Making Boston Green

Mayor Thomas Menino lays out an innovative new program.

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Cyclists aboard rental bicycles depart City Hall Plaza in Boston.

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While climate change policies are taking center stage in Washington, the city of Boston is implementing its own unique approach to reducing its carbon footprint. In May, Mayor Thomas Menino launched Greenovate Boston, the first program of its kind in the nation. Menino recently spoke with U.S. News about Greenovate's mission and challenges, how he plans to get Bostonians involved, and what he has changed in his own life to set an example. Excerpts:

What is Greenovate Boston?

It stems from a 2011 climate action plan, which had aggressive measures toward reducing global climate change. The goal was to reduce Boston's carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. We have some programs in place on that: housing weatherization programs, the Hubway bike-share program. We're doing green zone developments. But we need to get Bostonians to take part in the plan and get to work to help make our city cleaner and more sustainable.

How do you plan to get Bostonians involved?

We have public spokespeople going out to the neighborhoods and talking to them about Greenovate, talking about the solar panels, talking about the Hubway bikes program and green zoning. When you have something new, you have to educate the folks. You have to say it not once, you have to say it 10 times, and people get the idea of it.

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What's unique about Boston's Greenovate program?

There's a very strong partnership in Boston, unlike most places, where the business community supports most of the programs we put forth in terms of the environment. One of the things we did is lead by example, with solar panels on my home in Readville. By my doing it, people come up to me and ask, "How'd you do it? What's the program? And what did it cost?" In my own house, I get credit because so much energy is being generated by the sun. It's not changing the universe on this issue; it's simple things that make a very sustainable city.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced?

The vocabulary is very difficult for some people to understand. You have to change science talk into sidewalk talk. The public doesn't understand climate control and doesn't understand some of the words we use when we talk about energy conservation. We're going to make it relevant to the people in the neighborhoods.

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

What impact will Greenovate have on Boston's economy?

We'll be saving on energy costs. That's one impact. Energy costs, especially in the Northeast, were very high. By using these solar panels and other means of heating, it will reduce the cost. Also, reducing the carbon footprint is a big thing [impacting] health care costs.

What is it costing the city?

It's costing us very little. Here's the bottom line: Hurricane Sandy is an example of sea levels rising. How can we stop that from impacting cities? Look at what Sandy did to New York and New Jersey. I want to deal with that issue right up front, today. That's why Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston was just built. It's the most sustainable hospital in the city. They put all the mechanicals on the roof since it's right on the ocean. If the tides rise, they won't be flooded out or closed down because of flood waters.

Does President Obama's climate change proposal go far enough?

It's the beginning, not the end. President Clinton has had seminars all over the country on this issue, also. It's the beginning of a major issue that we must take seriously. If we don't take it seriously, it will gobble us up.