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County's environmental sustainability effort

By Lisa Brody


Oakland County is putting its money where its mouth is, hiring its first Environmental Sustainability Officer, Erin Quetell, who began this week with a goal of creating a sustainability plan for Oakland County’s operations and facilities and supporting local communities’ green goals, and setting a long-term goal of becoming carbon neutral by the year 2050.


Quetell comes from the city of Ferndale, where she was the environmental sustainability planner. Quetell said Ferndale is the only community in Oakland County, other than the city of Royal Oak, which has a half-time person, to have a full-time position in environmental sustainability.


David Coulter, Oakland County Executive, said “until you hire someone you really don't develop a plan, and that's what we hired Erin for.”

Coulter is seeking to build on the model of the Oakland County International Airport, the second largest airport in the state and one that is environmentally sustainable. According to airport director and Oakland County Central Services Director David VanderVeen, the entire campus is LEED-friendly, and brings in $1 billion a year into Oakland County's economy, which officials are continuing to grow.


“The main terminal is the first LEED certified, at the gold level, airport in the United States,” VanderVeen said. It was rebuilt in 2011 on the same footprint as the previous airport, using recycled materials. By using geothermal heating and air conditioning, VanderVeen said they save 45 percent in heating and air conditioning costs per year, more than paying for the investments on the 15,000 square foot building. In addition, there are solar panels and wind turbines.


Adding to its health and aesthetics, there is a living wall of plants fed by collected rainwater, and nearby a high-tech building which reduces noise pollution by over 90 percent by sending noise straight up in the air instead of laterally. Large thermaplane windows add light and are energy efficient.


Currently, they are replacing all of the runway lights with LED lights, an $11 million project.


Looking at the county complex in Waterford, Coulter said there is “so much more to do. And then, beyond the county complex, we want to go out to the county itself to help more and more communities understand (sustainability) benefits.”


Quetell said some of the biggest energy emitters are buildings, and she will examine how standards for renovations can be adapted, as well as for water quality and quality issues involving infrastructure. A large task will be planning and prioritizing.


“I'll be looking at efficiencies. Infrastructure is really important,” she said, noting that for some communities, it can be overwhelming, while for others, they're ready to partner.


“Energy is easy to track and to implement projects. I look at first energy, waste and water and how it relates back to people,” she said. “If you make it easy and accessible, then it's an easy translation to everyday life.”


“I want to help play a greater role in raising that awareness of what is possible and doable,” Coulter said of the county's role.

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