Richfield is positioning itself as a hip neighbor to Minneapolis. Young people are discovering they can get a nice house for not a lot of money and still be close to downtown and other big-city attractions.

One piece of Richfield’s strategy is taking a leadership role in sustainability, an issue that surveys show is key for the millennial generation. Mayor Debbie Goettel and the City Council have been advocates for sustainability in matters large and small.

It can be as simple as pricing water and healthy snacks in city vending machines so they are cheaper than soda and junk food. Or it can be as ambitious as installing a geothermal heating and cooling system in a new city building.

“As we do the kind of infrastructure replacement that is needed in a first-ring suburb like Richfield, one of the things we think heavily about is sustainability,” said City Manager Steve Devich. When the city built a new maintenance facility several years ago, it spent a half-million dollars to heat and cool the building geothermally.

The new facility is more than three times the size of the building it replaced, but the energy cost is the same. Devich figures the city is saving about $50,000 a year on heating and cooling, making for a tidy payback. The city also renovated its ice arena for maximum efficiency, upgrading everything from control units to water faucets.

Several large sustainability projects are underway in the city. They involve complete rebuilds of city thoroughfares, including Portland Avenue and 66th Street. The rebuilt roads will include bike lanes, boulevards and sidewalks, encouraging residents to walk and bike for daily transportation.

The sustainable mind-set has also made its way into city schools, where healthier food choices have been added. A team from the Richfield South Education Alternative Center won the grand prize in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Recipe for Healthy Kids Challenge in 2011.

“Once you get an organization thinking about these kinds of things, it becomes part of your everyday thinking,” Devich said.