By Analiese Paik
On the snowy morning of February 7, we headed to the Regional Conference on Sustainable Development (RCSD) 2018 at Grace Farms in New Canaan as guests of Live Green CT, the event organizer.
Inside the Sanctuary portion of the River Building, guests were treated to a 360 view of the snowscape as esteemed international and local speakers seamlessly wove together the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 with global and local initiatives.
The RCSD had been in the works for three years we learned, and this game changing event convened almost 70 speakers and presenters with stakeholders to become educated on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), learn about public and private models that support the goals, hear from advocacy groups and entrepreneurs about how their work supports the SDGs, and get empowered to integrate them into Local Action.
Daphne Dixon, Executive Director of Live Green CT (LGCT), said this event marked the launch of LGCT’s Sustainable Development Goals Network which works to integrate the SDGs in to Local Action with all of our communities. Visit their website and mark your calendar for their upcoming events and initiatives that address bag bans, water conservation, smart growth, complete streets and reducing waste. We’ll see you at the Zero Waste Faire on March 25.
Kanni Wignaraja, Director of the UN Development Operations Coordination Office, spoke eloquently about smart ways of growing our economy while meeting everyone’s needs. This diplomatic approach to solving our most intractable problems (what’s in it for me?) began with a lesson in “the environmental, social and economic gains of making the right choice.” The powerful outcomes of win-win scenarios were borne out in stories told by those at the local level throughout the day. Wignaraja stressed the need to learn from and partner with cities leading change including London, Paris, Bonn, San Francisco, Miami, New York and Houston. Smaller cities like Burlington, CT already achieved the incredible goal #7 of affordable and clean energy as the first US city to run on 100 renewable energy.
She ended her presentation by challenging us to think about the legacy we want to leave.
“Every decision we take – anyone- matters. Each of us creates a footprint. What kind of footprint do you want to create and leave behind?”
Jessica Espey, a Senior Advisor to the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), based in Cambridge, Massachusetts said “The US is facing a sustainability crisis. It’s time to take drastic measures.” Relative to other OECD countries, we rank poorly on income disparity and the obesity crisis. How do we implement SDGs in the US she asks? “Local government is stepping up – mayors, governors, town council members – are mobilizing around the Paris agreement as #WeAreStillIn.
“62.7% of the US population resides in US cities. Their leaders have so much power to effect change. We don’t need the federal government.”
Espey pointed to the USA Sustainable Cities Initiative (USA-SCI), which is supporting SDG achievement strategies in three pilot cities : New York, Baltimore and San Jose. The frameworks they’re developing to achieve a sustainable urban America will serve as models worldwide. The initiative illuminates the “most pernicious and acute challenges of our 100 largest cities in the SDG Cities Index. 33 million people in these 100 cities are living below the poverty line. Five of these cities are in Connecticut: Hartford, Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk and New Haven” she said.
One of the biggest takeaways from her presentation is the free, online Sustainable Development Goals Academy, the UN’s educational initiative comprised of graduate level courseware from 700 universities around the globe. Anything you every wanted to learn about sustainable development is now at your fingertips, taught by a globally diverse faculty experienced in each subject area. “Feeding a Hungry Planet” launches in mid April. “Sustainable Food Systems” starts March 12. Courses by Jeffrrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, are self paced and include “Transforming the World: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals” and “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.”
Espey ended with a call to action.
“Visit unsdn.org to download the data that illuminates the most pressing issues that need our help.”
Fairfield County Mayors Are #StillIn
Moderated by Joe DeLong, Executive Director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the mayoral panel shared impressive and encouraging stories about sustainability actions and initiatives in their towns. Here are some highlights.
- Grace Farms created “80 acres of open space for people to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community, and explore faith. Approximately 77 of the 80 acres will be retained in perpetuity as open meadows, woods, wetlands, and ponds.”
- Clean Energy Task Force has morped into the Sustainability Task Force and is pushing to join Sustainable Connecticut.
- “It’s not a novelty anymore. We’re starting to see the payback. 25% of our energy is produced by solar” said First Selectman Tetreau.
- “It’s about changing our culture. Sustainability has to be part of every decision, integrated into all decisions. The next Superstorm Sandy will be 2 feet higher in 2050” said First Selectman Tetreau.
- EV charging stations are in public parking lots and private spaces
- Solar panels are installed on the car ports at both high schools
- Their green task force is comprised of citizens and his department head
- The town is a signatory to #WeAreStillIn
- They announced the goal of going net zero by 2050
- Irrigation will be reduced to 2 days a week this summer based on large water usage reported by Aquarion. “This will be an interesting test of our citizens” said First Selectman Marpe.
- “We’re in this for the long haul. There is a benefit to it if you look at the long term” said First Selectman Marconi.
- “Stop and think about the use of resources.” They using output from their sewer treatment to wash municipal cars and trucks.
- RACE – Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment are citizen advisors the First Selectman
- Initiatives include solar panels on schools.
- The town bought a LEAF and the employee who once refused to drive it now says it’s the best car he’s ever driven and the town wants to get a fleet together.
