Fairfield Goes Green! | Small Town Gets Major Greenification

Interview by Michael Halley

Fairfield City Councilman Michael Halley works with Sustainability Coordinator Scott Timm on a host of green projects for the city.

Fairfield is on a fast track for becoming a model green city! About a year ago, the city hired Scott Timm as Sustainability Coordinator to oversee a host of exciting new projects. Councilman Michael Halley recently chatted with Scott about the numerous Go-Green initiatives they’ve been working on.

Michael Halley: I know you’ve been very busy! What are some of the more interesting things you’ve been up to?

Scott Timm: Well, the collaborative projects we’ve tackled thus far have been really fun. We sponsored a workshop series in April called Backyard Conservation that covered composting, edible landscaping, stormwater management, and gardening. It was fabulous and we’re considering how we can continue these year-round.  

Michael: Yes, that was a great project. I bought a composting bin, rain water collector, and three types of berry bushes because you made it so easy to do. Ease of use is an important part of the Go-Green projects. How do you envision Fairfield’s culture of sustainability?

Scott: There’s already an amazing culture of sustainability in Fairfield. I think the challenge is finding ways to bring everyone into that way of thinking. That’s no easy task, change is hard—so we initially focus on common-ground issues and, like you said, make it easy. As it becomes normal, we continue to push for bigger changes. Beyond Fairfield, there is strong momentum in Iowa for sustainable city planning, which includes development of alternative energy, local and regional food systems, transit options, and emission reduction plans.  

Michael: On the city level, I’ve been working on a $480,000 energy-efficiency project to decrease energy use in all city buildings by 30 percent. We received a grant from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence to cover a third of our budget, and Alliant Energy is giving the city the same kind of cash rebates for energy efficiency upgrades that it offers to homeowners. The payback period for this project is only 7 to 9 years, and after that the city will save at least $90,000 a year in utility bills—and even more if rates continue to go up. How much can these changes reduce our carbon footprint?

Scott: We just finished the Green House Gas (GHG) Inventory for Fairfield, and I can tell you that our physical buildings (homes, businesses, factories) account for the vast majority of our GHG emissions. Our community’s energy use is directly tied to the burning of coal, for the most part, so measures to reduce energy use can have a great impact. As for financial savings—it all depends on the building. In my own home we’ve cut our electric bills in half and we’re looking at 40 percent savings in the Rec Center.

Michael: And the Green Business Council is totally focused on energy efficiency.

Scott: Yes, it’s made up of around 40 businesses, led by Ken Ross. This group has been working really hard on a program that will make it easy for business owners to make changes to their buildings that will bring significant savings with a quick return on investment. Long term, they’re working on Green Business Certification, leveraged purchases of environmentally-friendly products . . . really incredible work at hand.

Michael: Wow, that’s very inspiring! When businesses get on board in such a tangible way, it shows that going green is good for the bottom line.

Scott: And while buildings are the number one energy-use culprit, transportation in town is number two. We have a lot of work to do to improve bike-ability and walk-ability in Fairfield.  We’re working on funding for bike helmets, lights, and educational programs—we need to educate our children and adults alike on how to ride safely. Motorists need to be more bicycle friendly, and bicyclists need to obey the laws. I’ve found the Police Department to be very helpful in working on this. We have a fantastic and well thought-out trail system, but we also could utilize this system better. We need more bicycle racks in town and more clearly defined signs and street markings.

Then—really, we need to encourage people to ride, walk, or carpool rather than drive. The recent All Things Italian was a beautiful nod in that direction—many people rode their bicycles, we had electric-assist bicycles on display, and the Police Department on hand to talk about safety.

Health and sustainability often go hand in hand, as sustainable living means a healthy and nurturing lifestyle. Riding my bike to work is helping me to shed a few pounds! And speaking of health, there’s a great group in town called the Jefferson County Wellness Action Coalition, who were also on hand with us at All Things Italian.

Michael: I can vouch for the work that’s being done to expand walking and biking options for everyone. We’re also working on significantly increasing the amount of locally grown food available in our schools, restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, etc. Local food production and consumption are a big piece of the sustainability puzzle—what are some of the projects being developed here?
Scott: Elisabet Humble is working with Pathfinders RC&D and Hometown Harvest to introduce more local and healthy foods into school lunch programs. The public schools, especially Fred McElwee and his team, work miracles with their lunch budgets—and this partnership called Farm to School should help to reduce costs and provide more healthy ingredients for our children. There are also groups focused on developing processing facilities in town and looking at branding Fairfield as a source for local, organic, and healthy foods, which could lead to solid business opportunities.

Michael: That’s really inspiring. The city council recently passed an ordinance that allows residents to keep up to ten egg-laying hens on their property, as long as they follow certain guidelines. Councilman John Revolinski worked with a group of citizens who wanted to see this happen. It’s a perfect example of citizen initiative that results in more sustainable policy.

I know there are many more projects that we didn’t get a chance to talk about, so I want to give you a chance to just list them all. But not before I mention the new recycling contract I’m working on with Waste Management to change Fairfield to a single-stream recycling system. That means we can put all our recyclables in one big bin that gets sorted at a facility in Des Moines, making it much easier for users and potentially increasing recycling rates by 41 percent. It can also lead to commercial and apartment building curbside recycling. Very cool.

What are some of the other things you’ve got cooking at the moment?

Scott: I’m currently working on some grant applications, one for turbines and some GHG reduction initiatives, and another to create courses in energy auditing and weatherization. We’re finishing up the GHG report  and about to publish the City’s Go Green Guide. I just got back from a fantastic conference in Omaha on Sustainable City Planning, and have two more conferences to attend this summer. I’m also helping a group in Ames coordinate a workshop series and in a couple of weeks will be meeting with the other sustainability coordinators in Dubuque to “talk shop.” So, I’ve got a very full plate, but it is all fun and great work.

To follow Fairfield’s progress in becoming a model sustainable community, visit www.fairfieldgogreen.com.

Visit the index for more articles on green living.