Nyssa Rivera works for the City of Forest Grove, OR. Her column will walk you through the creation and adoption of a sustainability plan.
Gaining Support for a Sustainability Plan
In October of 2011, the City of Forest Grove convened a Sustainability Institute which was attended by sixteen residents. These residents became the members of the initial Sustainability Ad Hoc Committee. This Committee was tasked with defining sustainability and why it was important for Forest Grove citizens. The development and eventual adoption of the Plan required several years, the formal establishment of a Sustainability Commission, and a highly involved citizenry.
Defining a Focus
Defining the focus of the plan was a key first step. Local governments may choose to focus on internal City operations, environmental efforts, or encompass the whole community. Forest Grove citizens and staff decided to focus on a community wide plan. (Link: Why Sustainability?)
In order to understand community needs, gathering citizen input became a crucial step. Staff held a series of in-person summits to encourage citizen input. From feedback gathered at the summits, the Committee developed a definition of sustainability that was substantially broader than environmental initiatives. Citizens wanted their Sustainability Action Plan to address not only environmental, but also social, economic, and cultural needs of the community.
Citizens, participating in the summits, were instrumental in developing six focus areas for the Plan to address. The seventh focus area was later added with the hope of getting the Forest Grove School District involved in sustainability initiatives as well. Together these focus areas are:
- Material Management
- Energy Conservation and Green Buildings
- Social Equity
- Natural Resources
- Sustainable Schools and Education
Following the public outreach, the Committee and staff had a clear understanding of the community’s definition of sustainability and the key areas to address.
The Committee next focused on developing action items for each of the seven focus areas. To achieve this, citizens are surveyed at Forest Grove’s Annual Town Meeting. Citizens were led through an “action-oriented session designed to gather input and ideas from community members on priority ares of sustainability such as water, transportation, health, education, energy, and solid waste and recycling.” All feedback was considered for how/if it could fit into the plan. The Committee met on several occasions to debate the direction of the plan and how they could best represent the community. Eventually, the healthy discussion lead to the formulation of the Sustainability Action Plan
In October 2013, the City Council had its chance to debate the merits of the proposed plan. The Council agreed to accept the plan and formally established the Forest Grove Sustainability Commission. The Commission was tasked with working with City staff to update the Plan, and most importantly, prepare the plan for formal adoption by the Council at a later date. A year later, the Council formally adopted the plan.
Forest Grove’s experience in developing a sustainability is applicable to other organizations. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as doing a “find and replace” to change Forest Grove to the name of your organization. Each sustainability plan will be unique but here are a few important takeaways.
Decide on a Focus: Is it going to be an internal plan that is concentrated on city operations? Or is it going to involve the community as a whole? This is a very important distinction that needs to be made early on in the process.
All Encompassing = Citizen Led: If your City decides to create an all-encompassing Sustainability Action Plan, it should primarily be a citizen-led effort. Citizen involvement is vital because initiatives outlined in a sustainability plan will not be in the traditional purview of City operations.
Internal = Staff Led: If a City wants to develop and implement a Plan that is primarily focused on internal sustainability initiatives City staff should take an active role in the plan’s development. Regardless, both approaches will require citizen and staff involvement to the extent of which is determined by what kind of plan the City wishes to pursue.
It Takes a Community: Regardless of who leads the plan, a successful plan is dependent on commission members, local organizations, as well as the City.
In my next blog posting, I will discuss the elements of the Forest Grove’s Sustainability Action Plan and how it complements other city plans.