JoCo on the Go Podcast: Johnson County Government's Sustainability Practices

On JoCo on the Go, episode #134, we honor Earth Day by talking about a few of the ways Johnson County Government is working to leave our community better than we found it. Hear from Johnson County employees who are contributing to more sustainable buildings, vehicles and business practices focused on reducing waste, saving energy and much more. More information is available at


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Time Subject
00:31 Introduction
01:41 Johnson County's sustainability program
03:11 Johnson County joins small number of communities in LEED for Cities certification program
05:05 Sustainability and the county's major construction projects
09:47 How the county utilizes alternative fuel vehicles
16:48 What does it mean to do work that is focused on sustainability?



Leed for Cities and Communities

WELL Building Institute


Jody Hanson 00:00

Earth Day is April 22. And it's the perfect day to highlight some of the work Johnson County government is doing to help protect our environment. Learn about how we design and construct buildings, manage our vehicle fleets, and find innovative solutions to challenges, all with a focus on sustainability.

Announcer 00:17

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Jody Hanson 00:31

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm Jody Hanson, your host and also a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. One of Johnson County government's core values is stewardship. The idea that individually and collectively, we're building a better community today and for future generations. We take seriously our responsibility to protect the economic, environmental, and human resources we have available to us across county government. Every day, employees are focusing on the sustainability of our own business practices, as well as the buildings we operate and build and the communities we serve. Joining us today are some of those employees. Brian Offerman is Johnson County government's sustainability program manager, Kyle Heltne is an Assistant Division Director of Planning, Design and Construction. And we also have Chris Butler, who manages our fleet vehicles. Thanks to all of you for being here today. So Brian, let's start with you. People might not be aware that Johnson County government even has a staff position of sustainability program manager. So let's start by hearing about your position and some of your responsibilities.

Brian Offerman 01:41

Sure, well, I might be a little bit biased, but in my opinion, I have honestly one of the best jobs in all of Johnson County government as a sustainability manager. My role is to lead the sustainability efforts of the county, act as an internal consultant to all county departments. And part of that responsibility is to convene our sustainability committee, which is comprised of leaders of the county's largest departments. And that's where we set priorities. That's where we identify collaboration opportunities, where we share resources to make how we do what we do more sustainable. And, and that's not just from an environmental sustainability perspective, which is where most people's minds instinctively go, but we also aim to be more economically and socially sustainable as well. But I think the best part of my job is, and maybe arguably, arguably, the most important is working with other staff at the county in their areas of expertise. And you'll hear from others here in a few minutes. But they are really, really good at what they do and I get to bring a sustainability angle to their work to say, reduce waste or energy consumption or save money by finding efficiencies with other departments. But just simply being a resource for the important work that goes on every day in Johnson County is a great use of my time and energy.

Jody Hanson 03:11

And I think there you just kind of spoke of some of the focus areas that the Sustainability Committee is currently working on reducing waste or saving energy. Do you have any specific examples of some efforts where the county has focused on?

Brian Offerman 03:25

Sure. Well, over the last couple of years, really, we've been focused on leading by example, and by getting our own house in order, and it helps we always talk about it helps to think about who we are as an organization. And within Johnson County, Johnson County government is a top five major employer. We are a major landowner, we are a major energy user, mostly because we operate a major utility in Johnson County wastewater, and that leaves a lot of responsibility. But it also allows for a lot of opportunity to impact the use of our resources, whether those are land resources, water resources, human resources, and so on. But just a couple of ways we gauge how we fit into the larger Johnson County Community, in the LEED for Cities certification program, which we are proud to have just achieved gold level in only the 25th local government in the world to achieve the certification. This event marks our community in areas like natural systems and transportation and quality of life. And then we're also completing the first community and operations greenhouse gas emissions inventory in nearly eight years, which will help guide our efforts in targeting emissions reductions specifically. And then the Board of County Commissioners just last summer, last summer endorsed, the Kansas City Regional Climate Action Plan, which puts our work our current and future work in a climate protection context and also maybe more importantly aligns our work with what others are doing in the Kansas City region.

