By Emily Pickren
Earth Day, and by extension Earth Month, was created to raise public awareness about pressing environmental issues. It has evolved over the last 30 years to also document and celebrate sustainability efforts, which not only aim to protect and improve the environment but also promote economic resilience, social equity and cultural diversity. Much of this important work is being spearheaded by cities across the country, from Miami Beach, Fla. to Seattle, Wash.
Miami Beach was the first city profiled in NLC's Earth Month webinar series. Betsy Wheaton, Environmental Resource Manager for this coastal community of just over 89,000 people, discussed the city's Sustainability Plan, developed in 2011. The plan focuses on the implementation of a range of initiatives such as recycling, green building, water and energy conservation, alternative transportation and green economic development. The city has also taken a proactive approach to planning for climate change, as South Florida is considered one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change and sea level rise.
On April 16, Mayor Peter Lindstrom and Councilmember Beth Mercer -Taylor led a discussion on the sustainability initiatives in Falcon Heights, Minn. This small community of approximately 5,000 people is focusing on a large number of sustainability topics, such as energy efficiency through their bulk solar and insulation purchasing program, stormwater improvements and recycling. The city has also formed green partnerships with local non-profit organizations and worked with students at the University of Minnesota (whose St. Paul campus is within the city limits of Falcon Heights) to develop a sustainability plan for the community.
The City of Flagstaff, Ariz.'s Sustainability Director Nicole Woodman shared how their sustainability program was developed based on an understanding of local and regional issues. The program's mission is to serve the community and act as a catalyst for economic, environmental and social sustainability through policy development, project implementation, leadership and education. Flagstaff has a strong focus on community enhancement and enrichment through projects to clean up the Rio de Flag; provide space for community gardens; and implement innovative watershed protection efforts to reduce the risk of severe fire and post-fire flood effects on the community's water supply.
The Earth Month webinar series will conclude with a spotlight on the City of Seattle, Wash.'s sustainability leadership. On April 30, Sandra Mallory, Sustainable Building Program Manager for Seattle's Office of Sustainability and Environment, will focus on the city's green building policies and programs, highlighting the city's benchmarking program; green building requirements for new city-owned facilities; and the development of a resource conservation management plan for existing municipal buildings. Seattle has long recognized the tremendous impacts that buildings have on environmental quality, resource use and human health and productivity, and has developed innovative programming around this topic. Join in at 2 pm EDT on April 30 as we hear about the city's efforts and celebrate the conclusion of Earth Month!