Seawater + Halophyte plants to ‘Green’ Coastal Desert Regions

Originally published at by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

What could be better than creating rich cropland out of the world’s desert regions?

It’s a tempting idea. Some 33% of the world’s landmass is covered with desert landscape and 40,000 miles of coastlines are adjoining deserts. Nothing but ocean, sun, and sand. But in those hostile regions, some prototype halophyte farming projects have scored significant successes.

NASA - Earth with Global Deserts
Looking for a place to grow Halophytes? Coastal desert regions are your best bet. NASA – Earth with Global Deserts

Halophytes for human food, for livestock feed, and for biofuel production

Whether halophyte crops are grown for food (the ‘tenders’ or ‘leaves’ of the plant have a light nutty and salty taste) or to feed livestock (the stalks) or for biofuel production, growing these crops along coastal regions restores plant life to desert areas adjoining the ocean.

Exclusive report – Boeing reveals “the biggest breakthrough in biofuels ever” (Energy Post EU)

A land plan that grows halopyhtes food for humans/livestock feed and for biofuel production will produce the best economic result

“Integrating those two systems you get sustainable aquaculture that does not pollute the oceans and biomass that can be used for fuels” — Darrin L. Morgan

As a bonus in poverty-stricken lands, dried halophytes (branches/roots) can serve as an infinitely cleaner cookstove fuel than what is presently used in such areas — which is often dried livestock dung or expensive kerosene.

Halophytes are those crops which are salt-tolerant and can survive the blistering heat of the world’s deserts. Many of the crops we presently grow have salt-resistant cousins — all they need is trenches or pipelines to deliver the water inland from the sea.

Halophytes negate the need to remove the high salt content of ocean water which in itself, is a very costly proposition with desalination plants costing millions of dollars.

‘Plants called halophytes show even more promise than we expected.’ Image courtesy of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) affiliated with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi.
‘Plants called halophytes show even more promise than we expected.’ Image courtesy of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) affiliated with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi.

As halophyte farms become established they improve the growing conditions for non-halophyte plants

Most deserts are sand, which means all that is required to begin creating usable farmland is startup funding, farm machinery, a field plan and seeds, and of course, plenty of farm labourers.

Creating Wealth out of Sand and Seawater

Some of the poorest places on the planet are also ‘rich’ in deserts and are located near plentiful salt water resources, making them suitable candidates for halophyte farming. Economic benefits for poor countries are stable growth, lower unemployment, better balance-of-trade and less reliance on foreign food aid programmes.

If you can grow your own food at low cost, why buy it from other countries?

Halophytes Greening Eritrea Part I (Martin Sheen narrates the early days of Eritrea’s very successful halophyte farming and inland seafood production)

Halophytes Greening Eritrea Part II

Seawater irrigation agriculture projects for deserts (completely rainless regions)

2012 Yuma, Arizona Salicornia planting

Sahara Forest Project: From vision to reality

University of Phoenix Seawater Farming Overview

Growing Potatoes using Saltwater Farming Techniques in the Netherlands

Other successful examples exist in other coastal regions around the world

Helping to mitigate global sea level rises due to climate change, creating powerful economic zones out of desert, seawater and labour, lowering unemployment in poverty-stricken nations, removing carbon from the atmosphere and returning it to the soil, all while dramatically increasing crop and seafood production are all benefits of growing halophytes in coastal desert regions of the world.

Stage I Coastal Desert transformation

The first 25,000 miles of coastal desert out of a grand total of 40,000 miles of coastal desert globally can be converted to this kind of farming simply by showing up and using existing simple technologies/cultivation methods and seed varieties.

Stage II Coastal Desert transformation

The other 15,000 miles of coastal desert regions could be viewed as Stage II of this process after the best candidate areas become fully cultivated, as these secondary regions may require more capital investment for conversion due to their somewhat more inland locations.

Huge opportunity awaits early investors in this rediscovered agricultural market. Cheap land, free ocean water, low cost seeds and local labour, and a reputation as businesspeople who can solve local problems add value and employment to poverty-stricken regions, and lead growing nations forward, look promising for seawater/halophyte farming owner/operators and investors.

Further Reading

WWF says India could reach 100% Renewables by 2050

by Guest Contributor Emma Fitzpatrick

Originally published on RenewEconomy

When the world thinks of countries that could go 100 percent renewable, the immediate thoughts go to islands with solar and storage, hydro and geothermal rich countries such as Iceland, or even wind and wave-rich countries like Scotland.

