The city of Dunedin receives its Platinum Status award at the December City Commission meeting. From left are Bob Ironsmith, economic housing director; Jon Everett, public works engineer; Keith Fogarty, public services director; Paul Stanek, assistant public works and utilities director; James Clayton, committee on environmental quality member; Dianne Wheatley Giliotti, committee on environmental quality chairwoman; Christina Perez, sustainability coordinator; Ed Heitov, committee on environmental quality member; Bonnie Steinberg, risk safety manager; Lael Giebel, development project coordinator; Phyllis Gorshe, library director; and Suzanne Cook, executive director of Florida Green Building Coalition.
DUNEDIN – Dunedin has long valued nature, the environment and preserving its natural resources. Even as the city continues to reach green goals and achievements, it always strives to do even more. Recently, Dunedin became the first city in Florida to become a Certified Platinum Florida Green City by the Florida Green Building Coalition.
The city hired its first sustainability coordinator, Valerie Brown, in 2007, and she set out to apply for Dunedin’s first Green City certification. At that time, the city achieved Silver Certification status. Then in 2011, she submitted an upgrade for the city’s certification, which brought Dunedin up to Gold status.
Cities must reapply every five years, so one of the first major tasks for the new sustainability coordinator, Christina Perez, was to reapply for certification. There are numerous checklists to go through that are based on different departments for the city, Perez said, such as solid waste, planning and development, tourism, and engineering.
“There are sub-credits associated with each topic to associate if we’re doing that and if it’s plausible as a city for us to do (the things on the list,)” Perez said.
There is also another section called “innovative credits” where a city can add additional green things that it is doing that are not on any of the other lists. Therefore, the city can now get credit for those efforts, whereas that was not an option in the beginning.
“I was able to utilize the innovative credit list,” Perez said. “I talked about the Free Little Library and the Seed Library, which largely ties into the community garden and with planning, growing your own garden and vegetables, local food and such.”
The city also was able to get credit for its community garden, which was not able to be counted at first. Other city initiatives that contributed points include using an alternative method for concrete using old tires, green building initiatives, and environmental efforts built into the city’s codes.
It took months of work to put together the application, and by the end, the project had become Perez’s baby.
“It was a 5-inch binder and weighed about 13 pounds,” Perez said. “It took me about four or five months, and it felt like I made this child and sent it off to college all within a few months.”
Nationally, there are only 46 certified Platinum Green Cities, Perez said. In order to get to that level, a city must rank between 71 and 100 percent of total possible credits. That percentage is calculated based on a city’s maximum points, the maximum applicable points and credit points achieved, she said. Dunedin pulled off a 71.4 percent. The city officially received its certificate at the Dec. 19 Dunedin City Commission meeting, where Suzanne Cook, the executive director of Florida Green Building Coalition, came to present the award. The plaque now hangs in Dunedin City Hall.
Born and raised in Dunedin, Perez is used to making the environment a priority. She also takes pride in her city, so it is natural to want to make it even better. Therefore, she hadn’t even initially realized how big of a deal it is to receive Platinum status.
“I have a friend who I went to college with who is actually the Oldsmar sustainability coordinator,” Perez said. “I guess the FGBC sent out a newsletter (that mentioned Dunedin’s certification) and I hadn’t even said anything to him, and he was so impressed. He was like, ‘Oh my gosh, do you realize that everyone is going to be all over it?’ I guess I hadn’t. I didn’t think of it as a publicity thing. I was born and raised in this city, and I want to make it the best that it can be, so this is what I strive to do. Try my hardest to go big or go home.”
But just because the city has achieved this top honor doesn’t mean it is putting the brakes on new green ideas and efforts. One idea that started in the library and is expanding to other areas deals with how to replace old carpet, Perez said.
“We haven’t officially implemented it, but now when we go to replace our carpet, we use the tile carpet instead of whole big sheets of carpet, and if you go to the library, they have it especially in the kids’ area,” Perez said. “It’s really cute. We’re supposed to be getting it here (at the solid waste and recycling office) in the next month or so. So that way, instead of replacing the whole carpet, you just replace one sector or tile so it doesn’t cost as much and (is better for the environment.)”
Perez also continues to work with other departments to come up with ways to be more sustainable. For instance, she has been working with the new stormwater coordinator to come up with public service announcements, signage and stations to deal with pet waste. Also, the solid waste department is analyzing the impact that the new single-stream recycling program is having on reducing the amount of trash that is being collected.
“We’re entertaining the idea of going to once-a-week trash service,” Perez said. “We’re not saying we’re doing it, just looking into it because that reduces the wear and tear on our trucks and helps the environment.”
Another idea she and the city are looking into is a possible bike share program, Perez added.
“One of the other things that I’m really excited about and we’ve been doing within the last year is we now have recycling at our special events like St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Cinco De Mayo,” Perez said. “So all that goes on downtown and in our ballparks, we have recycling available now.”
Perez said she is grateful for having such a supportive community that values such environmental efforts.
“The staff, the committees, the commission, everyone is just very gung-ho on new and innovative stuff,” Perez said. “A lot of what happened to get us where we are, being platinum, a lot wouldn’t be done without the residents, without the staff, without the citizen committees, without our commission. It’s just an awesome team to work with.”
If people want to be more green in their own lives, even the little things help, Perez said. Conserve water, reduce electricity, recycle, or try incorporating walking or biking more instead of driving everywhere. To learn even more, click on the “Green Dunedin” option under “About Dunedin” at www.dunedingov.com.
“This is our city,” Perez said. “This is our backyard. We want to make sure it’s maintained for not only now but our children’s children and their children. Our future generations. We can’t destroy it. If we want it to be as good as it is now, we have to maintain it if not make it better.”