Case Study: City of Tacoma

Tacoma is the first city in the US to be designated a Life Cycle City. To support the City of Tacoma’s Life Cycle Cities program, IERE performed LCA studies of the city’s utilities which revealed that, in general, Tacoma’s utilities compare favorably versus national averages. The City of Tacoma utilities’ life cycle environmental performance results are often many times cleaner than the national average, and this is especially clear when considering utilities’ carbon footprint. The city has commitments to reduce its climate change impact, and actions towards that goal are illustrated with these analyses. Ultimately, this environmental performance information will allow the city to understand environmental and cost trade-offs, as well as enable Tacoma companies seeking Environmental Product Declarations (life cycle-based Ecolabels) with an easy data source.

Tacoma_utilities

Outcomes (table)

The direct and indirect benefits of becoming a Life Cycle City are detailed in the table below.

Supporting materials

Tacoma LCC

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland with representatives of the companies in the pilot project getting their Environmental Product Declarations: Detec, 3M, Harmon Brewery and Richlite, 2010

Wastewater

Tacoma Wastewater treatment facilities have earned national awards for performance 16 years in a row.

Urban Clean Water Technology Innovation Partnership Zone

Tacoma gains state designation for Urban Clean Water Technology Innovation Partnership Zone, an IERE Project Partner.

It’s official. Tacoma now has an Urban Clean Water Technology Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ) designed to link university research with the business community and lead to the creation of new companies and new jobs for Tacoma-Pierce County.

The Washington State Department of Commerce announced the Innovation Partnership Zone designation last week. With the latest round of designations and renewals, the state has 13 IPZs. These are economic development efforts that partner research, workforce training and the private sector to promote collaboration that will lead to new technologies, marketable products, company formation and job creation.

The Tacoma-Pierce County zone was developed by a collaboration of business, research, education and local government leaders to accelerate development of a globally competitive, research-based urban clean water cluster in Tacoma-Pierce County.

Partners in the project include the City of Tacoma, University of Washington Tacoma, Port of Tacoma, Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, Tacoma Community College, Institute for Environmental Research and Education, Parametrix, GeoEngineers and CH2M HILL.

The Center for Urban Waters, on the east side of the Thea Foss Waterway, anchors the zone. The zone is bordered by the Foss Waterway, Commencement Bay, the Middle Waterway and a right of way, and East 15th Street. Satellite sites incorporate the locations of the University of Washington Tacoma, GeoEngineers, CH2M HILL, Parametrix and the Washington State University Puyallup Research and Extension Center.

The zone features properties available for development by clean-water technology-based companies. The Port of Tacoma is actively marketing 21 acres on the Wheeler Osgood and Foss waterways, prime locations for businesses and mixed-use developments.

Goals of the Urban Clean Water Technology IPZ include retaining and expanding existing businesses in the urban clean water cluster, and recruiting and attracting businesses that add value to the cluster. IPZ partners are taking preliminary steps to develop conferences and symposia related to urban clean water to bring global attention to Tacoma.

Analysis Details

The analysis was based on in-person visits to the utilities and data provided by the utilities themselves. The data were formatted into the Ecospold format and can be used for LCA studies for organizations wishing to model impacts in the city. They are especially helpful to Tacoma companies seeking Environmental Product Declarations (life cycle-based Ecolabels), because the environmentally favorable performance of the city utilities will be reflected in the environmental performance of the products.

IERE also performed a comparison of the city’s life cycle performance versus the national average for utilities. This analysis had many embedded assumptions and should therefore be considered as a screening comparison. Nevertheless, the analysis shows that in almost every case, the city’s utilities look compare favorably versus national averages. The City of Tacoma utilities’ life cycle environmental performance results are often many times cleaner than the national average, and this is especially clear when considering utilities’ carbon footprint. The city has commitments to reduce its climate change impact, and actions towards that goal are illustrated with these analyses.

There are only a few places where this pattern of substantial environmental benefit over the national average is seen. One is larger land use of the city power supply than the national average. This is due to Tacoma Public Utilities power generation from hydropower, which requires a great deal of land but provides very low carbon-intensive electricity.

The same kind of tradeoff can be seen at the wastewater utility, where the carbon footprint is low but the formation of smog is a bit higher than the national average. The treatment plant recovers methane from its anaerobic digester and uses it to heat its processes, but doing so releases certain nitrogen oxides, leading to smog. This process substantially reduces the carbon footprint of the wastewater treatment plant, in accordance with the city’s climate change policy. The city is working to reduce this emission while retaining the low carbon footprint benefits.

This is the first time that the city has life cycle information on its utilities’ performance, and the intent is to repeat and publish these analyses, thus tracking their environmental improvement over time.

These analyses of the life cycle impact of the City of Tacoma utilities were performed by IERE with funds from the National Renewable Energy Lab.

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