One of the last economies imagined going fully renewable would be India, the rising economic giant that is still yet to connect several hundred million people to its mostly coal-fired grid, and is expected to have the highest growth of electricity consumption. But according to environmental group WWF, India could reach a goal of 100 percent renewables by 2050.

The study examines the possibility of a near 100% Renewable Energy Scenario (REN) for India by the middle of the century against a reference scenario (REF) in which the economy is likely to be dependent primarily on fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas.

WWF says that to get there India must make some large-scale changes to get on the right track as soon as possible. According to the report, aggressive energy efficiency improvements alone can bring in savings of up to 59 percent (by both the supply and demand sides) by mid-century.

Biofuels are set to play a large role, especially in the transport sector accounting for nearly 90 percent of the industry’s requirements.  According to WWF the third-generation biofuels in question are currently still in R&D phase and for the plan to go accordingly they must become commercially viable within the next two decades.

Overall, biofuels account for 23 percent of the total commercial energy supply,  most of the transportation needs. Solar thermal accounts for much of industry’s heating needs, and the electricity supply increases nearly 8 fold, with wind contributing the largest component.

Electricity generation by resource - Renewable Energy Scenario (REN) for India
Electricity generation by resource – Renewable Energy Scenario (REN) for India

The report says the reference scenario depicts an unsustainable, polluting and relatively inefficient energy future in 2051. The renewable scenario, on the other hand, presents a modern, cleaner and highly efficient India and shows that it is, in principle, theoretically feasible to achieve close to 90 percent penetration of renewable energy sources in the energy mix by 2051.

“However, there are still many unresolved questions in the REN scenario related to resource potentials, availability, commercial viability of alternative options, policy and finance mobilization, barriers of cultural and technological lock-ins, etc,” it says.

“Several feasibility studies are, therefore, needed to lay the basis for moving toward the REN scenario; these have not yet been carried out. There are many interventions that would be necessary to remove various barriers and to achieve higher levels of renewable energy deployment in India.”

Concentrated solar thermal technologies, many of which are currently still in the research and development phase, will take on a large chunk of the nations electricity needs as well as meeting thermal demand in industries that require temperatures below 700°C.

Wind is also set to push India towards its 100 percent goal. Currently India has no estimates of its offshore wind potential but the WWF predicts that it could have up to 170 GW installed by 2051.

Rural households will be forced to change their cooking habits, meeting their needs through improved cook stoves while urban households switch to electrical based cooking.

In 2010, fossil fuels accounted for 74 percent of India’s total energy consumed as well as being the world’s third largest emitter of carbon dioxide. India’s greenhouse gas emissions have also steadily risen by 2.9 percent each year between 1994 and 2007.

Much of the rural population still relies on biomass (such as firewood and agro-residue) for much of its basic cooking needs (around 24.6 percent of the primary energy supply) as well as using kerosene for lighting purposes.

Coal currently accounts for 42.4 percent of India’s total primary energy demand in 2010, with the national rail network being the largest coal consumer before 1975 – now overtaken by the power sector (87.7 per cent of total consumption).

Electricity alone plays a crucial role in improving levels of human development and the quality of modern life – with a strong positive link between human development, economic growth and growth in energy and infrastructure.

To sustain India’s own growth it requires large amounts of energy, with little oil reserves and much of its large coal reserves being inaccessible due to technological, social or geological factors, the country has many push factors to get its renewable base up and running. Due to the low oil reserves India has a high import dependence making it more economically vulnerable and well as supply issues.

India started its National Solar Mission in 2010 and is aiming to get 20 GW of grid connected solar power by 2020. As well as this, the Mission is promoting 2,000 MW of off-grid applications; including 20 million solar lighting systems and 20 million square metres of solar thermal collector area by 2022.

In general, India has a vast potential for solar power generation, with about 58 percent of the country’s total land area receiving an annual global insolation about 5 kWh/m2/day. These areas with 5 kWh/m2/day or above can generate at least 77 W/m2 at 16 per cent efficiency.

Rooftop PV is likely to play a major role in both rural and urban areas with residential, agricultural and industrial priorities reducing the amount of available land for solar programs.

