Eva Glassman, seated, a recent Amity graduate, helped the town complete the application for sustainability certification. First Selectman Beth Heller was grateful for her volunteer work.
“You have in your packet a letter that we have received bronze certification!” This announcement by Sheila McCreven, the town’s communication director and grant writer at the October selectmen’s meeting was brief and to the point, and it did not speak to the amount of work – both volunteer and on the clock – that went into making the grade.
The state-wide program which aims to encourage sustainability efforts across the board, requires towns to look back as much as looking forward. For the bronze certification it requires participating towns – and participation is voluntary – to document all of their efforts in the last 10 years regarding environmental sustainability. Things like UI’s streetlamp program, the microgrid, the electric car charging stations, even the farmers forum counted toward the 200 points each participant needed to accumulate for the bronze designation.
“It’s a massive amount of work,” said Jon Gorham, the chairman of the town’s ad-hoc Sustainability Committee. However, the bronze certification is “a key to open up a treasure chest.” McCreven said that faced with the challenges of documenting all their efforts going years back, some neighboring towns such as Hamden threw up their hands. In Bethany, the all-volunteer committee submitted paperwork to apply for 100 points, but they were only granted 18. That was frustrating for them, but a warning for their neighbors to the south. If they wanted to attain bronze status, they had to put in the work.
McCreven found the solution by tapping into the pool of tech savvy Amity High School students. Eva Glassman, then a senior, spent her Senior Service Learning Program weeks last May at the Town Hall, working on an open space inventory. She came back for several weeks in the summer to help create a spreadsheet for the sustainability application. That required at times going back years in town records, trying to find the origin of a particular policy. The no-smoking policy in public buildings, for instance, can count toward the sustainability program, but they had to document when it was approved and instituted, then go out and take a photo of the signs and upload all the data to make it count.
“If we didn’t have the interns helping with this, this might have been a hill too steep to climb,” McCreven said at the time.
SustainableCT benefits participating towns in myriad of ways, according to the program’s website. For one thing it inspires municipal leaders to think in terms of sustainability and to encourage networking to allow an exchange of information and best practices. It creates community, such as the cooperation of the ad hoc committee and the school system. It encourages towns to track data and drive innovation. Economic benefits are expected to result from these efforts as well, leveraging existing funding, but also in making towns a more vibrant and forward-looking community.
Of the 66 municipalities that joined the initiative, a third attained certification so far, of which five are leading the pack with the silver certification. The first awards ceremony was scheduled to take place Oct. 30 at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) annual convention at Foxwoods Resort.
As for McCreven and the ad-hoc committee, they are already looking at next year’s focus. One area they will be looking at is the town building energy use, which includes the municipal buildings as well as Beecher Road School. The other focus area will be the “looming waste crisis,” she said, with an effort to increase recycling and reduce solid waste.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent