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Going certifiably green in Dunedin

The new sustainability coordinator takes on the city's waste and documents it.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY, Times Staff Writer
Published October 30, 2007

Behind Valerie Lane, sustainability coordinator for the Solid Waste Division of Dunedin, is a pile of containers destined for recycling. Lane is responsible for boosting Dunedin's recycling program and seeking accreditation from the Florida Green Building Coalition.
[Ted McLaren | Times]

DUNEDIN - Valerie Lane's fascination with the environment began more than a decade before Al Gore and Prius hybrids were in vogue.

She started by picking up litter in her Stuarts Draft, Va., neighborhood.

In the sixth grade, she wrote a poem about the excessive waste in the world:

Trash, trash, everywhere no one even seems to care.

Now she is 24 and has found a way to put her concern for the environment to practical use. In August, the city hired Lane, a Dunedin High School and University of South Florida graduate, to make the city more environmentally friendly.

In her role as Dunedin's first sustainability coordinator, Lane is responsible for boosting Dunedin's recycling program and seeking accreditation from the Florida Green Building Coalition. The city's Community Center is already certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The city's overall goal is to change the way it does business, said Doug Hutchens, the director of public works and utilities.

In addition to hiring Lane, he said, the city is also looking at using biodiesel and replacing old city vehicles with ones that are hybrid or electric.

Lane's position was created from a vacancy in the solid waste department. She is paid $38,521 a year.

"I think she's very dynamic," Hutchens said of Lane. "She's well-spoken. She has that youthful energy. The most important aspect is, I think she has a passion for the environment."

Lane came to the city after working for Pinellas County in the solid waste department for less than two years, where she was responsible for education and outreach efforts for recycling. Her new job broadens her responsibilities.

"In my mind, I can be more effective on a smaller scale," she said of her move to the city. "I can get into every school in Dunedin. I can't get into every school in Pinellas County."

Since assuming her new role, Lane has worked with Dunedin High School's ROTC members to bring recycling to the campus.

She also helped establish a new energy policy at the city. As a result of her findings, City Manager Robert DiSpirito wrote a memo to all city employees earlier this month telling them to take certain steps to reduce energy costs, including unplugging cell phone chargers and other electrical equipment when not in use, and turning off all building lights at the end of the day or in empty rooms.

Lane has also been tasked with expanding the city's recycling program by 8 to 10 percent in fiscal year 2008. She said she wants to target commercial and multi-family structures, which she said is an untapped market.

But her main responsibility now is getting Florida Green Building Coalition certification for the city by the end of this year.

The program started three years ago and gives municipalities points for incorporating environmentally friendly methods. If a government acquires enough points, it will be certified as a green city.

The process requires constant documentation, she said. She has been meeting with department heads to determine what the city is already doing and what they can be doing better.

Progress Energy is helping the city determine energy consumption in city facilities.

"The real value of going through this program is it makes you look at what you're doing," Lane said.

Most of the programs and initiatives Lane has implemented will give the city points toward accreditation as a green local government. They include:

- Removing invasive plants at Hammock Park.

- Organizing a cleanup on the Dunedin Causeway every month.

- Promoting alternative transportation such as carpooling and bicycles for city employees.

- Requiring the use of green cleaning products in the Community Center with the goal of using them in all city facilities.

- Creating a page on the city government's Web site dedicated to sustainability.

Eventually, her responsibilities could include changing ordinances to either require or give incentives to developers who build with the environment in mind, Hutchens said.

The city has consistently been progressive when it comes to the environment, Lane said.

"But we've got to keep going," she said.

Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at or 727 445-4181.

Easy steps

Environmental awareness isn't just for local governments. Lane provided 10 easy ways you can go green and save money.

1. Use compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs rather than incandescent and recycle them once they're spent.

2. Unplug your phone charger or other electronics when not in use (they still use energy when plugged in).

3. Reuse items. Take advantage of your local library and thrift store. Use a canvas bag for grocery shopping, reuse or recycle plastic bags (many grocery stores have recycling bins for bags).

4. Set your thermostat higher in the summer, lower in winter.

5. Stay away from toxic products or, better yet, use green cleaning products.

6. Put air in your water. A faucet aerator feels the same but uses less water.

7. Buy locally grown food and organically grown food.

8. Switch to rechargeable batteries and recycle them once they're spent. Visit the county's Web site - - for recycling locations.

9. Buy Energy Star appliances.

10. Drink tap water instead of bottled. Tap water is more regulated to ensure quality and is cheaper, too. Plus think about the oil required to make plastic bottles and the impacts of transporting bottled water.

[Last modified October 29, 2007, 21:29:07]

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