It was estimated that almost 30 percent of industrial processes in India require heat below 250°C which can be supplied with heat from solar thermal concentrators. Temperatures below 80°C can be met through solar air heaters and solar water heaters. Industries – with the exception of iron, steel, cement and fertilizer – could in theory shift to CSP based heating.

Wind energy in India currently ranks second to hydro in renewable energy’s generating electricity. With 17,700 MW of installed capacity India’s rank in harnessing wind energy is fifth in the world after USA, China, Germany and Spain. Over the period of 1992-2010 the wind energy installed capacity in India witnesses an annual growth rate of 37 percent.

According to the Centre for Wind Energy Technology, most of India’s wind energy is concentrated in five states – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The WWF estimates that India’s total wind potential in megawatts stands at 49,130 at 50 metres, when taken up to 80 metres the reading more than doubles at 102,788 MW.

Hydropower is also being considered, with estimates around 148GW of energy potential. Two rivers, Brahmaputra and Indus, have the highest potential, with only 11 and 50 per cent respectively being utilized thus far.

India’s first tidal power project, with a 3.75 MW capacity, is being set up as well as the Kapasar project which involves building a 30 km-long dam. A recent study cited in the report suggested that also tidal power generation is feasible in certain areas it may not be commercially viable due to diesel costs. Currently, The Government plans to build 7 MW of grid-connected ocean tidal power plans in its 12thfive-year plan.

India’s geothermal potential is around 10,600 MW, distributed across various states and in 2009 the country’s geothermal power capacity stood at 10.7 GW. Although geothermal power development is restricted to tectonically active regions, and seeing as India lacks volcanic activity on its mainland, it also faces issues such as costs of drilling and transmission of energy.

Comparing the REF’s and REN’s final energy demands in 2050 highlights not only a stark mix of energy uses but also efficiency levels. In 2051 the REF is approximated to have increased the countries’ energy demand up to 2,545 Mtoe when compared to the REN sitting at 1,461 Mtoe – highlighting an overall energy savings of 43 percent.

Modeling done by the WWF has estimated that the total undiscounted technology investment cost for the renewables scenario is 42 per cent more than the reference (fossil-fuel) scenario, requiring 544 trillion Indian Rupees from 2011 to 2051. Although the figure sounds quite high it is only around 10 percent higher than if India was to stick to its reference scenario.

In the renewables scenario, India will have almost a quarter more electrical generation capacity (in GW) than if it continues along the reference scenario path. Furthermore, in 2051 the renewables scenario will yield less than one billion tonnes of carbon emissions, compared to the reference scenario with almost 12 billion tonnes.

WWF highlights that although the renewables scenario is preferred it will not be easy for government to get there, recommending various policy options available including; tax holidays for renewable energy uptake, creating incentives for new projects, enhancing R&D, increasing the budgetary allocation, pricing energy and technology for efficiency and strengthening policy and regulatory set-ups.

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This article, India Could Reach 100% Renewables By Mid-Century, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Clean Trillion Campaign pushes for $36 Trillion of Clean Energy

by Tina Casey

Oh, the irony. With the devastating coal-related West Virginia chemical spill barely a week behind us, hundreds of leading investment and financial executives gathered at the United Nations for the Investor Summit on Climate Risk on January 15, to focus on the opposite of that: a $36 trillion effort called the Clean Trillion Campaign, to transition the global economy out of fossil fuel dependency and onto a more safe and sustainable path.

The Clean Trillion Campaign is the brainchild of Ceres, the not-for-profit sustainable investor organization which also hosted the Investor Summit on Climate Risk.

CleanTechnica was invited to come along. So here are some of our takeaways, through the lens of the West Virginia episode.

US Currency (cropped) by (401) K 2013.
Hundreds of leading investment and financial executives gathered at the United Nations for the Investor Summit on Climate Risk on January 15, to focus on a $36 trillion effort called the Clean Trillion Campaign, to transition the global economy out of fossil fuel dependency and onto a more safe and sustainable path. US Currency (cropped) by (401) K 2013.

Adapting Business To Address Climate Change

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who spoke at the event, singled out the US coal industry’s current woes to illustrate how business strategies that are “based on trying to preserve the status quo” are heading into deep trouble, and he urged the fossil fuel industry to “be proactive and adapt.”

