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Sustainability Runs Deep in Richmond

The Earth Hour City Challenge participating city wants to share its achievements and build an even greener future.

James River, Richmond, VA

To say that the heart of Richmond is the James River is not mere metaphor. The waterway provides lifeblood for economic development through adventure tourism and the many festivals held on its banks.

Today Richmond is one of 29 participating cities in WWF's Earth Hour City Challenge. But in the 1970s and 1980s the situation was far different. Pollution from tobacco plantations and chemicals plants had sullied the river to the point where fishing in the James River was banned in 1975.

Since that wakeup call, the city has made a stunning progress leading clean up and rehabilitation efforts that have brought the river back to life. By 1988 the fishing ban was lifted. Richmond has recently updated its riverfront plan to increase green spaces and give preference to private developers that commit to be stewards of the river. Outside Magazine named Richmond the Best River Town in America in 2012.

Lessons from the River

The city is now applying the lessons they learned from the river to how the city operates as a whole. In 2011, Mayor Jones ordered all city agencies and employees to become more efficient and reduce carbon pollution from government facilities.

More recently the mayor has taken an even bigger step by announcing the RVAgreen Sustainability Plan in 2012. The first such comprehensive plan for Richmond, it puts forward triple bottom line goals across five focus areas: economic development, energy, environment, open space and land use, and transportation. As Mayor Jones said during the plan’s launch, “The creation of RVAgreen was only the beginning. Now, the hard work of implementation begins.”

City leaders see participating in WWF’s Earth Hour City Challenge as a continuation of their commitment. “The City of Richmond wanted to participate in the Earth Hour City Challenge because we’re proud of our sustainability accomplishments and we wanted to share our achievements,” says Alicia Zatcoff, the city’s sustainability manager. “We know that we have a lot more work to do and the Earth Hour City Challenge is a great way for our city government and our community to get inspired to continue moving forward!"