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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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DMC has a 'Bright' idea for sustainability

DMC has a 'Bright' idea for sustainability

Much of the math related to Destination Medical Center involves adding. Adding investment. Adding amenities. Adding jobs. 

But for Kevin Bright, the key is subtracting.

Hired in 2017 to lead DMC's sustainability efforts, Bright is focused on finding ways to reduce energy consumption and curb the city's impact on the environment.

The idea is that Rochester can realize its plans for growth — but do so responsibly. In its guiding principles, the DMC plan challenges Rochester to be a model for supporting sustainable urban design and building practices. It also sets a goal of reducing energy use in the district by 25 percent in 2030.

The goals are aggressive, says Bright, but also realistic and worthwhile. "At the end of the day," he says, "we are working to ensure cleaner air and water, less waste, a dependable and robust mass transit system, and a community where all feel welcomed and are given opportunities to thrive."

We recently had the chance to catch up with Bright to learn more about his efforts to promote sustainable practices. Here is our conversation in full.

Q: First, tell us a bit about you and your role with DMC.

A: I have a dual position with the DMC and City of Rochester as their Energy and Sustainability Director. Across both organizations I work to create a sustainable and just community. Previously, I worked for 10 years in sustainability in higher education at Harvard University and Colby College. In both places, the focus was on creating a sustainable built environment, assisting or developing occupant engagement programs that focused on sustainability and acting as a change agent for the institutions.

My partner, Christine, and I moved halfway across the country with our two boys from Oakland, Maine. We are amazed at the trail network in the City, the amount of stuff to do each night and weekend, and really enjoy the Quarry Hill Nature Center. We usually end up there once a week for some indoor or outdoor activity.

Q: Since taking the job last winter, what have been your primary areas of focus?

A: I’d say the focus has been to learn as much as I can about the community and see what opportunities exist as it relates to new development, existing infrastructure and how I can continue to build a sustainability culture.

Q: "Sustainability" is often a buzz word used to mean a wide range of things. In the context of your position, what does sustainability mean?

A: We use a quadruple bottom line definition for sustainability, or one that suggests balance decision-making after considering environmental, economic, social and health concerns. I’m confident that using this approach will help improve community well-being and realize the DMC vision of creating America’s City for Health.

Q: Both DMC and the city have set some lofty goals for renewable energies? In your view, are they realistic?

A: I believe the goals are realistic and aggressive. Over the next 12 years, we need to realize significant resource reductions in the DMC district. Our approach has been to employ this thinking across the City and identify the programs and policies that will set us on a path to reach those goals.

Q: Can you give us an example of how your efforts through DMC have resulted in reduced energy use?

A: Sure, the clearest examples to date have been through the implementation of the sustainability standards that are included in the DMC plan for new construction. The Mortenson project in Discovery Square is designed to perform 20 percent below current energy code, which would make it one of the more efficient lab facilities in the City. We are currently working with other projects to ensure comparable energy and other sustainability outcomes are realized as well. With the City of Rochester, we are wrapping up a lighting and controls project at the MN BioBusiness Center that will provide some considerable utility savings. This year we are planning to conduct existing building commissioning and a lighting retrofit at City Hall that will also provide some considerable savings.

Q: We are beginning to see some large developments being built or proposed within the DMC district. How can we ensure these projects meet criteria that align with goals for sustainability?

A: A good portion of the criteria have already been set in the DMC plan, or CEE’s Sustainable Energy Options Report. The key now is to implement those recommendations and clearly outline the expectations of projects built within the district.

Q: How can Rochester position itself as a leader in reducing its energy use?

A: Well, actions speak louder than words. The city monitors its energy consumption using the state’s B3 benchmarking program and demonstrated results across its facilities is important. A close second will be to learn from others and apply those best practices to our City. Many of the initiatives and programs we are working on have been implemented successfully in other places, so whatever we can learn from others, particularly the areas that haven’t gone smoothly, are great opportunities for us to select the most promising programs for Rochester, and ideally avoid a few bumps in their implementation.

Q: Finally, perhaps the most important question: Why make sustainability a priority?

A: Why not? At the end of the day, we are working to ensure cleaner air and water, less waste, a dependable and robust mass transit system, and a community where all feel welcomed and are given opportunities to thrive. I think given its scope, the concept of sustainability provides anyone an opportunity to engage and for alignment.

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