Those are lessons apparently yet to be learned both by the company responsible for the spill, Freedom Industries, and the private water supplier affected by the spill, West Virginia American.

To recap the West Virginia spill briefly, last week the chemical Crude MCHM, a foaming agent used to wash coal and other minerals, entered the West Virginia American’s intakes on the Elk River, making its way into homes, businesses, and everything else with plumbing across a nine-county area with 300,000 residents.

The economic damage is still being totaled up, but in the meantime it’s clear that long running gaps in federal oversight combined with weak state regulations to form a perfect platform for the Keystone Cops-esque response of the two companies involved, both of which fell far short in the categories of emergency prevention, preparedness, response, and communications (tip: follow Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward, Jr. for updates at @Kenwardjr).

Investor Summit On Climate Risk

If the West Virginia debacle represents the status quo, the question is how to get the ball rolling in the other direction. From the investor perspective, that means there has to be a clear path and a level playing field for clean energy investments, which of course translates into legislative action.

Given the political obstacles to hurdle, this is where the Ceres summit could make a real difference.

Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and investor/activist Tom Steyer kicked things off by urging the attendees to think and act like they are the agents of change. Simply put, they asked investors to start talking about climate change to everyone with whom they come into contact, including their elected representatives.

Rubin noted that although more people understand the facts about climate change, they haven’t internalized that information to the point where it translates into action, namely, into political pressure.

Considering the force of the climate change denial movement in the US Congress, we think that’s a bit of an optimistic assessment. Be that as it may,  Rubin asserted that business can play a key role in creating pressure for change, as business leaders are members of the “chattering class,” the people who get face time with elected officials and who have a direct impact on policymaking.

Steyer, who is also founder of the organization NextGen, made a complimentary point about reaching individual voters by zeroing in on local issues where their votes have a direct impact on local elected officials and on their US House of Representatives members, “grinding it out on the ground” as he puts it. In his experience, elected officials will respond to calls for change if and only if they think that the change involved is the votes of their constituents.

That’s where business can play a role, by reaching people with their concerns about local issues. As Steyer puts it, “we should ask people in this room to deal in the reality of where we are now and realize the power of business in this conversation.”

The Clean Trillion Campaign

The Clean Trillion Campaign name refers to closing the gap that Ceres has identified between the $36 trillion in transformative investments needed by 2050 to prevent catastrophic climate change, and where we are now.

The campaign provides investors with tools for managing climate risks in their portfolios and investing in clean energy opportunities, while encouraging them to engage with companies on climate change.

Specifically, the campaign contains ten key rallying points:

1. Develop capacity to boost clean energy investments and consider setting a goal such as 5 percent portfolio-wide clean energy investments
2. Elevate scrutiny of fossil fuel companies’ potential carbon asset risk exposure
3. Engage portfolio companies on the business case for energy efficiency and renewable energy sourcing, as well as on financing vehicles to support such efforts
4. Support efforts to standardize and quantify clean energy investment data and products to improve market transparency
5. Encourage “green banking” to maximize private capital flows into clean energy
6. Support issuances of asset-backed securities to expand debt financing for clean energy projects
7. Support development bank finance and technical assistance for emerging economies
8. Support regulatory reforms to electric utility business models to accelerate deployment of clean energy sources and technologies
9. Support government policies that result in a strong price on carbon pollution from fossil fuels and phase out fossil fuel subsidies
10. Support policies to de-risk deployment of clean energy sources and technologies

You can find out more about the Clean Trillion Campaign at,  and be sure to check out Ceres’s BICEP campaign, too.

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This article, $36 Trillion Push For Clean Energy Investment, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Tina CaseyTina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

University of Calgary hosts Renewable Energy Speakers, Dec 5 and 6

University of Calgary
University of Calgary logo.

Experts will explore total transition to renewable energy.

Two leaders in sustainable energy presenting at the University of Calgary this week.

CALGARY, ALBERTA–(Marketwired – Dec. 2, 2013) – The mayor of the “greenest city in America” and the director of Stanford University’s Atmosphere/Energy program will be on the University of Calgary campus this week for two events on the importance of renewable energy.

On Dec. 5, Bob Dixson, mayor of Greensburg, Kansas – a town levelled by a massive tornado in 2007 – will present at the Distinguished Speakers on Campus about how his hometown rebuilt and now generates all its electricity from wind power.