Jody Hanson 05:05

It's nice to know that we're part of that that larger effort in our metro area with this focus on sustainability. Kyle, I know that you're a part of some of the major multimillion capital projects that the county has built in recent years. Things like the new courthouse, and before that the medical examiner's facility. So when it comes to construction of county buildings, how do we focus on sustainability? How do our efforts, what do they look like with capital projects?

Kyle Heltne 05:35

Yeah, great question, Jody. In facilities, sustainability is always at the forefront of how we design construct, and, even looking past those two phases, operate our buildings, so kind of that whole lifespan of a building that we see in front of us. So there are industry standards out there that are recognized worldwide, like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, also known as LEED, which Brian just spoke to there a little bit ago, from the community aspect. There's also the International WELL Building Institute. And both of these worldwide standardization, provide us frameworks and ranking systems that facilities uses as we start the very beginning of design of our buildings, and as I already mentioned, construction of our buildings, and then leading into the operation of our buildings. So some of the main elements that we, facilities, look at when we're working on these projects are energy efficiency, water usage, air quality, and choice of building material. Those are kind of some of the bigger ones that encompass this effort. There's many more to it than that. But those are some of the larger ones. So that's kind of how we focus our efforts when we look at these larger capital projects, or any capital project or any project for that matter, Jody.

Jody Hanson 07:02

And so I would think that, you know, there's a lot of benefits to that, you know, not only saving energy, which saves money, but also just benefits to the community at large. I guess, could you talk a little bit about why are we focused on sustainability measures with our buildings?

Kyle Heltne 07:18

Yeah, so I would say there's also the social aspect of it, there's the, you know, healthy mind, healthy person aspect of designing and building structures around this thought process. I would also, you know, just like, you know, you touched on the energy component of it, you I touched on the mind component of it. So those are two, some of the main ones that come to my mind right now.

Jody Hanson 07:46

And then I know, it's not only building buildings, but in some cases, we need to take down buildings. And so we did that pretty recently, after we opened the new courthouse, it was time to take the old courthouse down. And I know that sustainability was on your mind with that project. So tell us about the results there.

Kyle Heltne 08:04

Yeah. So to tell you the truth on that one, it was a little surprising for me, it was the demolition of the building was more involved than I imagined. I thought once the new courthouse went up, the old courthouse will come down. But it was a lot more involved than that and especially from a sustainability standpoint. So some of the items that we looked at before demolishing the building is we went through an extensive inventory process, looking at articles or items within that building, and then measured if they could be repurposed in another county facility, or put in our warehouse for storage for future use or recycled. So there was that component of the items that were in the building. And then there was also the recycling components. And there were some large pieces of equipment, mechanical, electrical, plumbing equipment within the facility that we could recycle. There was also some historical valuable items that we were able to pull out of the building, select pieces of marbles, some original light fixtures, some items add some really neat stories behind them that we partnered with Johnson County museums on that effort as well. So some of the some of the big numbers, though, that are kind of eye popping to me when we look back at the demolition of the courthouse is that we there was approximately 11 million pounds of brick, concrete and metal that were demolished through the demolition process. And of that 11 million, excuse me, approximately 75% of the materials were recycled in various ways or diverted from landfill, Jody.

Jody Hanson 09:47

That is that's a great result. That's a great number to hear that such a small amount had to go in the landfill, and we were able to repurpose or recycle all those other materials. That's great work. We should, taxpayers in the county, should feel good about that, I would say. So Chris, let's talk to you a little bit about vehicles. So just in recent years, we've been hearing more about hybrid or electric vehicles. Whether it's, you know, car commercials, or maybe we know people who have made that purchase, made that switch. So when it comes to the county and our fleet of vehicles, what is our thought on sustainability with our fleet?

