing a policy to use energy-efficient and dark sky-compliant outdoor lighting and helping residents replace older air conditioning and refrigeration units with more efficient models.
Other goals include providing employee benefits for ride sharing, walking, biking or taking public transit to work, starting programs to educate employees about environment and energy conservatio,n and informing institutions and industries about ways to reduce energy consumption.
Russ Soyring, director of planning for Traverse City, said his city used its $100,000 grant for planning.
"The parts of the city we are using it in have great potential for energy efficiency. The program provides the city with opportunities for new business developments and gives people a good place to live in," he added.
Cynthia VanAllen, Emmet County finance director, said the program also provides education so the public better understands energy-efficient environments.
Spencer said communities are awarded points and green stars for engaging in and reporting green activities.
The Municipal League recognized Traverse City, Charlevoix, Dearborn, Farmington Hills, Ferndale, Grand Rapids, Marquette, Meridian Township and Troy for earning at least five green stars this year, he said.
In addition, the department has launched a Michigan Efficiency Network, MichEEN, which allows communities to collaborate on green initiatives online.
The new social media platform helps people and organizations working on energy issues to communicate, coordinate and collaborate, Spencer said.
Trenton Johnson writes for Michigan State University's Capital News Service.