The following day, Dixson will also be one of two speakers at a free public forum Transitioning to 100% Renewable Energy. Dixson will be joined by Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. Together they will answer the questions: “Is 100 per cent use of renewable energy scientifically feasible?” and “Has it been achieved in any communities to date?”

Forum Director Mishka Lysack says, “I don’t think we’ve adequately explored renewable energy and this is an opportunity to heighten people’s consciousness about the alternatives, and to begin to influence public policy. Some of the world’s best solar levels and intensity, and wind energy, are in Calgary and Southern Alberta.”

Lysack, a University of Calgary social work professor focusing upon community and social well-being, has studied renewable energy in Germany, where the goal is to obtain 80 to 100 per cent of all electricity from renewable sources by the year 2050.

“This is the first forum in a series looking at renewable energy from many different perspectives over the next one-and-a-half years,” said Lysack. “We hope to hold three forums before the summer.”

He is eager to hear from both keynote speakers.

Jacobson will discuss the scientific and technological feasibility of using 100 per cent renewable energy. He will explain how a renewable energy system can create more jobs, increase government revenues and reduce the human and financial health costs of air pollution and climate change. Jacobson has testified before the U.S. Congress, and written two textbooks, many articles and a landmark study on transitioning New York State to entirely renewable energy.

Dixson was a leader in post-tornado rebuilding efforts in his community designed to make it the “greenest city in America.” Greensburg uses only wind power for its electricity needs. Dixson will discuss the rebuilding and public-engagement process.

The conference is being sponsored by the Faculties of Social Work, Science, Arts, and Environmental Design; the Office of the Vice-President Research; and the Urban Alliance. It is funded in part by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.


On Thursday, Dec. 5, Greensburg, Kansas Mayor Bob Dixson will speak at 7:30 p.m. in MacEwan Hall A as part of the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Speakers on Campus initiative that features high-profile leaders in the area of energy and the environment.

The following day, Dec. 6, Dixson and Mark Jacobson are the keynote speakers at Transitioning to 100% Renewable Energy. The event takes place from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Alberta Room of the Dining Centre.

About the University of Calgary

The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation’s most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction to become one of Canada’s top five research universities by 2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university’s Gaelic motto, which translates as ‘I will lift up my eyes.’

For more information, visit Stay up to date with University of Calgary news headlines on Twitter @UCalgary and in our media centre at

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Media Contact: University of Calgary
Heath McCoy
Communications Advisor, Faculty of Arts
403.220.5089 or Cell: 403.607.8461

Building a Sustainable Garden State, One Community at a Time

NJS logo-110

Galloway Township Community Garden

Galloway Township developed its community garden as part of a statewide sustainability initiative.

Sustainable Jersey isn’t looking to save the planet, just a small corner of it — at least for now.

The nonpartisan nonprofit, according to its website, “is a certification program for New Jersey municipalities that want to go green, save money and take steps to sustain their quality of life over the long term.”

Participating towns and cities earn points toward certification for accomplishing a variety of goals — priority and mandatory “actions” — that increase their sustainability. These could include performing an energy audit on a municipal building (20 points); inventorying and upgrading the energy efficiency of those buildings (50 points); and establishing and enforcing an anti-idling mandate (10 points).

There are two levels of certification: bronze (150 points ) and silver (350 points). A gold program is in the works.

Sustainable Jersey has just certified 52 more bronze municipalities, bringing the total for that category to 117. Twenty towns have earned silver certification. A total of 399 towns are participating in the program, representing about half the state’s municipalities and nearly three-quarters of its population. (An interactive map on the program’s website makes it clear just how dense its coverage is.)

The program’s success is based in part on cash-strapped municipalities saving money on expenditures like energy bills or landfill fees, but is really based on a growing recognition that community action can play a key role in creating a more sustainable world for future generations, participants said.

“For the most part, people are looking at ways to do the right thing for the environment,” said Dominikija Prostak, head of the “Green Team” – a panel that steers sustainable policy – in Frenchtown, which received a bronze certification at an awards ceremony in Atlantic City on November 19.

Grants are often available from public and private groups to pay for work like energy audits. Funders include Sustainable Jersey itself which this year supported local programs with grants of $2,000 to $25,000, totaling $600,000. Sources of other grants, loans, and tax credits are listed on the organization’s website.