Chris Butler 10:27

Sure, well, thank you for having me, I really do appreciate this. This is something that I have a lot of passion behind. You mentioned that, you know, recently, there's been more discussion, especially with electric vehicles coming more to the forefront of the automotive industry. Sustainability and vehicles is something that the county has been focused on at least acknowledging and trying to do our part with for many, many years. We currently have, we push somewhere between 450 and 500, on road vehicles, light, medium and heavy duty vehicles at any given time right now in our fleet. And of those 109 of those vehicles fall under the Department of Energy's definition of alternative fuel vehicles. And while electric is what's right now the at the forefront. Our vehicles include flex fuel vehicles, that can run off of E85, other types of fuels, compressed natural gas vehicles, which we've made some significant investment in infrastructure and in the past, hybrid electric vehicles, which are gas and electric. And then now we're starting to move towards EVs as a lot of the population in America is right now. In terms of EVs, we currently have one fully electric vehicle that is in our fleet, but we have four others that are on order. And we're following along with that, we're also working with our Planning Design Group, within facilities to identify places that we can put in electric vehicle charging, and try and have impact for kind of what we like to call behind the fence, fleet vehicles. So not necessarily public charging, the charging stations for our own fleet vehicles, so that we can actually put those vehicles out into use and know that we can charge our own vehicles for use behind the fence. So that is what we're doing. And in terms of what we have going on, for our sustainability plan. We're continuing to develop that. And I'm working with Brian Offerman, who spoke earlier, with Department of Health and Environment. And we're trying to make sure that we do align with the Regional Climate Action Plan with best practices that are going on around the country, and trying to make sure that we identify some measurable, defined measurable benchmarks that we can see where we're at today, see where we're at tomorrow, and where we want to go in the future.

Jody Hanson 12:58

I was wondering about the county employees who drive those vehicles who operate those vehicles. Is there any kind of a learning curve? Or do you get any kind of reaction from them when they're switching to that kind of vehicle? Tell us a little bit about the reaction you get from staff.

Chris Butler 13:14

We really haven't had that much impact when it is something like a compressed natural gas vehicle where the fueling of that vehicle is a little bit different, we do try and make sure that we have make sure that we have training for those individuals who are going to be operating those vehicles so that they understand the dynamics of what it takes to do that. EVs again as we start to pull more fully electric vehicles and we will do that same type of training. And, you know, our hope is to find places where we can expose more people EVs, right, now they're assigned the EV we have is assigned to an individual, what we want to do is we want to get them out more into our workforce. So more people have exposure to them, normalize the EVs and the EV process and what it takes just to kind of educate and help kind of expand that knowledge base on what it means to drive an EV or an alternative fuel vehicle.

Jody Hanson 14:13

And you mentioned compressed natural gas or CNG. And I can remember a few years ago being at a ribbon cutting for a CNG fueling station, I think it was a partnership between the county and the city of Olathe. And so I was just curious, what is the status of that facility and what is it used for?

Chris Butler 14:29

You bet we currently have three CNG stations within the county the one that you were speaking of was a cooperative project between the city of Olathe and Johnson County. It is the facility kind of straddles two property lines one city but later on one with our transit department. That side is utilized primarily for fueling of transit on the county side but of transit vehicles and buses. And on the Olathe side, it is fueling their trash fleet and the other vehicles that they have. It also serves as redundancy, which means that we basically have another CNG station right across the street. If there were any operational issues with either one of those facilities, we're able to back each other up. So we have a full time facility operating on both sides of the street. And we can always make sure that you know, those critical services like transit and like trash, can get fuel when we can feel comfortable with those vehicles using an alternative fuel like compressed natural gas. One of the really exciting things that we started doing 2021 is we actually partnered, we found that we had an opportunity to utilize our infrastructure a little bit to expand the use, we had capacity in our ability to fuel vehicles, we found a partner in the City of Olathe in the Olathe school district. And they have converted 30 of their buses, for student buses, to compressed natural gas. And we are now utilizing our station to fuel those buses as well. So not just our fleet, but also helping out in the community. And we're really excited to be able to do that.

