Rio Verde, AZ – The Rio Verde community has earned the Audubon Green Community Award from Audubon International, a non-profit environmental education organization. Rio Verde becomes the first community in Arizona and the second private community nationally, to earn the Audubon Green Community Award for their green initiatives. Members of Audubon International’s Sustainable Communities Program are eligible for the award, which recognizes environmental achievements and is an intermediate milestone en route to earning the rigorous designation as a Certified Audubon Sustainable Community.
Rio Verde’s accomplishments include:
- Food Sourcing and Landscaping- As a private community, Rio Verde is able to purchase community products locally and contribute to the local economy. On-site dining facilities buy locally sourced food and the community maintains rows of citrus fruit trees for community and public consumption. The Homeowners Association requires native vegetation to be used to conserve water and preserve the aesthetic and cultural character of the surrounding landscape.
- Long Range Planning- In 2008, the Long Range Planning (LRP) Group was formed to complete a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats assessment to guide sustainability efforts in the community. In addition, the group conducted a comprehensive community survey and developed nine initiatives to address areas like events and recreation, communications, landscaping, town center concept plans and resources use.
- Demonstration Site- In a cooperative effort between the Rio Verde Community Association and Rio Verde Country Club, a 10,600 sq. ft. demonstration garden is in the process of being created to highlight sustainability efforts in the community. The wildlife habitat and native plants area will showcase projects and practices that residents can help with and learn from. The goal is to demonstrate valuable ecosystem services with the intent that residents will be able to use such services in their own backyards. The demonstration site will complement the fruit tree rows, botanical garden, community center solar power project, educational series, and cultural events that make Rio Verde more sustainable.
- Outreach and Education- Partnering with regional and statewide organizations, Rio Verde has been able to publicize local events to education residents about resource use, healthy living, wildlife habitat creation, lawn reduction, and xeriscaping. Events such as the monthly Arizona State University Lecture Series, CPR training, health and wellness classes, and the annual “Green and Clean” conference have provided important educational components to life in the community.
- Resource Use- Rio Verde is actively taking steps to reduce water and energy use, use alternative forms of energy wherever possible, and improve water quality by addressing fertilizer and pesticide use. The Rio Verde Country Club utilizes reclaimed wastewater for irrigation, while landscaping crews use integrated pest management whenever possible. Additionally, the community center has been equipped with solar panels to power the center and pool area. To encourage alternate uses of transportation, the community emphasizes recreational opportunities, walking paths, and golf cart use.
- Citizen Engagement and Environmental Commitment- To engage residents and encourage environmental commitment, the community has extensive volunteer opportunities to raise funds, provide goods, and build homes in the region. To encourage a sense of place, volunteer committees have been created to partner neighboring communities, the Desert Botanical Garden, the Heard Museum, Habitat for Humanity, and the McDowell Regional Park.
“As the first community to receive the Audubon International Green Community Award in the State of Arizona, Rio Verde has demonstrated a strong commitment to the ideals of sustainability – economic vitality, environmental protection, and social responsibility,” says Suzi Zakowski, Manager of the Sustainable Communities Program. “With the surrounding natural landscape of the Tonto National Forest, McDowell Mountain Regional Park, and the Rio Verde River, Rio Verde has much to celebrate. It is a unique place filled with residents that care deeply about the place they call home.”
Sal Celona, Rio Verde’s Sustainability Coordinator, highlighted the importance of this project for the community. “We are very pleased that Rio Verde is the first active adult golfing community in the country to receive such an award! Our commitment to sustainability will enhance the life style of our residents and will serve to attract new residents to our community.”
After a community sustainability plan is approved, communities in the program may apply for certification in the Sustainable Communities Program by demonstrating continuous progress towards goals in the plan under fifteen focus areas.