Sustainable Jersey: Towns helping towns

April 13, 2020

South Jersey Sustainability Mentoring

The COVID-19 crisis reminds us that, unfortunately, sometimes warnings from experts about potential disasters come true. It reminds us that making preparations today to ensure our future wellbeing is time well spent. So much of what we do at Sustainable Jersey is working today to invest in the future by taking steps to build our strength and avoid future disasters.

Currently, we are working with municipal and school green teams and elected officials to connect and share resources virtually. In South Jersey, a group of dedicated volunteers have already been working on strengthening their sustainability network. In 2019, the Tri-County Sustainability Alliance (TriCSA) jumpstarted a program to mentor towns in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties that have not achieved Sustainable Jersey certification or have lapsed in their certification.

True to their slogan, “great people implement great ideas,” David Steinberg, a member of the TriCSA, developed the TriCSA Resource Guide that includes a list of what volunteer mentors need to know, common challenges and the local resources available to support sustainability programs. Using the guide, four mentor volunteers from green teams worked with eight muncipalities. The pilot was a success as six muncipalities (Audubon Borough, Chesterfield Township, Gloucester City, Maple Shade Township, Medford Township and Runnemede Borough) were bronze certified in 2019.

Audubon Borough even received the 2019 Sustainable Jersey Rookie of the Year award recognizing their dedication to sustainability efforts. Audubon Mayor John Ward said the borough was pleased for the recognition, and noted, “Special thanks should go to the members of Sustainable Audubon which is a group of dedicated residents pursuing environmental awareness and sustainability within Audubon Borough. Through the hard work of achieving Sustainable Jersey certification, the Borough of Audubon will become a healthy and sustainable community for future generations to enjoy.”

Edward Cohen serves on the Mount Laurel Green Team and is the chair of TriCSA. He explained, “TriCSA is a tremendous group of active community leaders, each of whom are involved in a variety of green efforts. They have always generously shared ideas and resources. It’s a natural extension to help towns new to Sustainable Jersey. When the idea of helping people outside our TriCSA group was presented, many members signed up immediately. Sustainability extends past our town’s borders, or our friend’s town’s borders. Everyone needs to work together to make the needed changes.”

Now with 12 volunteer coaches, whose towns are certified, the TriCSA group is targeting 21 more towns for bronze-level certification, and three municipalities for silver-level certification in their efforts to promote sustainability. In addition to volunteer coaching, TriCSA provides a list of resources to assist local green teams. One list has contact information for the local subject matter experts who are ready to help. The list includes people who specialize in everything from backyard chickens, to urban and community forestry, to energy grid modernization. In addition to individual experts, TriCSA has a comprehensive list of organizations that can assist local green teams in specific areas.

David Steinberg served on Sustainable Haddon Heights and is now working with the Runnemede Green Team. He has a long record of impressive achievements in the sustainability arena; he is a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee by the International Writers and Artists Association and the recipient of the 2019 Changemaker Award granted by the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. David said, “I reflected on ways that I could make a difference and it was clear that mentoring Sustainable Jersey municipalities was a good place to make an impact.” He added, “As a group, TriCSA decided that we could strengthen sustainability initiatives in our region if we collaborated. When we share resources, we keep costs down and reduce environmental degradation. I look forward to the ripple effect as these new sustainable towns will continue to do innovative work. We can learn from them and partner on future projects.”

David said, “Now that everyone is working remotely, the need for help and resources is amplified. I spoke to an elected official and he was practically jumping through the telephone line he was so excited to get some help. This year our target is 21 towns to achieve bronze-level Sustainable Jersey certification and for two towns to achieve silver-level certification.” In addition to compiling a list of available grants that green teams can apply for while they are working remotely, David is also hoping to add elected officials to his list of volunteers. He said, “My newest idea is the creation of the E-ORB or the Elected Official Resource Bank. This would include a list of elected officials who are available to reach out to their peers to provide background and encouragement for the towns considering sustainability programs.”

TriCSA is one of ten regional Sustainable Jersey Hubs. Regional Hubs have formed across New Jersey and are comprised of municipal and school green team and environmental commission members, municipal and county representatives and business, community and nonprofit leaders.

If you are interested in getting involved, reach out to one of the active Sustainable Jersey Regional Hubs:

· Atlantic-Cape May Counties Hub

· Sustainable Bergen County Hub

· Sustainable Essex Alliance

· Hunterdon Sustainability Team

· Mercer County Sustainability Coalition

· Monmouth County Hub

· Ocean County Sustainability Hub

· Somerset County Green Leadership Hub

· Tri-County Sustainability Alliance (Camden, Burlington, Gloucester)

· Union County Hub

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