Jody Hanson 16:17

Yeah, it's always nice to hear about these partnerships where different organizations can share a resource. So there's not that redundancy where every jurisdiction would need its own fueling station. I mean, it's nice that that's being shared, it seems like a great example of collaboration.

Chris Butler 16:33

Yeah, it really is. And it's been a great partnership. And they, I feel very good about it, just like with our City of Olathe partnership. We all work so well together, and we appreciate each other and it's been, it's been very good so far.

Jody Hanson 16:48

Well, I guess my last question is really for all of you, if you each want to want to answer this one. Why is it important that you work for an organization like Johnson county government, who really emphasizes sustainability and stewardship and protecting of our resources? What does that mean to you as an employee?

Brian Offerman 17:09

Well, I'm happy to start with that one as somebody with sustainability program manager in their title, I'm very appreciative that the county takes this very seriously, but, but honestly, there is a tremendous amount of pride that the local county government in the county that I live in, has a sustainability program and a sustainability manager. I've spent a whole career in sustainability. And I've gone all over the country and all over the world, doing projects in this arena. I under appreciated the impact of working in my own backyard, and working on projects that were funded by my own taxes, projects that I could drive my kids by and say I had an impact on it is tremendously with a tremendous amount of pride that, that that I feel Johnson County takes this seriously enough to have this program. And that's, that's honestly just the way I feel about it. And as part of our Pillars of Performance, as part of our organization it’s part of who we are, there are only three positions like mine in the whole Kansas City, Kansas City region, as a sustainability manager, and Johnson County has one. So to give you a sense of the level of commitment that Johnson County has to it. It's rare, and it's much appreciated.

Kyle Heltne 18:39

Yeah, I can go next there. Sorry about that. Sorry about that. Chris, I didn’t mean, to step on you there. So I kind of go back to a quote or line that I heard a while back, and I heard it when I started with Johnson County. And it's leave it better than the way we found it. And so this really resonated with me. And my role here with Johnson County with the planning, design and constructio division, and taking the opportunity to really look to create buildings in a way that will not negatively impact the future. You know, the future moving forward. And it's really fun and interesting to work on those type of projects. It brings a lot of pride. I think, you know, as you guys drive around, you can see some of the buildings that we have created. There's a long list of them out there that fall under this definition. So yeah, that's that's where I find joy in this Jody.

Chris Butler 19:49

Yeah, and I'm gonna mirror some of what Brian said in terms of being with an organization that cares about the community. I think it's important that that we're all aware and knowledgeable and responsible with what we're taking care of today and what we're taking care of, for our community tomorrow. Brian talked about his position being one of three in the metropolitan area. I think it's also important that the county is seeing the responsibility of investing in somebody who can take care of that, making sure that we're taking measurable approaches to the things that we're doing, and just being responsible in the approach that we have towards sustainability, both now and in the future. And I'm very proud to be part of an organization that values everything that we do.

Jody Hanson 20:42

Brian, Kyle and Chris, thanks so much for joining us today to talk about the great work you’re doing in sustainability. It's a great way to honor Earth Day. And, you know, in addition to the work that we do internally, within our organization, there are many programs and programs and services that we offer for the public to participate in sustainable practices, including recycling assistance, we've got a household. I'm going to start that paragraph again. Brian, Kyle and Chris, thanks so much for joining us today and talking about the work we're doing in the area of sustainability. It's a great way to honor Earth Day. And in addition to all of that, and more that we're doing internally, there are many ways that we offer our public and our residents to be more sustainable. We've got several programs, things like recycling assistance, we've got a household hazardous waste facility, a green business program, and that is just to name a few. The best place to learn about these programs and services are is on our website. You can go to Joe Cove and find out ways that you can maybe try something new in honor of Earth Day. Thank you so much for listening.

Announcer 21:52

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast visit Thanks for listening.