Sustainable Jersey: Few thought it was possible — let’s do it again

June 24, 2019

sj summit 1

Sustainable Jersey celebrates progress and envisions the future

 Sustainable Jersey’s 2019 Sustainability Summit and 10th anniversary celebration drew over 650 change-makers from across New Jersey who came together to advance sustainability strategies for New Jersey and their local communities.

We have made great progress over 10 years. I can tell you that nobody is more surprised at the impact Sustainable Jersey has had than me.

sj summit 2Few people would have thought that the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, together with a bunch of non-profits and academics, would want to aggressively collaborate. But they did.

Few people would have thought that the New Jersey School Boards Association and New Jersey Education Association would vociferously agree to support schools and teachers working to advance their sustainability goals. But they did.

Few thought that busy municipalities and schools would jump at the chance to put together sustainability programs and document their work online to achieve certification. But they have.

The Sustainable Jersey founders had an idea. We believed there was something special in local communities that could be cultivated. There were a lot of important people and organizations at the state level and a lot of passionate people at the local level who wanted to find a way to cooperate and support local action for statewide and global impact. So, with not a lot of money and no enabling legislation, we tapped into the existing frustration and good will and launched the effort that turned into Sustainable Jersey.

Together we have made New Jersey one of the most active and progressive states working from the bottom up to make change. Now, nearly 90 percent of the New Jersey population lives in a registered or certified Sustainable Jersey community. Currently 450 municipalities and 871 schools are registered with Sustainable Jersey.

Where once sustainability was not present in the local conversation, now there are hundreds of green teams created as formal bodies of local government that are charged with driving change on sustainability issues. Collectively, participating communities have implemented and documented over 13,000 discrete actions from the list of Sustainable Jersey best practices.

Sustainable Jersey launched nine regional hubs. The Hubs include the green team leadership from all the communities in a region banding together to build a movement, learn from each other and do collaborative projects. The Hubs are hotbeds of activism and energy. Working through collective action between municipalities, county agencies and nonprofit partners, the regional hubs are making significant progress on important issues.

Since 2009, the Sustainable Jersey Grants Program has distributed over $4.9 million in grants to municipalities, schools and school districts for over 900 community-based projects that improve the quality of life in New Jersey.

One of my favorite markers of success is that Sustainable Jersey is being emulated in other states. Believe me, no one likes to say that they are copying New Jersey; but there are four states — Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York — with programs modeled after Sustainable Jersey and another half dozen that loosely follow our model.

sj summit 3

Sustainable Jersey Listening Sessions

With a strong movement in place after 10 years of hard work, we want to engage all of our partners and all of you, to think about how we can rise to the occasion of the next 10 years. From climate change, to water, waste and equity issues; so many of the big sustainability concerns are reaching a crisis point.

Join us at one of three listening sessions this fall and share your thoughts on what the next ten years might look like for our state and the Sustainable Jersey program. Help us envision the critical issues facing our municipalities and schools that Sustainable Jersey might tackle, how the program may better support the work you are doing on the ground and more.

The challenges we face are sobering. We need everyone on board to work together and build a common agenda for a sustainable New Jersey. We’ve had success, but we are about to enter into the most critical 10-year period of my lifetime, and probably of human history. Is that too dramatic? I don’t think so.

Sustainable Jersey has had an impact because we thought creatively and were laser-focused on having a measurable impact on communities. We want to continue to be creative and push the envelope. As we look to the next 10 years, what is the role of communities in securing the future? What should the role of Sustainable Jersey be? How can we work together to play our parts to solve these problems?

The process will end with change. This is not just process for the sake of process. We are committed to this being a meaningful exercise and are committed to finding and enacting big and small ideas that can help us rise to the occasion of the next 10 years.

I hope you will join Sustainable Jersey on this journey.

Register for a Sustainable Jersey Listening Session.

For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn