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CUNY Law hosts first Queens sustainability summit

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City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) moderated a breakfast meeting of private and public sector leaders Friday to kick off the planning for spreading his environmental green vision throughout his home borough.

The first Queens Sustainability Summit, hosted by CUNY Law School and the Queens Chamber of Commerce at the law school's Flushing campus, followed a legislative victory for the councilman last month.

On May 6, Mayor Michael Bloomberg approved Gennaro's bill to establish a permanent office of long-term environmental planning and sustainability. The director, Rohit Aggarwala a mayoral appointee, will create and implement a comprehensive environmental sustainability action plan for the entire city.

In his opening remarks at the summit, Gennaro highlighted some of the benefits of this new legislation for representatives from Sovereign Bank, a number of environmental consulting firms and businesses and members of the city's Council on the Environment, a citizens' organization in the Mayor's Office.

"By 2013, this legislation will mandate that all heating oil in the city include a 20 percent biofuel component," he said. "The bill also requires the removal of sulphurs, an ingredient in heating oil. We will then have a product that will burn 70 percent clean."

One of the challenges confronting this group are the stereotypes that exist in people's minds about a campaign to improve everything from the quality of the air we breathe to the greenhouse gases produced by city buildings.

"It's not about hugging a tree, but having and producing a healthier lifestyle for us and our children," said panelist Catherine Barton of Green Depot, which makes green building products to help establish sustainable building as cost competitive.

"The great thing is that you can show your boss you have reduced operating costs by paying attention to the environment," she added.

In May 2000, New York became the first state to offer an incentive package to developers who construct environmentally sound buildings, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

The Queens Botanical Garden used a variety of government-sponsored incentive programs to build a new visitors center and administration building in the summer of 2007.

"We chose to host the first Queens Sustainability Summit to express our commitment to the public interest and to strengthen our support for the local Queens community," said Michelle Anderson, the law school dean, in an e-mail statement.

The panelists represented a cross-section of society, including business, government and academia, said Pete Breen, senior project manager at EnviroTrac, an environmental services firm that has done work throughout the five boroughs.

"These groups, working in concert with broad grassroots participation, will best be able to identify and prioritize the environmental challenges faced by the Queens community," he said.

Jack Friedman, the Queens Chamber of Commerce executive vice president, expressed enthusiasm for a tentatively planned fall 2008 conference to include more stakeholders and community residents.

"I can't wait to start planning for what I now envision will become a model for other boroughs and beyond," he said.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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