Betting on New Jersey's Future
Philanthropy is often criticized – rightly so – for not taking enough risks, for fear that we will “waste” our money on a project that doesn’t produce the expected result. Sustainable Jersey is a story about how Dodge took a risk on a big idea for the long term livability of New Jersey.
In partnership with communities across the state, Sustainable Jersey has developed, and continues to expand, a menu of action items that are worth points – not unlike green building projects that earn points toward LEED certification. Participating towns establish a “Green Team” that leads its town through the process of completing actions to accumulate enough points for Sustainable Jersey certification.
What We Mean By “Sustainability”
Sustainability is one of those words that can be overused and vague. People don’t like it because it seems to mean a lot of different things depending on who you talk to. Often, it’s equated with how we make use of natural resources – choosing fuel efficient cars, for example, instead of gas guzzlers, or installing solar panels on our buildings and homes.
But the “sustainable” in Sustainable Jersey is about something much larger than just a focus on energy efficiency and green design choices; it also encompasses a concern for health and wellness, diversity and equity, access to fresh food, support of the local economy, arts and culture, stewardship of the land, animal welfare, and long term, environmentally-sensitive community planning.
In other words, Sustainable Jersey recognizes that there are many qualities that make a community the kind of place where you want to live, and that your town has its own unique priorities and faces its own individual challenges.
Achieving Sustainable Jersey Certification
Each town chooses its own priorities from the menu of actions; some towns may be more concerned with transportation issues, for example, and storm water management, while others are focused on arts and culture and animal welfare issues. Sustainable Jersey also awards points for innovation, when towns create projects that aren’t part of the current menu of actions, as well as points for cooperating on projects and planning with other towns. In order to be certified, towns must submit documentation of their completed actions, which is then shared by Sustainable Jersey as a resource (searchable by topic, geography and municipality) for all registered and certified towns.
Sustainable Jersey also offers a small grants program to help registered towns complete sustainability projects, and it helps the state of New Jersey direct federal and state dollars to participating towns which can reliably and effectively utilize them.
Community is Key
"Sustainable Jersey is successful," notes Donna Drewes, who co-directs the organization with Randall Solomon, "because it champions community-led decision-making and leadership, rather than mandating a top-down, one-size-fits-all plan for New Jersey."
Dodge President and CEO Chris Daggett adds, “Just three short years ago, we asked, ‘Is it possible to successfully develop a statewide program that helps towns build community, so that they can maintain a high quality of life for their residents over the long term? With 358 of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities registered, and 96 already certified, the answer is a resounding yes.”
Building a National Model
Sustainable Jersey was the first statewide municipal sustainability certification program in the country, and they are providing inspiration and leadership for others to bring it to their states. The Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland has now launched Sustainable Maryland, and we can imagine a day when many states have adopted statewide sustainable certification programs.