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Seal of the City and County of Denver.



Guest Editorial
by John Hickenlooper, Mayor, City and County of Denver, Colorado

Sustainability in the Mile High City

Denver at dusk.
  The Mile High City at dusk.
Photo courtesy Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Sustainability is a central value in the Mile High City. By focusing on the interconnectedness of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of our policies and programs, we in Denver seek to ensure that our future generations will enjoy a quality of life characterized by environmental beauty, economic opportunity, and resource abundance.

As an exploration geologist-turned-small businessman, I learned early in my career that the best solutions often balance economic, environmental, and social considerations. As mayor I am excited to convert this principle into systemic action.

The City of Denver has supported innovative sustainable development strategies for many years and was recognized this year by the national group SustainLane as one of the top 10 sustainable cities nationwide.

Denver's LoDo.
  Denver's Lower Downtown (LoDo).
Photo by Randy Brown, courtesy Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Some highlights of Denver’s historic and ongoing commitment to sustainability include:

  • In the early 1990s, the City of Denver created the first Green Fleets program in the nation by purchasing alternative fuel vehicles. In 2004, we expanded the program with a biodiesel pilot for 60 heavy duty vehicles; and in 2005, we increased our use of biodiesel from one fueling location to four, putting the City on track to utilize about 500,000 gallons of the cleaner-burning fuel this year and to decrease the City's dependence on foreign oil by 4%.
  • Denver International Airport realized award-winning success in 2004 by becoming the first major airport in the country to implement an environmental management system—regularly recycling 19 substances and monitoring environmental performance for continuous improvement.
  • Denver is a pioneer in the use of light-emitting diode (LED) traffic signals. With the largest LED traffic signal inventory in the country, we saved nearly $800,000 in energy, material, and labor costs in 2003 alone, and reduced pollutants by an amount equivalent to the effects of planting more than 777 acres of trees or the permanent removal of 371 automobiles from local roads. Our City buildings use LED exit signs and are transitioning to more efficient indoor lighting sources, resulting in lower costs, longer life, better light, and less energy consumption.
  • We are developing new green building standards for all City buildings. Experience has shown that a small initial investment in design and materials will reap years of energy cost savings and improved worker productivity. Our forthcoming Justice Center—Denver’s largest capital project in nearly a decade—will be built to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standard.
  • Last fall, the seven-county Denver metro region passed FasTracks—the most ambitious local transit project in our nation’s history, with 119 new miles of light- and commuter-rail. Once completed, with a redeveloped Denver Union Station as its multimodal hub, this regional transit system is expected to benefit over half a million riders a day. Regionally, it is estimated that 51 of 57 FasTracks stations have transit-oriented development potential.
  • Denver park on Capitol Hill.
      Denver is among the nation's big-city leaders for the number and quality of parks.
    Photo by Randy Brown, courtesy Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.
    Denver is home to two national models of innovative urban infill development. Our former Lowry Air Force Base and former Stapleton International Airport have been redeveloped into thriving, sustainable communities, with diverse housing stock, vibrant retail opportunities, schools, job centers, recreational amenities, and open space.
  • This summer, we converted our citywide recycling program to a single-stream process, enabling us to expand the number of materials eligible for recycling and increase convenience by eliminating the sorting requirement. Thanks to aggressive marketing of our ReThink Recycling campaign and the active participation our residents, we have already recycled 268 more tons than during the same five-week period in 2004, an 18.5% increase.

It is important to ensure these are not random actions, but part of a larger citywide strategy that benefits all taxpayers. That is why we launched the City’s Sustainable Development Initiative this spring, to honor Denver’s environmental record and promote sustainability’s “triple bottom line” of economic, social, and environmental benefits.

Denver International Airport.
Denver International Airport.
Photo by Chris Carter, courtesy Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Our Sustainable Development Initiative is convening stakeholder groups, catalyzing new projects, and promoting the importance of sustainability. It concentrates on three main areas of activity—water, energy, and land use/transportation—as these basic drivers of economic and environmental health offer opportunities for government innovation and leadership.

The initiative’s earliest efforts have focused on water, a precious resource for Colorado residents and businesses. With increasing awareness of a potential regional water crisis, as well as debates statewide on trans-basin diversions, in-stream flows, and a host of other issues, it is clear that the decisions made in the next five years about the region’s water are likely to shape the next 50.

It is also clear that, while Denver Water and other municipal utilities are leaders in innovative water management approaches, there is also a role for local government to play. We can utilize best practices for conservation, identify cooperative opportunities with other cities, and advance public awareness.

Redeveloped Lowry in Denver, with home, office building, and airplane hanger.
  Redevelopment of Lowry Air Force Base in Denver is both innovative and successful.
Photo courtesy Denver Urban Renewal Authority.

One preliminary effort in this area has been our “Community Conservation Gardens” project with a youth water corps. Since more than half of Denver Water’s treated drinking water is used on private landscapes in the summertime, Denver Parks and Recreation—with help from our Workforce Development Division, Denver Botanic Gardens, and Denver Water—launched a program this past summer to convert four prominent public landscapes to model “water-wise” gardens. Local at-risk youth helped to build and maintain these gardens, while being trained in job skills for the growing green industry.

The second project underway is the South Platte Water Quality Initiative. Denver’s Departments of Public Works, Environmental Health and Parks and Recreation are developing strategies to reduce pollution levels in the South Platte River through aggressive intervention measures, monitoring, and public education. In addition to targeting problem storm-water outfalls, our Departments of Parks and Recreation, Environmental Health, and Public Works are coordinating efforts to ensure that ongoing maintenance and new capital projects in parks and other public spaces maximize water quality benefits wherever possible.

In the realm of public education and outreach, we partnered with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science this summer to offer a speaker’s series on the best ideas in Western water, featuring regional experts discussing their programs and possible lessons for our area. We are also engaged in a longer-term effort with the Metro Mayors Caucus to develop best management practices for water conservation in the region.

Denver International Airport.
Denver Mayor John Hicklenlooper unveils the "One City, One Denver" reading proejct at DEnver Public Library.
Photo by Marianne Goodland, courtesy Silver & Gold Record.

In November, the City of Denver will co-host the first national conference on peak oil production in nearly a decade. It is my hope, as a former petroleum geologist and as mayor, that this gathering will attract not only scientists interested in the world’s oil reserves, but also local and national policy makers and businesspeople who can help us be proactive in addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by potential shifts in our economy related to energy.

Denver’s history as an oil industry hub is well known, but we are fast becoming a premier center for alternative fuels. With the National Renewable Energy Lab in nearby Golden, the recent statewide passage of a renewable energy standard, innovative transit agencies like our Regional Transportation District, and many local companies focused on alternative energy sources and related technologies, we already have tremendous local resources on which to capitalize.

As our Sustainable Development Initiative continues to grow, we look forward to working with our local, regional and national partners to ensure that our efforts related to water, energy, transportation, and land use are successful.

There is an old proverb that says, "We have not inherited the world from our forefathers—we have borrowed it from our children." If we in the public, private, and non-profit sectors commit to sustainable practices, we will be proud of the communities that future generations will inherit.


John Hickenlooper is the Mayor of the City and County of Denver, Colorado. In April 2005—less than two years into his first term—TIME Magazine named Mayor Hickenlooper one of the top five “big-city” mayors in America. Hickenlooper’s passion for Denver began in 1981 when his career as an exploration geologist brought him to Buckhorn Petroleum, where he worked for five years. After the collapse of the oil industry in the mid-1980s, he spent two years developing the Wynkoop Brewing Company, the first brewpub in the Rocky Mountains. A respected entrepreneur, Hickenlooper was also involved with numerous downtown Denver renovation and development projects and is credited as one of the pioneers that helped revitalize Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo) historic district. In recognition of his efforts supporting preservation in Denver and downtowns across the country, Hickenlooper received a National Preservation Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1997.
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  City and County of Denver

Denver Botanic Gardens

Denver International Airport

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Denver Union Station

Denver Water


Green Fleets


Metro Mayors Caucus

Mile High City

Regional Transportation District

ReThink Recycling


Sustainable Denver Initiative


U.S. Green Building Council


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