Water shortages, drought, and possible water restrictions are top of news lately in Arizona. As the business improvement district for Downtown Tempe and the manager of much of the public space in the downtown district, we have made it a goal to focus on water conservation. To this end, we have implemented a few changes with decorative hanging baskets that are realizing huge returns in terms of water conservation and cost savings.
A few months ago, we replaced 50 hanging baskets full of annual flowers that are attached to the lamp posts along Rio Salado Parkway with artificial flowers in order to conserve water. Yuck, you may be thinking - does anyone really like artificial flowers? But hear us out. Keeping the flowers alive October through April required at least 75 gallons of water per week. That equals 2,100 gallons of water over the season plus over 40 man hours per week to water them (total labor cost about $15,000). The cost of real plants for the hanging baskets is about $7,500 a season, so total cost of live plants in hanging baskets for a season is about $22,000 plus water. The only maintenance the artificial plantings need is about 20 man hours over the season to apply a spray-on protectant.
By replacing the hanging baskets with artificial plantings, we save over 2,000 gallons of water, reallocate the man hours to other cleaning tasks in the downtown district and the planting cost is a one-time cost every few years rather than a seasonal cost. In addition, we've significantly lowered the risk of injury to our Ambassadors since they no longer need to be in the street with traffic watering the live plants.
How the artificial plantings will withstand the long, hot Arizona summer is still to be seen, but the outcome is positive so far. We are conserving water and we're beginning to think of other options for lamp post decoration that do not require water or staff maintenance. Things like colorful lamp post banners, flags or even art created by local artists could be a possibility. We would like our next steps with the lamp posts to be 100% sustainable and we hope to tap into our creative community for long term sustainable solutions. We would also like to take a look at planters on the sidewalk and see what sustainable improvements can be made there. We're all ears for ideas so let us know what you'd like to see. With this first step in landscape water conservation, we learned that faux flowers only last so long in this hot, dry desert (the wind does more damage to the hanging baskets than the sun does), but we also learned that there are better ways to allocate staff time than to costly and wasteful plant watering, to say nothing of the risk involved in climbing up to reach the baskets on the lamp posts. We also learned that simple changes and adjustments can equal big returns for water conservation.
Downtown Tempe Authority is committed to incorporating sustainability initiatives as much as we possibly can into our office at Hayden House, our operations, events, and management of the public space in the downtown district. We have taken the Tempe Chamber of Commerce Pledge for a Sustainable Community, participated in Local First Arizona's project planning program SCALE UP and we are certified as a Local First Arizona Certified Green Business. It is a journey with still much to do, but we are dedicated to implementing green practices in an effort to modify our environmental impact and create a more resilient downtown community.