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“Cool” People and Businesses Honored


This year’s Cool Cities award winners pose with their plaques.

by Gene Marrano

The Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition, whose mission is to cut the greenhouse gases that many believe are warming the planet, paused to honor some of those working locally to make a difference. Appropriately, the breakfast event was held at the Claude Moore Education Complex – a green, remodeled LEED-certified building that at one time was a movie theater on Henry Street. Cool Cities honored citizens and businesses during the ceremony, which was attended by Mayor David Bowers, City Manager Chris Morrill, State Senator John Edwards and a number of other dignitaries.

Cool Cities president Dr. Diana Christopulos said her organization was all about “smart, clean [and] renewable energy. We want regional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” Christopulos also said she was looking for local governments “to take some action,” on issues like wind energy. Cool Cities (which now has over 230 affiliates) has supported the proposed Bent Mountain wind turbine farm project, which many in that area oppose.

Christopulos said wind and solar alternative energy sources were cleaner and less destructive than mining for coal: “we want to stop blowing up Appalachian Mountains. We’re in the mainstream in supporting wind power.” Cool Cities is “very mainstream,” said Christopulos, noting affiliates as diverse as the Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce.

Christopulos also touted the “Cool Green Biz” program that Cool Cities and the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce rolled out several years ago, where local companies are encouraged to go green by meeting criteria on an energy-saving checklist. Among the Cool Green Biz companies locally are Novozymes, Breakell Inc. and Brandon Oaks.

The Cool Citizen Awards, in their third year, honored the Roanoke Sierra Club, Anne Marie Green and Jim Vodnik from Roanoke County’s general services department, Herman L. Horn Elementary School in Vinton for its work in greening the school, Member One Credit Union’s new headquarters, which is LEED-certified, and Katie Wallace of The Wallace Agency for her work with Roanoke City’s Clean and Green Committee. “We take a number of stands, some of which are fairly difficult,” said the Sierra Club’s Bill Modica.

Also cited were Cox Communications (which has worked to reduce its carbon footprint) and Roanoke City Schools – which ranked first in the state in a “Green Schools Challenge.”  The school system installed wind turbines at William Fleming’s new football stadium and implemented a system-wide energy efficiency program. Keith Weinrum (who evaluates companies for the Cool Green Biz program) and Steve Sunderman (involved with the Green Schools Challenge) were named as Individual Cool Citizens.

Ken Cronin, with the city’s general services department, gave a brief update on what Roanoke is doing to become a cooler place – from a mandate to build only LEED-certified (energy saving) public structures, to installing compact fluorescent bulbs in the City Market building and parking garages, and by making HVAC improvements at the municipal building. “We have really focused on reducing carbon emissions,” noted Cronin.

Stan Breakell (Breakell Inc. general contractors) gave the view from the private sector, declaring that renewable energy “is the future. There is a business case to be made.” Solar panels installed at the Breakell headquarters on Patterson Avenue should see a payback in 8-10 years said Breakell, a long time green proponent in the valley.

Adam Cohen of Structures Design Build, just off a plane from Austria, where he presented a paper on the energy-saving Passivhaus concept, said “a paradigm shift in designing buildings,” is on the horizon. He praised those in attendance for having “a vision for the future,” but worried that many of those outside the room just don’t get the importance of green building. There must said Cohen, be “a political will to make a change,” in the country.

Were they just preaching to the choir then? “We’re all patting ourselves on the back,” said Rupert Cutler, former Roanoke City Councilman and a past Cool Cities award winner, “[but] its sort of an incentive to keep going. We’ve made progress. Good things are happening, but not fast enough.” Cutler said people should vote for candidates who are ready to address renewable energy options. The long time environmentalist also noted that the city has a property tax break for those that install solar panels at their homes.

The people laying the groundwork when it comes to alternative energy and reducing carbon emissions are “pioneers,” said Christopulos – who started Cool Cities here in 2006 – “[and] they work so hard. Getting it outside this room … is [easier] through the younger generation. Those under 25 get it. It’s an evolutionary [and] gradual process. We’re getting there.”


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