Outdoor pavilion

How Lancaster is a World Leader in Being Green

Just last month, our hometown of Lancaster, PA became one of the first cities in the world to earn a Gold certification through the LEED for Cities program. This accomplishment got us thinking about how Lancaster City and County make it look easy “being green.” It’s true that our local region, thanks to its strong agricultural heritage and well-known thriftiness and ingenuity of the locals, prioritizes sustainability.

From farmland preservation efforts to smart, controlled development, to this new LEED program designation, Lancaster is committed to improving itself and doing its part of solving larger world problems, like climate change and pollution.

Today we’re taking a closer look at how being a literal world leader in environmental friendliness makes Lancaster a fantastic place to live.

Gold Certification from LEED for Cities

Have you heard of LEED? This acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and began as a green building rating system that’s facilitated by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED promotes the creation of healthy and energy-efficient buildings, and now entire communities, as well.

While the Gold certification is much like an award for good work already done, it also tasks Lancaster’s local government with tracking how it’s performing related to sustainability going forward. The city must remain committed to things like smart water and energy usage, proper disposal of waste, providing access to lots of transportation options, and giving residents a great “human experience,” which factors in things like health and safety.

According to the USGBC, Lancaster was chosen to receive Gold certification from LEED for Cities based on excellent scores in several categories they consider, but access to transit options and the fact that the city is small and “walkable” gave it a major advantage. Lancaster provides access to many transit options including bus service through the regional Red Rose Transit Authority and nationwide train service via Amtrak from its historic train station on McGovern Avenue.

The city is also pedestrian friendly while accommodating bicycle and motor vehicle traffic, as well. If you want to travel within the Lancaster area or across the country (or the world), it’s easy and affordable!

Sustainable Growth across the County

According to the Lancaster County Planning Commission, Lancaster County grew at a much faster rate than the state of Pennsylvania overall between the years 2000 and 2015: 13.5% vs. 4.2%. And our population continues to grow. Between 2015 and year-end 2017, our county gained an additional 8,773 residents (1.6% growth). This is mostly due to new residents being born, but it also accounts for people moving into our great area, like those who are discovering how carefree life can be at our local retirement communities.

We’ve talked before here on the blog about how Lancaster is growing, and although it sometimes appears that new development is taking place all around us, it’s true that the county is generally taking a sustainable approach to growth. Right now, planning experts are working to finalize a comprehensive plan that looks to what our county’s future could be in the year 2040, if we make good decisions about growth and development. These decisions include protecting our downtowns, our natural resources, and our precious farmland. Luckily, we’re already well on our way.

Farmland Preservation

Because Lancaster County is home to some of the most fertile farmland in the entire United States, efforts to protect our land and open spaces have grown along with the population. Lancaster County was the first in the nation to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland, which was achieved in 2013. This preservation effort started all the way back in 1979 and continues today thanks to the Lancaster Farmland Trust and the county’s agricultural preserve board.

Along with farmland preservation, water quality improvement in our local streams and the Susquehanna River have more recently become priorities. And the Lancaster Country Conservancy has been hard at work preserving the wild areas where locals go to get outdoors. The non-profit group’s holdings represent about 6,000 protected acres to date. (For reference, the entire land area of Lancaster County is about 609,181 acres.)

Greener Energy Production

If you’re a current resident of the Lancaster area, you have undoubtedly noticed the wind turbines perched above the Susquehanna south of Columbia borough. These turbines are a strong visual reminder that our local industries are also committed to being greener. Turkey Hill, the maker of ice cream and drink favorites found in grocery stores across the region, built the wind turbines in 2011 to reduce the environmental impact of their manufacturing operations. The company is working on a number of other ambitious green initiatives, too.

As you travel around Lancaster County, you may also notice lots of solar panels on roofs, in fields, and even on the exterior walls of homes. The second largest solar farm in the state is also within our borders, at the Keystone Solar Project in East Drumore Township. In fact, according to a 2016 article in Lancaster’s LNP newspaper (paywall; reader view available), Lancaster County was the cleanest energy county in Pennsylvania.

This has much to do with the local Plain sects’ reliance on “off the grid” power solutions, like solar energy. Of course, many county homes have also long relied on hydroelectric power generated at two major facilities on the Susquehanna River – the Safe Harbor and Holtwood hydroelectric dams. As the sun is shining and the water flowing, we’re making use of these resources to power our lives.

Adaptive and Creative Reuse

So far, we’ve looked at a lot of big, community-wide and business-related green projects, but Lancaster County is also filled with conservation-minded individuals who are committed to making their small corners of the world better.

Adaptive reuse of old factory buildings and warehouses in downtown Lancaster, as well as in our smaller towns, is one way people are improving their environments.

We can look to the current high-profile project in Lititz of turning the empty former Wilbur Chocolate Factory into housing and a boutique hotel. And, the nearby town of Manheim just welcomed a reuse project of converting a deteriorating former potato chip factory on its Main Street into a retro-themed marketplace. Similar types of exciting redevelopment projects can be found all over Lancaster County.

Creative reuse of materials and unwanted household items is another way local folks conserve and preserve (and often make money, too). Our Lancaster County culture appreciates creating art and bringing new life to old, forgotten things for the benefit of those around us. Entire businesses have sprung up around this idea, from hundreds of antique sellers at places like Renninger’s in Adamstown to funky artisan marketplaces like Building Character in downtown Lancaster. Lancaster’s strong thrift store culture is also built around the old green mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Green is Friendly

Here in Lancaster, we believe that being green is a way to show the world that we care. And we invite others to follow our lead, and join us!

As you consider great places to live in retirement, consider Lancaster County and our wealth of retirement communities, many of which have their own green initiatives on their individual campuses. Want to find out more? Get in touch with us here at Explore Retirement Living now. We look forward to seeing you soon in clean and GREEN Lancaster County, PA! In fact, it’s almost time again for our Explore Retirement Living Open House. Join us on October 20, 2018 between 10AM and 4PM as our local retirement communities open their doors for tours, information sessions, and a showcase of the best Lancaster County has to offer retirees!