Manatee becomes first Florida county government to be both ‘platinum’ and ‘green’

A visit to Manatee County's chiller plant in downtown Bradenton

A chiller plant in downtown Bradenton has helped Manatee County earn recognition for its "green" efforts. (Video from May 2015).
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A chiller plant in downtown Bradenton has helped Manatee County earn recognition for its "green" efforts. (Video from May 2015).

Manatee County is Florida’s first county to receive the highest “platinum” recognition by the Florida Green Building Coalition for its efforts in sustainability and conservation.

“Even though it has the word ‘building’ in it, it’s not just buildings,” said Diana Robinson, the county’s energy manager. From recycling paint, to using LED traffic lights, to having a fleet of electric buses, the ways in which the county operates its nine departments were scoured for ways to transform those projects into points for certification.

The coalition certifies governments, homes and commercial buildings for how “green” they are. Thirty-one Florida municipalities are certified and, while other certifications are pending, only Manatee County and the city of Dunedin were ranked platinum as of Tuesday.

The projects are a mix of old and new, Robinson said. The biggest energy-saving project was its chiller plant, which cut energy consumption by more than 7 percent and carbon emissions by 7.2 tons. A technologically savvy practice is using a drone with thermal imagery to figure out where county buildings have leaks.

Manatee had risen in the ranks since first receiving a “green” certification” in 2011, reaching gold level by 2014. Led by Robinson and Michelle Powers, the county’s energy and sustainability coordinator, they coordinated with all of the departments to learn about sustainable practices to hopefully gain more points and achieve a higher ranking. And this time around, the qualifications became tougher.

“We were seeing more and more (points) and were thinking, ‘Maybe.’ But we didn’t want to talk about it,” Robinson laughed.

Needing 71 points to break through to platinum, the county received 72 and was officially recertified on June 2.

The next step is to meet with directors and see what more can be done, Robinson said. The county reached a peak, “but that doesn’t mean we end,” she said. A major objective Manatee still needs to achieve in a time crunch is the statewide goal of diverting 75 percent of its recyclables from landfills by 2020. Robinson said the county is currently at about 60 percent.

To see a complete list its green achievements, visit www.floridagreenbuilding.org and search for Manatee County in the Local Governments section.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse