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Arizona Forward winners reflect a shared ethic to protect natural resources

Arizona US flag painted on old vintage brick wall

There’s a lot that’s right about Arizona! But not enough of us are talking about the good stuff. Maybe too few of us are aware of just how progressive the Grand Canyon State is in terms of creating healthy communities that foster environmental quality and economic prosperity.

Arizona now ranks ninth in the nation when it comes to citizens being physically, emotionally and mentally healthy, according to Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index. That’s up from the 19th spot in 2014.

Brossart, Diane

Diane Brossart

But wait, there’s more: Forbes named Arizona as the best state in the country for future job growth and second for population expansion; Money Magazine ranked Tucson among the five best cities in the U.S. for millennials; National Geographic has designated the Verde Valley as a geo-tourism mecca; and Phoenix took center stage at the first-ever White House Water Summit this year for an unprecedented partnership with Tucson to store and share Colorado River water during times of shortage.

The priority of green design and a shared ethic to protect natural resources and build in harmony with the environment in our home state is further demonstrated in the nearly 100 entries Arizona Forward received in our 36th annual Environmental Excellence Awards presented by Salt River Project last weekend.

The quality of work taking place in our state to create sustainable, livable communities is impressive. And it matters because zip codes have a direct correlation to our health and wellness. Studies show that 80 percent of how long we live is based on how we live – our lifestyles, habits and culture. Only 20 percent is based on genetics or our access to basic health care.

That’s why the 16 first-place Crescordia awards (a Greek term meaning To Grow in Harmony) and the 26 Awards of Merit we presented in what has become the Academy Awards of the environmental community are so inspiring. Winners span four major counties – Coconino, Pima, Pinal and Maricopa. Nearly 20 cities and towns were represented: Apache Junction, Avondale, Chandler, Coolidge, Flagstaff, Glendale, Goodyear, Grand Canyon, Maricopa, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Peoria, Phoenix, Safford, Scottsdale, Sedona, Surprise, Tempe and Tucson.

Northern Arizona University’s International Pavilion took top honors, the President’s Award (best of show), for its status as a building of the future. The iconic project is the first net-zero facility on campus, producing as much energy as it consumes on-site. Its environmental features earned LEED Platinum certification, the highest level designated by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The 10,000-square-foot facility serves as a dynamic event space for NAU and the Flagstaff community, incorporating three core values into its design: sustainability, diversity and engagement. It also brings NAU’s climate commitment to carbon neutrality one step closer to reality. Using natural airflow, radiant heating and an enhanced approach to daylighting, combined with a rooftop solar array, the building is among the greenest of its kind in the country.

REI’s new distribution center in Goodyear also produces as much energy as it consumes and has earned LEED Platinum recognition from the USGBC, a milestone for a building of its size and type. To achieve net zero energy, REI added a 2.2-megawatt solar array, more than doubling the co-op’s current solar production.

Employee comfort was a top priority at REI. The facility features an on-site gym, bike storage, physical therapist and cafe to support the healthy, active lifestyles of employees. Workers can also control their own microclimate through innovative hyper-chairs, allowing them to heat or cool their individual office chair for more comfort while using less energy.

The Governor’s Award for Arizona’s Future was presented to the Tempe Grease Cooperative for a collaborative involving 163 restaurants that manage fats, oils and grease by providing discounted fees for grease pumping services and yellow grease collection. The project mitigates sewer overflow that can pose public health risks and ensures the sustainable management of nearly 3,000 tons of waste.

Three southern Arizona projects earned first-place Crescordia awards, including Tucson Water’s Conservation and Education Program, University of Arizona’s Beyond the Mirage, and Tucson Water’s Advanced Oxidation Process Project.

There are many points of pride to talk about in Arizona. National leaders are watching closely as we align to become the poster child of sustainability. Make the good stuff a focus of your next conversation.

Diane Brossart is president and CEO of Arizona Forward, a 47-year-old environmental public interest organization that mobilizes the state’s business leaders and policymakers to leverage their collective power to influence how we best grow our communities, stimulate our economy and enhance our environment.

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