5 Tips for Leading Change from NJ Green Teams

May 15, 2013

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In towns across New Jersey, Green Teams are finding creative ways to address environmental, economic and social problems.  Town managers, concerned citizens, facility managers, mayors, neighborhood activists, students and faith leaders are mobilizing people from engagement to action on our most pressing issues.

Sustainable Jersey Green Teams provide the leadership to develop plans and implement programs.  Each Green Team is made up of committed people that serve as the champions for what is possible.

The Sustainable Jersey certification actions provide the road map with best practices and the latest research on issues that help align communities to move forward. Here are five tips for leading change from Green Team participants:

Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange Green Teams collaborate on drip irrigation event for the community.

1. Hang In There, Persistence Pays Off – Town of Hammonton (Atlantic County)
Dan Bachalis, Town of Hammonton Councilperson and member of the Green Committee of Hammonton is proud that Hammonton has been Sustainable Jersey certified since 2011. Dan’s environmental interests run deep; he was involved in the very first Earth Day event and was a proponent of recycling long before the laws in New Jersey went into effect. He says that participation in the Green Committee and the Sustainable Jersey program has added structure to his lifetime pursuit of working on sustainability issues.

Every step forward is a step closer to a goal and people like Dan help to make sure that community members are moving ahead. Dan said “It’s important to stay with it.  When the Hammonton Green Committee got started, it was difficult to get going as we are a conservative town and people are busy.  But every year the support has grown.  Now we get spontaneous letters to the newspaper asking what the Green Committee’s view of an issue is and our Green Fair is a town event that is automatically on the calendar.  My advice to new Green Teams is to hang in there.  The message will definitely take hold. If you use the Sustainable Jersey resources and templates, it will guide your work.”

The Town of Hammonton and Galloway Township are developing ways to collaborate on Sustainable Jersey actions.  The Green Teams are working together on two current projects: a combined-town green drinks event and a two-town film and lecture series.

2. Share Your Passion and Collaborate  –  Maplewood Township (Essex County)
The Maplewood Green Team has about 40 committed members and has been Sustainable Jersey certified since 2009.  Fred Profeta, Maplewood Township Green Team member and former Mayor said, “The Green Team has played a very important role in creating a green culture in Maplewood.   Maplewood residents are exposed to a level of education and organization around issues and actions regarding sustainability that would not be possible otherwise.”

Green Team members are often guided by a sense of moral responsibility for the good of the community.  It is this passion that can be infectious.  Kirk Sohr, a member of the Maplewood Township Green Team said, “I have come to realize that volunteers go a long way to making the world go round.  And in terms of meaningful outcomes, it is volunteers who are the actual change agents.  So why wouldn’t someone want to be a part of that?  How many people have the opportunity to effect meaningful change within their day to day work world?  Being on the Green Team allows one that possibility. Everybody is there because they want to be there.  There is no greater issue in my mind than environmental issues.  Everyone in the developed world can start to do things right now to effect the change necessary.  And given the scope and scale of what is needed, the place to start is right in one’s own community.”

In February 2013, the Maplewood Green Team set up a regular monthly meeting with the Millburn and South Orange Green Teams.  The collaboration has already been quite productive as the groups worked together on the Maplewood Green Day event, a 3-town river clean-up event, a drip-irrigation demonstration event, monthly green drinks and a movie series.  By working together, the three Green Teams can undertake more Sustainable Jersey actions, reach a larger segment of the community with outreach information and share resources and ideas for new projects.

3. Use the Power of Connections – Monroe Township (Gloucester County)
Patrick McDevitt wondered why his town was not pursuing Sustainable Jersey certification, so he approached the town council.  To his surprise, the town council was receptive and made him the chair of the Green Team with the green light to pursue certification.  Sustainable Monroe Township was formed and the group is now working on becoming certified.

Needing guidance for how to start a movement, he turned to Lori Braunstein, the Executive Director of the very successful Sustainable Cherry Hill, who also connected him to Chris Waldron, who is the Director of Sustainability for Camden County.  In addition to the 37 Camden County mayors that Chris is working with to support their Sustainable Jersey certification efforts, Chris has been a resource to Patrick.  Chris recently went to a Monroe Council meeting to help Patrick answer questions regarding the proposed Sustainable Land Use Pledge and other Sustainable Jersey actions. Rather than go it alone, Patrick benefited from the participation of a respected individual that added validity to his presentation to the Council.

Patrick appreciates the support and said he attends Sustainable Jersey and Green Team meetings in other towns to get reinvigorated and motivated by what is happening in other communities.  Patrick said, “In just a little bit of time, a lot is happening in town already.  I find myself serving as a connector to the many different groups and interests in Monroe.  Sustainability is my passion; how could I not want to participate and make this happen.”

Mitch Morrison of the Sparta Green Team with Donna Drewes and Pam Mount of Sustainable Jersey.

4. Bring People Together – Sparta Township (Sussex County)
Mitch Morrison of the Sparta Green Team said, “The Sparta Green Team provides the opportunity for anyone and everyone from Sparta to participate in making great things happen.  Sustainable Jersey provides the framework for our community to work together towards a common good with great programs and events.  We believe that we all share this world – it is common ground.  We enjoy paying it forward every single day.  We think globally and act locally.  And, our actions speak louder than words.  I love being involved with the Sparta Green Team.  We help run the Sparta Farmer’s Market, the Sparta Community Gardens, the NJ Highlands Student Business Competition, the Sparta Sustainable Business Tours, the Sustainable Career Day events, the Sparta Tree Planting events, the Sparta Bag-It Days and much more.”

On April 16 the Sparta Green Team partnered with Sustainable Jersey to host the Northern New Jersey Sustainable Resource and Networking Forum that attracted over 140 people to learn about regional and state resources that can help municipalities navigate and complete Sustainable Jersey certification.  Attendees developed partnerships with other municipal officials, residents and businesses, to provide support with the Sustainable Jersey certification.  Participants also learned how to transition from bronze to silver-level certification from Cynthia Steffens, Chair of the Chatham Borough Green Team.

Marlon Hargis of the Absecon Green Team helps a group of Pleasantville Middle School students fill out a litter survey.

5. Lead by Example – City of Absecon (Atlantic County)
Marlon Hargis is a member of Sustainable Absecon that is about ten members strong.  The City of Absecon is new to the Sustainable Jersey program and is currently working on becoming Sustainable Jersey certified.  Marlon got involved with the Absecon Green Team through his work on an adopt-a-road program with the Atlantic County Utilities Authority.

Marlon said, “A lot of people are sitting on the sidelines as cheerleaders or just spectators.  By getting involved in Sustainable Absecon and participating in clean-ups, I hope to show people that they need to get out there and volunteer.  Printing educational flyers is good, but we also have to demonstrate with our own actions the change we want to see.”  Marlon just recently participated in a clean-up with students at the Pleasantville Middle School in addition to the coordinated clean-ups in Atlantic City after Hurricane Sandy.

Join Sustainable Jersey at GreenFest
Sustainable Jersey encourages towns to work together on certification actions and is developing regional hubs to promote and strengthen the work of Green Teams.  Mentors and colleagues from other towns provide new ideas and the enthusiasm and support that are vital to sustaining the work of our Green Teams.

Sustainable Jersey will be exhibiting at Greenfest this Friday, May 17 and Saturday, May 18. At 9:30 am on Saturday, we will be facilitating a roundtable discussion, “Green Teams: Opportunities and Challenges in Pursuing Sustainability.” While REGISTRATION for the discussion is not required, we encourage you to register so we can tailor the discussion to your interests and needs.

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Sustainable Jersey staff and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog