So the city, which owns its utilities, cancelled its previous utility contract and committed to an agreement for wind power through 2035. In 2015, the city committed to an agreement to purchase solar power through 2043.
‘It’s an American thing’
There have been other positive changes around the city — and some publicity — since the city’s switch to using 100 percent renewable energy. The mayor has been featured in national media outlets and several films.
“I’m a Republican and in support of environmental issues,” Ross said. “The future of clean energy is not just a Republican or Democratic thing. It’s an American thing. I think if I was a Democrat, it wouldn’t be as big of a story.”
Ross said he’s always supported clean water and air, but as the city has switched to renewable energy, he’s become more aware of and passionate about environmental issues.
“It’s just this cycle. You do a couple of things, and that generates more,” Ross said. “After hanging out with subject matter experts, I think it’s an admirable goal to try to make the world a better place than you found it. I’ve learned a lot in the last three years. I think I can do my part and try to be helpful. That’s the legacy I’d like to leave.”
In his personal life, Ross recycles at home and drives an electric motorcycle (he plans to replace it with a pickup truck, also electric).
As the city’s mayor, Ross hopes Georgetown will take on even more “green” efforts. He was inspired, during a trip to Canada, by the sorting and compost bins he saw in Canadian restaurants. He’s hoping the schools and restaurants in Georgetown will adopt the same methods. City officials also are working to reduce the waste produced during their annual Red Poppy Festival to zero percent.
“The best example of the conversation changing is at the city council and mayoral level,” Briggs said. “It was never a part of the conversation before the renewable contracts. Since they began, it’s opened up doors.”
Toy stores, it turns out, pair well with ice cream
Businesses around the city have also embraced the city’s shift to renewable energy in their marketing efforts and business models, city staff members said.
Soeffker, who owns All Things Kids, a toy store in downtown Georgetown, was already exclusively selling toys that don’t use batteries. But when the city moved to renewable energy, she and her family decided to convert one-third of their toy store into an ice cream parlor.
“The equipment uses a large amount of electricity, but we now have a reasonable source of power that is low cost,” Soeffker said.
She and her family had been looking for a way to increase foot traffic and meet the citizens’ request for ice cream options in downtown Georgetown. Since beginning to serve ice cream about a year ago, All Things Kids has increased its revenue by 128 percent “just by adding what I call ‘green ice cream’” Soeffker said.
The store is also using recyclable cups and spoons to serve their ice cream in. “It has to be contagious because you can’t be in a city that’s 100 percent renewable and contribute with products that aren’t recyclable,” Soeffker said. “Kids are very aware of what’s happening in the city and talking about it. It is very unusual to have a city like this in Texas, but we’re raising the next generation of adults that are going to be conscientious.”
A source of Texas pride
The city’s shift to renewable energy is also helping national companies with locations in Georgetown advance their sustainability goals.
“We have always, as a hotel, promoted Georgetown’s responsible environmental status,” said Healy, general manager of the Sheraton Austin Georgetown Hotel and Conference Center. “As the city has moved to 100 percent renewable, we’ve promoted it to guests. It also works with the strategy of our parent company, Marriott International, of environmental responsibility: to achieve a minimum of 30 percent of renewable energy use.”
The hotel is also working on achieving LEED Gold certification for its “green” features, and Healy thinks the city’s overall movement will inspire other investments, like converting the pool heating source to solar power. “Georgetown is taking the lead on sustainability,” Healy said. “It makes our community more attractive as a place to live and visit. They’re considering the future and not just today.”
As a result, the hotel has hosted the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance Conference twice; its October 2017 conference brought former Vice President Al Gore to the city.
“All of the work the city is doing builds on opportunity for businesses to take their own initiatives,” Healy said.
As he reflected on the past few years, Ross said the biggest change he has seen in Georgetown since shifting to 100 percent renewable energy is community pride. “It’s truly a blessing to share the Georgetown story,” Ross said. “It’s my favorite story to tell.”
This article was reprinted from Wells Fargo Stories. Wells Fargo is committed to promoting environmental sustainability. Through their products and services, operations, and philanthropy, Wells Fargo is funding the shift to a low-carbon economy.
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