Dec 07

Seven Sustainability Breakthroughs at Pierce County

Posted on December 7, 2016 at 2:38 PM by Ryan Dicks

Amazingly the Office of Sustainability has now been a part of Pierce County for seven years. Under the leadership of Pat McCarthy, Pierce County employees have been able to do some pretty cool things that have made Pierce County a better place to live, work and play.

Air Quality

In 2009, Pierce County was violating the federal Clean Air Act for particulate polution. Tacoma/Pierce County had one of the worst wood smoke problems in the country. There were no easy answers but a community group was formed and they agreed that we needed to ramp up the wood stove removal program, educate residents about burn bans and lastly give tickets to people who were burning during burn bans.


Seven years later we have much cleaner air for all people in Pierce County. Thanks to support from our State legislators, we have removed over 4,000 uncertified wood stoves and we are no longer violating the Clean Air Act. This was a team effort and the City of Tacoma, The Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and the County can all feel good that our residents are healthier for this effort. Click Here for more information  

LED Traffic Lights

There is a lot that goes into reducing your energy use by 23%, but it is fair to say that LED lights have been our friend at Pierce County. One of the initial projects Pierce County ventured into was changing out all the traffic lights at intersections with LED lights. The energy savings were great (over 50%) but the real savings was even greater because the old lights needed to be changed out every 6 months, while the LED's are changed out every 7 years. So the savings from these LED lights include eliminating 14 bucket truck trips to every intersection in the County along with a Sheriff car protecting the effort.


LED lights have saved the County a lot and they can save you money at home as well. Look for rebates from local utilities that make them more affordable.

Fuel Savings

The Pierce County fleet has reduced fuel use by over 13% since 2010. One of the breakthroughs was understanding just how much fuel was wasted when we idle our vehicles. In 2011, Pierce County implemented a new Fuel Reduction Policy and instantly saw a 30,000 gallon decrease in fuel use. Idling our vehicles is bad for the air, bad for the driver and bad for the bottom line.       


Pierce County employees also learned fuel saving tips by taking the Office of Sustainability's Green Driver Training. The truth is that how you drive can save you 5-30% on your fuel economy.      

Electric Vehicles 

Pierce County dipped our toes into the world of electric vehicles in 2011, when we purchased three Nissan Leaf's. Pierce County Parks has since purchased an electric trash buggy and the much talked about electric Zamboni at Sprinker (that saves 1,200 gallons of fuel a year and provides cleaner air for athletes). 

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Electric vehicles are the future of transportation for Pierce County's fleet because they deliver more affordable transportation without the same amount of air, water and greenhouse gas pollution. EV's and biofuels will help us meet our 2020 goal of reducing fuel use by 20%.   

Online Permitting

A good website has proven to be an important sustainability tool for Pierce County. Thanks to the help from IT and Communications, Planning and Land Services has taken advantage of online and Skype permitting. The benefits are extensive for Pierce County residents as it is a huge time saver to get answers online and not need to travel to the Annex. Providing permitting online has also reduced in person traffic by over 25% at the Annex.   

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Planning and Land Services has also greatly reduced the amount of paper that is involved in permitting. A good website is critical to better customer service and can be a major tool in reducing trips for employees and residents.   

Fresh Food Program

Pierce County Farmers are mostly small in scale and thus it is important for them to find local markets to sell their goods. Pierce County started working with Terra Organics in 2014 to provide local food directly to Pierce County employees. Today the Fresh Food Program delivers to 8 Pierce County offices.    
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Looking for a holiday gift? Consider joining the Fresh Food Program, support local farmers, and make your family happier and healthier.

Recycling/Paper Reduction

In 2009, Pierce County only recycled paper in our offices. Thankfully Sustainable Resources and Facilities came out with a new recycling program in 2010 that has been successful in almost doubling our recycling. Pierce County Facilities and Parks have also started recycling outside our buildings in the form of solar compactors. These trash cans can replace several trash cans and will even send a text message to maintenance staff when it needs to be picked up. 


Information Technology and Budget and Finance also have been critical in reducing the amount of paper we use. The biggest complaint I got the first 5 years was the paper pay stub everyone got every two weeks in a sealed envelope. I'm happy to say those are long gone and we have reduced paper spend by 42% while purchasing 100% recycled paper.