Sustainable Jersey makes it clear that sustainability is also about issues like health and wellness, diversity and social inclusion, and economic development.

“When we talk about sustainability, we talk about people, prosperity and planet,” said co-founder Donna Drewes. “It’s not just environmental issues.”

Towns don’t have to pay Sustainable Jersey to participate, but signing on requires a significant investment of citizens’ time and effort to meet rigorous sustainability standards that are set by a task force of state agencies, nonprofits, universities, and local officials.

Any municipality seeking certification is required first to pass a resolution stating its intent to embark on the program. It must also designate a liaison person; complete an online registration; select the actions that will earn their certification, and create a Green Team to manage the process.

Participating communities can choose from 16 categories of action, from animals in the community to green design to sustainability planning, all explained in detail on the organization’s website.

Those interested in climate mitigation and adaptation, for example, can opt to create a community carbon footprint, for which they may be able to obtain funding, and which will earn them 10 points.

Or they can build a community garden, a project that Sustainable Jersey says is likely to take six to nine months to develop and cost between $1,500 and $15,000 but will earn just 10 points towards the 150 that are required for bronze certification.

In a sign of the rigorous nature of the certification requirements, towns are warned that a community garden project will also require the designation of a responsible person; a team to do the work, and money to pay for insurance, tools, and possibly the salary of a part-time gardener.

Those interested in transportation issues may decide to create a “complete streets” program, worth 20 points, which recognizes pedestrians and bicyclists as legitimate road users as well as cars.

In Frenchtown, actions included conducting an energy audit on its public buildings — the borough hall and police headquarters — which resulted in conversion from oil heat to natural gas, a lighting upgrade, and the installation of programmable thermostats.

Seventy percent of the audit’s cost was paid for by the Jersey Board of Public Utilities, while the remainder came from state and municipal funds. The resulting improvements were paid for in part by federal funding of $20,000.

The rewards of the energy audit came in the form of fuel bills which more than halved to $4,000 a year because of conversion to natural gas, as well as 50 points toward certification, or almost a quarter of the town’s 170-point total.

To earn 10 more points, the green team built a community garden on half an acre of land that had been purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the lot had been repeatedly flooded by the Delaware River.

In a project spearheaded by the local Lions Club, the land was cleared and fenced, all by local volunteers who also built raised beds and wooden walkways out of pallets. In-kind donations came from a local farmer who tilled the land and donated fence posts, and from local businesses including Lowes, Home Depot, and Ocean Spray. Local businesses have donated food waste for composting while the municipal court has used the garden for community-service projects.

For another 10 points, the community held a green fair which promoted a host of sustainable practices including waste reduction, line-drying of laundry, and collecting rain water in barrels. Vendors at the event in September 2012 were barred from serving food in Styrofoam containers.

The Hunterdon County community of some 1,400 people has united around the sustainability program, which has become more than just a means of saving money, said Mayor Warren Cooper.

“Something magical happens in this Sustainable Jersey effort,” Cooper said. “We’ve incorporated the goal of being a sustainable community into our self-concept.”

Cooper argued that the local program does not reflect the efforts of a small cadre of eco-zealots but has engaged the whole community, which he described as a rural blue-collar town with a diverse socioeconomic profile. “If we can do it, anybody can do it,” he said.

Now that it has the buy-in of many municipalities, Sustainable Jersey is extending its reach to school systems. In a program due to be launched in fall 2014, the group is creating a code of best practices and sustainability metrics for schools. When implemented, the program will provide specific measures that schools can take to go green; they will be encouraged to use any cost savings from measures such as reduced energy use to improve educational programs.

The schools program will be an opportunity to combine different aspects of sustainability such as health and environmentalism, Drewes said. For example, an effort to stop parents idling their cars while picking up children from school could improve air quality, reduce childhood asthma and fuel consumption, and lower carbon emissions, she said.

“When the municipal program had such an impact, schools said they wanted to get in on this,” said Drewes. “The certification model is a way for us to celebrate this and help move schools and municipal governments forward.”

The schools program will raise students’ and teachers’ awareness of green issues while saving money for school districts, said Dr. Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

“We believe that board members need to be trained in the many benefits of sustainability and green technology so that schools can be operated more efficiently, and the money saved can be put back into instruction,” he said in a statement.

Among current participants, some townships are motivated to out-green others, said Randall Solomon, the group’s other codirector.

