ARC offers environmental certification for local governments

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Atlanta Regional Commission now offers a voluntary environmental certification initiative for which any city in Gwinnett or the county government can apply. Call it the commission's "Green Housekeeping Seal of Approval."

The program, launched Oct. 22 by the 10-county commission which serves the metropolitan area, is a way to recognize and encourage local governments in the Atlanta region to become more sustainable by making a few changes in their practices and operations.

"Communities around the region are already implementing ways to use fewer resources and be more sustainable," said ARC chairman Sam Olens in a statement. "This program will spotlight best-in-class examples, encourage further innovation in sustainability and salute those cities and counties that make a strong commitment to environmental stewardship."

According to Grace Trimble of the ARC, the "Green Communities Certification" is the first regional "green" certification program in the country. She said that cities and counties can earn points and subsequently level 1, 2 or 3 certifications for implementing a combination of measures in categories such as green building, energy efficiency, tree planting, recycling and waste reduction.

Trimble said the measures taken could include obtaining LEED certifications for new public buildings, reducing water system losses and using alternative fuels. She said receiving the certification can help cities and counties foster civic pride, create a positive image of the community and set an example for other businesses and organizations seeking to reduce their environmental impact.

But Benita Dodd, a vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said programs like this that promote "green" policies don't necessarily benefit or improve the communities where they're implemented.

"The ensuing competition often promotes a 'holier than thou' mindset among governments that doesn't serve their community and especially not the individual taxpayer," Dodd wrote in an e-mail. "Efficiency is admirable and desirable, but unfortunately, unnecessary policies get wrapped in the 'green' ribbon to gain support, and they are not only costly initiatives but encourage mission creep and usurping of private property rights by local governments."

Information about the program can be found on the ARC Web site - www.atlantaregional.com/greencommunities. The group will begin accepting applications in January.