Annex Trash Can Removal Contest

Today, Pierce County has a much improved culture of sustainability and innovation. We still have lots of important work to do but we have modernized our operations to save money and limit waste. The leadership of Pat McCarthy has been the critical piece that has made these needed changes possible. Thanks to all the employees who have worked on these and other sustainability projects over the last seven years. Your efforts have made Pierce County a better place to live, work and play. 

Ryan Dicks, Sustainability Manager  

Read more about the new Sustainability 2020 Plan by clicking below.


Sep 01

What You Can Do To Fight Climate Change

Posted on September 1, 2016 at 9:12 AM by Ryan Dicks

As the father of two kids I am often considering what our climate change legacy will mean to them and to their kids. At this point there is no doubt that human beings are heating up the planet and that these changes will not get better in our lifetime. Climate change, like a baseball player on steroids, is making extreme weather more extreme. 

Four recent examples of how climate change is making us less safe. 

Louisiana Flooding  Zika Virus  California Wildfires  DC Heat Wave

Did You Know? Pierce County government has a goal of reducing fossil fuel use by 20% in our fleet and reduce natural gas use by 50% in our buildings by 2020

The good news is that you don't need to make impossible changes to have a positive impact on the climate. In fact most of the stuff that experts suggest we do is pretty manageable over a 1-5 year time frame.

In order to minimize climate change scientists believe that we will have to largely stop burning fossil fuels by 2050. Because we have clean hydro-electricity in the Puget Sound region, our primary focus must be on limiting fossil fuel use in transportation.

Walk, Ride or use your ORCA Card: This may only be possible if you live close to work or have realistic transit options. If you can move closer to work you will save time and money and generally live a healthier lifestyle. Transit and ride share options in Pierce County are improving and will save you thousands of dollars annually if you can live car free.

Buy or lease an Electric Vehicle: In the next 10 years most of us will be driving these cars because they are faster, cleaner and much cheaper to operate. Imagine never getting an oil change or going to a gas station again.

Buy a Hybrid or Hybrid/Electric: Make your next vehicle purchase or lease the most fuel efficient vehicle you can get. If you own a Prius you are paying half as much for gas. If you buy or lease a new Chevy Volt you will likely only need to fill up every 1,000 miles on average.

Did You Know? According to the 2016 Sustainability Survey 83.66% of Pierce County employees are concerned about Climate Change and have or plan to make changes.

Take Green Driver Training in Five Minutes: The Office of Sustainability put together this short Green Driver training to make sure you are getting the most mileage out of the vehicle you currently have. Smart driving can reduce fuel use by up to 30%.

Limit Natural Gas use in Your Home: By switching to an electric heat pump you can stop using natural gas (a fossil fuel) and you will have air conditioning to deal with our increasingly hot summers.

Eat Less Red Meat: Cattle and feedlot operations have a huge carbon footprint. Eating red meat once a week or less is a good goal. Eating grass fed beef is an even better choice for the climate and the environment generally. 

While climate change can seem daunting at times, the rate of growth of solar energywind power and electric vehicles should give us hope that we can turn the tide on climate change. Let's just hope for all of our sakes we transition off fossil fuels fast enough to make a lasting difference.

Ryan Dicks



Jul 29

Get Outside Pierce County

Posted on July 29, 2016 at 8:46 AM by Ryan Dicks

What if there was a map of all the cool places to walk, ride and hike in Pierce County? 

With your help we will try and crowd source this map together. Below is a map that highlights beautiful places where Pierce County residents go to get regular exercise. As more and more people are counting their steps, finding new places to discover with friends and family is important.

How you can help?

Send me an email and let me know your favorite place to walk, hike and bike in Pierce County.  If you send me an email you will be entered to win a prize and more importantly you will help make our map better.
your favorite place.

My 5 Favorite Places

1) Chambers Bay Beach, University Place WA




2) Snake Lake, Tacoma Wa


3) Carbon River Entrance Mt. Rainier


4) Pt. Defiance/Clay Banks/Pt. Ruston




5) Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge