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Editorial: Sustainable green

Mayor Nutter has laid out an ambitious "green" agenda designed to reduce pollution, save energy, increase recycling, and enhance the city's tree-lined streets.

Mayor Nutter has laid out an ambitious "green" agenda designed to reduce pollution, save energy, increase recycling, and enhance the city's tree-lined streets.

The plan looks good on its recycled paper. The challenge now is to make it a reality, and get buy-in from residents and businesses.

One key to the plan unveiled last week is that it has specific goals and a fairly tight deadline, of 2015.

The mayor hopes to save taxpayers money, cut traffic congestion, clear the air, beautify neighborhoods, and even improve Philadelphians' diets, with easier access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Nutter believes his green initiative could give Philadelphia "a competitive advantage" when it comes to sustainability.

That doesn't sound like grandpa's steak-wit kind of town, but there's a lunch-bucket aspect to the plan, as Nutter hopes to double the more than 14,000 green jobs in the city by 2015.

There are millions of federal stimulus dollars in the pipeline for weatherization work already, so the market, at least for low-skilled labor to seal window and door cracks, seems assured. And any added job couldn't come at a better time.

In fact, the mayor's overall green initiative may benefit from a confluence of factors. Energy prices are driving a return to conservation, mass transit, and sustainable development. So it's good that government public-works money is available to let even financially strapped City Hall pursue Nutter's agenda.

So what started out under former Mayor John F. Street as smart brainstorming by city officials on ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions may now morph into an important economic development strategy.

Even with grand plans, though, it's vital that Nutter and his staff show an early positive return.

The city's budget crisis had mayoral critics challenging Nutter's decision to add top-level staffers to design a sustainability program while libraries were slated for closing. Not surprisingly, the first of 15 targets outlined in the Greenworks Philadelphia program aims to answer those critics:

By cutting city government's energy use by nearly a third, the city expects to save $36 million a year by the end of a Nutter second term. If that becomes a reality, it would be a good return on the investment.

Likewise, the city's goal of ramping up recycling dramatically would cut millions from its landfill tab. If steps can be taken to reduce storm-water flooding, both the city Water Department and homeowners will be saved substantial cost and inconvenience.

What's regarded as the biggest stretch in the plan is the target to cut citywide building energy consumption by 10 percent, as well as move closer to meeting federal air-quality standards.

To his credit, Nutter promises that his sustainability director, Mark Alan Hughes, not only will bird-dog the work but also regularly report on its progress to the public. So in a year or so, citizens will know whether Greenworks Philadelphia is the real deal.