Sustainable Jersey: To Get to Gold, First Define the Goal

March 19, 2015

2015 New Jersey Sustainability Report and Summit


“Recalculating,” the GPS voice said again.

Turning the car around, I reasoned that the gadget, although stern, was kind enough to provide an estimated time of arrival despite my wrong turns.

My thoughts immediately turned to my work leading Sustainable Jersey’s collaborative effort to develop New Jersey’s goals and indicators for sustainability: Isn’t a GPS for New Jersey, a simple device that points us to the goal, just what we’re after?

Task forces, local officials, Board members, green teams, schools and community members have all been working together for some time — dedicated to the goal of making New Jersey a sustainable state.


But without a ‘GPS,’ how will we know if we are headed in the right direction, or correcting course quickly enough? In fact, even a ‘GPS’ is useless unless we’ve entered our desired destination, which in this case means we’ve articulated a clear vision of what a sustainable New Jersey would look like. Only then can we measure progress towards or away from that direction.

To meet this challenge, for the last few years, Sustainable Jersey has been engaged in a collaborative process to outline the multiple dimensions of sustainability in terms of practical goals with indicators that describe observable outcomes at the state level. Indicators help us recognize milestones on the road to sustainability: taking their readings provides a report card on performance.

No A’s for effort – only for results!

For example if your goal is to lose weight, we’re not interested in your caloric intake or the amount of time spent on the treadmill: the indicator is what the scale says.

The process of developing goals and indicators for New Jersey is a little more complicated. For one thing, some outcomes like energy and climate change are clearly global in scope. In those cases, we need to figure out a proportionate goal for New Jersey.

For other goals, such as water quality and health and wellness, we will identify reasonable values for individual, local or regional indicators that can be combined to determine appropriate targets for the state.


Building on the series of reports prepared for the 2013 Sustainability Summit at Duke Farms and the feedback since received, Sustainable Jersey will launch the first in a new series of Sustainability State of the State Reports at the 2015 New Jersey Sustainability Summit on June 10.

The 2015 Sustainability State of the State Report will provide the vision, goals and indicators for each sustainability outcome and present current data and past trends leading up to the 2014 baseline year. We will establish a template for future years, providing an annual ‘dashboard’ view that will capture progress and illuminate danger zones.

How are we doing, New Jersey? Come join us to find out.

With over 400 municipalities and 150 schools and districts participating in Sustainable Jersey, now is the time to ask big questions. The New Jersey Sustainability Summit will provide an understanding of how we are doing as a state. Through educational sessions designed to share existing efforts and test emerging best practices, attendees will take home valuable resources to make progress in the community.

Participants will come away with a clear sense of the state of the movement, a new community of fellow practitioners and the inspiration to go back to their own communities and start making change from the community up.

2015 New Jersey Sustainability Summit
June 10, 2015, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The College of New Jersey, Ewing

Twelve Educational Sessions
Experts and industry professionals will present real-life case studies, success stories and challenges for the following areas:

• Arts & Culture
• Community Information & Civic Engagement
• Energy Efficiency
• Alternative Energy Options
• Green Infrastructure
• Social Equity & Health
• Land Use &Transportation
• Local Economies
• Natural Resources
• Education, Skills & Enrichment
• Waste (Solid Waste, Toxics)
• Water

Gold-Level Sustainable Jersey Certification
With the Sustainability State of the State Report and the Sustainability Summit, Sustainable Jersey opens a new and exciting chapter in our evolution – moving certification from the bronze and silver levels to spinning gold! Only when state-level goals are in place will we have a basis for determining the ‘fair share’ each municipality and school would need to contribute towards collectively reaching them. This will make it possible to move from the prescriptive action-based standards for the bronze and silver-levels of certification to a gold-level based primarily on performance measures, demonstrating that the ‘fair share’ has been met.

While there are obstacles to sustainability which towns, cities and schools can’t tackle alone (e.g., economic trends, cross-border pollution, federal and state policy), there are many arenas where real progress can and is happening at the local level. This is the Sustainable Jersey sweet spot or point of leverage. Be a part of it!

 Connect with Sustainable Jersey on its Website and Facebook Page

Melanie McDermott is a Senior Researcher with Sustainable Jersey. Sustainable Jersey is a regular Dodge Blog contributor.