Reusable bags and electric cars may be trendy these days, but going green can save a lot of cash. It may be a pleasant surprise to hear some local cities are using eco-friendly tactics to stretch taxpayer dollars.
Multiple city leaders emphatically said they don't care for the term "going green." Rather, they say, efficiency goes hand in hand with saving money, not to mention a natural environment that so many love.
Many said small decisions every day make a big impact.
Mark Barron practices what he preaches as mayor of Jackson, setting out on a bike.
"Protection of our environment and protection of wildlife habitat is taken to heart by local government, local businesses (and) by people who live here," said Barron.
There's a lot at stake when that environment, near national parks, attracts millions of tourists who fuel the local economy. But it's just one reason Barron said he brought a green vision to Town Hall nearly 10 years ago.
"Three-hundred (and) sixty employees we had to convince that, regardless of your thoughts on electricity, gas, the planet, global warming, we operate on taxpayers' money, and it's their budget and it's their money that we're going to work our tails off to spend even more efficiently," said Barron.
Lights in Town Hall generally stay off. Motion detectors control rooms with people going in and out, and all those bulbs are energy-efficient.
"That was a 4.5-year return on investment," said Barron.
"No idling" signs and recycling bins surround Town Square. Barron said electronic thermostats help reduce heat drastically overnight, paper is reused by printing on the back, and the council chambers now boast two big monitors.
"So we wouldn't have to print additional agendas for the public," said Barron.
They're all efforts that literally pay off.
While tracking usage between 2007 and 2010, the city and county teamed up to trim electricity at Town Hall by 39 percent. Police alone used 49 percent less in gas.
"Very, very simple choices, and it really adds up," said Barron. "Thirty-nine percent is huge."
Jackson isn't the only city with green priorities. Fifteen months ago, Idaho Falls invested in iPads for its entire city council, saving thousands and thousands of sheets of paper from being thrown away.
"There's the agenda, and there's the first memo," said council member Sharon Parry, scrolling through her iPad before a meeting.
Parry loves the tablet. It's quite a contrast to the enormous stack of documents city leaders said each council member would get at each meeting before.
"I think in the long term, it absolutely will be a cost saver, not just in copies and paper, but also employee time it takes to get us all the documents," said Parry.
"To say we're saving paper is an understatement," said Craig Lords, municipal services director in Idaho Falls. "I don't know that's what's driving the issue. It's more efficient."
Motive aside, it's green. And like Jackson, Idaho Falls and Pocatello practice some of the basics, such as retrofitting lights and recycling.
"It snowballs, I think, as well," said Pocatello Environmental Educator Hannah Sanger. "We catch on, learn a new idea and, (go) 'Oh, this works.'"
The Gate City uses a couple of electric cars at its zoo and wastewater treatment plant, said Sanger.
"They do a lot of little, tiny trips here and there, so an electric vehicle is perfect for a short trip," she said. "Just plug it in at night."
Sanger said initiatives are in place to turn off computers at night. Employees are encouraged to bike to work if they can, and everyone gets a plastic water bottle.
At the end of the day, it's all about the quality of life.