January 28, 2020
Orlando's sustainability director Chris Castro

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"We really want to find out what's the carrot that will move the marketplace toward greener buildings because we realize greener buildings aren't just for those who live and work in them, but are also an attractor for business." — Chris Castro

Green Development

Orlando's sustainability director Chris Castro

Amy Keller | 10/25/2019

When he was a freshman at the University of Central Florida, Chris Castro and some fellow classmates approached then-President John Hitt with a request: Sign a pledge to make UCF a carbon-neutral campus by the year 2050.

Hitt said yes, and Castro served on a student sustainability task force and helped create an environmental non-profit to generate ideas. One of the group’s enduring legacies — UCF’s annual “Kill-A-Watt” energy consumption competition — challenges students to cut energy consumption in residence halls. It’s saved the school about $216,000 and 2.2 million kilowatts of energy over the past 12 years.

Castro, who grew up in Miami, where his parents operated a palm tree farm, now is doing similar work on a larger scale. As Orlando’s sustainability director, he’s overseeing Mayor Buddy Dyer’s vision to make Orlando one of the most environmentally friendly and sustainable cities in the country.

The city has set some ambitious goals, including powering 100% of city operations with renewable energy by 2030. By 2050, Castro says, it aims to power the entire city — “every hotel, every residence, every theme park, every house, every building” — with renewables.

To reach those targets, Orlando has been expanding rooftop solar on city buildings, purchasing solar power from the city-owned Orlando Utilities Commission, expanding its fleet of electric vehicles and experimenting with floating solar arrays. Travelers will soon see floating solar panels on ponds surrounding Orlando International Airport. And in 2018, the city opened an affordable housing apartment project on the city’s west side with numerous green features, including LED lighting, energy-efficient appliances, community gardens and onsite composting.

The city’s efforts are getting recognition — Orlando placed third among local government operations on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s 2019 City Clean Energy Scorecard. Castro in 2018 was named by Governing magazine as one of its public officials of the year. Along with Dyer, he also appeared in the National Geographic documentary “Paris to Pittsburgh” about how individuals are battling climate change.

Next up, says Castro, is creating a green building incentive program to encourage developers to build eco-friendly buildings. Real estate brokers tell him businesses interested in moving to Orlando look for green buildings. “We see this as an economic development strategy.”

The Florida Green Building Coalition, a non-profit organization that’s the state’s largest certifier of green projects, is headquartered in Orlando.

Ecopreneur: In 2012, Castro co-founded Citizen Energy, a Washington, D.C.-based clean-energy consulting firm that helps with LED lighting and other energy-efficient technologies for buildings. In 2014, he spearheaded a farming initiative — active in several Orlando neighborhoods — that turns lawns and other unused green space into micro-farms for families in low-income food deserts.

Leadership: “Anything we’re going to ask the community to do, we’re going to do first, and we’re going to provide that it’s not only cost-effective and fiscally prudent, but it’s also good for the environment and good for our community.”

 

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