“There’s a virtuous competition,” he said. “Municipalities want to one-up their neighbors.”

Solomon cited his own community of Highland Park which raised its sustainability standard to silver this year after seeing nearby http://www.twp.woodbridge.nj.usWoodbridge attaining the higher level. Highland Park earned the higher certification with 355 points this year but remains well behind Woodbridge which, with 870 points, has by far the highest sustainability rating in the state.

Woodbridge’s latest green projects include a 30 percent reduction in the miles traveled by trash trucks; conversion of salt-spreading trucks from gasoline to electric; and the purchase of 12 gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles for its municipal fleet. It also purchases recycled paper, green cleaning products, and energy-efficient appliances.

Communities are increasingly concerned with presenting themselves as environmentally conscious, just as politicians are aware of the vote-getting potential of green credentials, Solomon argued.

“Green branding is important to the image of a town,” he said. “There are very few people who have a negative association with a place that pursues sustainable policies.”

More tangibly, people are motivated by simply saving money by using less energy and less water while generating less waste, all areas that are low-hanging fruit for local governments struggling to balance tight budgets, Solomon said.

“A lot of these things are just stingy government,” he said.

Despite the green zeal of towns like Woodbridge and Frenchtown, their current ratings don’t show that they are truly sustainable, Solomon said. The majority with a bronze certification, though moving in the right direction, are not sustainable yet, while silver towns are making “significant” progress, and are statewide leaders, he said.

Sustainable Jersey hasn’t yet published a gold certification but is working on it, Solomon said. When launched, it will differ from the lower levels by setting performance standards such as specific reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The program’s success has made it a national model, and it’s beginning to be replicated in other states. Maryland now has a statewide program that’s similar to New Jersey’s.

But for now, the program is unique, said Michelle Knapik, Director of Sustainable Environment Programs at the [hppp://www.surdna.orgSurdna Foundation] which promotes green programs nationwide, and supports Sustainable Jersey with $225,000 a year.

“I do not believe there is any (other) systemic program that connects the learning across communities at a statewide level to leverage resources in effective ways in a way that Sustainable Jersey does,” Knapik said in an interview.

She argued that New Jersey’s small size has aided the process of communities learning from each other in urban, suburban, or rural settings, but said the model is replicable anywhere.

“It’s at a point where national funders and others can come in and say, ‘Wow, you are capturing amazing learning about this operating system. How can we help you replicate it in other places?’” she said.

Curtis Fisher, northeast regional director for the National Wildlife Federation, said Sustainable Jersey succeeds because it helps people act on their sincere but unfocused desire to live with more environmental sensitivity.

“People want to do this but they may not know how to do it,” he said.

Although communities may save money and make themselves more attractive to business by going green, people are really motivated by a concern for the earth and future generations, Fisher said.

“Most people come to this because they want a better future for our planet and their children,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sustainable Jersey is building on a green impulse that was taking root in some towns even before the program began.

Ocean County’s [|Galloway Township] built a community garden at a cost of $15,000 in 2008, a year before the statewide program launched. Since then, the community of around 39,000 people has earned a silver certification by measures such as developing an inventory of natural assets like soils and waterways, mapping its “carbon footprint” and compiling a fleet inventory of municipal vehicles.

This year, the township spent $10,000 on sustainable landscaping, has been teaching residents about invasive species, and promoting water conservation, said Barbara Fiedler, who heads Galloway’s Green Team. All the measures earned Galloway 430 points, well above the 350 required for silver status.

In addition to the Green Team’s work, the program appears to be changing people’s behavior, Fiedler said, citing a rise in the city’s recycling rate to 50 percent from about 44 percent in 2007.

“I think people are a lot more aware,” she said. “We don’t get anybody complaining about it.”

But the business community seems less interested, Fiedler said. Some businesses are failing to recycle as they are required to, and need to be reminded.

“That’s at odds with the experience of participating townships, which see sustainability as a lifestyle choice rather than a series of onerous tasks,” Solomon said. “It’s not about jumping through hoops. “It’s about implementing life changes.”

Jon Hurdle is a Philadelphia-based freelance reporter who covers energy, environmental, and general news for national and regional media.

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This article, Building a Sustainable Garden State, One Community at a Time, is syndicated from NJSpotlight and is posted here with permission.