Catherine Smith, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), delivered a high impact keynote address that illuminated the economic and community benefits of sustainable development. Our state is a leader, thanks to this female powerhouse, in revitalizing brownfields – old mills and factories with environmental contamination issues – into productive facilities.
“We’re taking blighted properties in cities that are underserved and making them vibrant and useful.”
Under Smith’s direction, our state has invested $200 million so far in brownfield remediation, more than the entire rest of the US combined. The Capewell Lofts in Hartford were build on a site that formerly housed a horse nail factory that was vacant for 25 years because it was extensively contaminated with asbestos. The mixed-income apartment complex was remediated with help from the state brownfields fund. Watch this 2 minute video to fully appreciate the transformation and how it helped revitalize the neighborhood.
Panel Discussion: Connecticut’s Sustainable Development Infrastructure
Connecticut is shifting to a zero carbon economy, one where 95% of our electricity comes from renewable energy. Lee Grannis, Treasurer of the Greater New Haven Clean Cities Coalition, said “our private sector and cities play a critical role” in converting to electric from carbon intensive fossil fuel. Electric city buses are being rolled out; 5 will go to Bridgeport. An interim “carbon lite” solution is natural gas and taxi cabs and trash trucks are now running on it instead of gasoline or diesel fuel.
Jeff Ulrich, Director of Supply Operations for Aquarion Water Company discussed water management, usage and the drought. Aquarion manages 25 reservoirs in our state that serve 54 municipalities. Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan and Darien will be on mandatory 2 days a week watering schedule for irrigation due to their historic disproportionate use of water. We have not recovered from the multi-year droughts and reservoir levels will drop, which impacts municipalities and consumers. Take comfort in knowing that Connecticut’s Final Draft State Water Plan is being submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly this session.
Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) Founder and CEO Scott Cassell said “the buck stops with municipalities to handle garbage. Let’s put it back into productive use.”
PSI is a CT DEEP partner committed to reducing the health and environmental impact of consumer products by getting the producer to be responsible for end of life management, i.e. getting it back in the supply chain. There are 110 EPR laws, that is laws the Extend Producer Responsibility to end of life management. Think mattresses, cell phones and other electronics that are collected and recycled into new products. Connecticut taxpayers are paying twice when we purchase something: once at check out and again when our local taxes go to waste management. We sure could use PSI’s help with consumer packaging which, Cassel said constitutes 30-40% by volume of our solid waste stream. This problem has no immediate solution despite China not taking our plastic waste anymore. (Read Slaying the Recycling Hydra on our blog)
We have a massive problem in our country and it’s called income inequality. Jason Shaplen, CEO of Inspirica, dug deeply into the numbers that supported the statics cited earlier by Jessica Espey about the incredibly high poverty rates in our top 100 cities.
“After 9 years of economic growth, the US has a rising cost of living, declining wages and soaring homelessness. 45 million people in the US live in poverty and an additional 49 million live within 50% of the poverty line” said Shaplen.
Headquartered in Stamford, his nonprofit works to break the cycle of homelessness by helping people find deeply affordable housing. Increasingly that is nowhere near the jobs in cities where they work.
“Cities are not sustainable when workers can’t afford to live there.”
Josh Cohen of The Junkluggers, Christopher Bruhl of the Business Council of Fairfield County, Stillman Jordan of Encon, Daphne Dixon of Live Green Connecticut, David Gable of Hocon Gas, and Brian Paganini of Quantum Biopower
Panel Discussion: The Critical Role Businesses Play in Sustainable Development
“We cannot allow perfection to be the enemy of progress.” – Christopher Bruhl, President & CEO of the Business Council of Fairfield County
Bruhl took a very pragmatic approach to sustainable businesses: some are created as sustainable and some evolve. He said “businesses have to play our role. We can be participants in building a more sustainable goal.” On his panel were evolving businesses like Hocon Gas, a 65-year-old family business, that recently expanded from heating fuel supply into transportation with propane, an alternative fuel (remember carbon lite?). President David Gable said their customers include school buses and 15 municipalities that have fleets running on propane.
Brian Paganini, Vice President & Managing Director of Quantum Biopower, ticked off an impressive list of environmental wins they create by converting food waste to energy through biodigestion. Currently they’re displacing 5,000 tons of CO2 per year, producing 1.2 megawatts of class 2 power per hour, and 8,000 tons of compost. They could do more, but critical infrastructure is needed to get more food waste cost effectively to the Southington facility.
“We made it our mission to keep things out of landfills.” – Josh Cohen, Founder and CEO of The Junkluggers
Josh Cohen, Founder and CEO of The Junkluggers, the largest junk removal company in Connecticut with a national reach, said they’ve collected 30,000 tons of junk – that’s 60 million pounds of stuff – and kept it out of landfills. Instead it goes to donation centers and recycling facilities – wherever they can go to have the least impact on the environment. Their business model is also evolving to solve the problem of what to do when they’re turned away from donation centers. Their solution? Open a Second Chance Store to sell their upcycled furniture in partnership with local charities.
Afternoon breakout sessions included presentations by regional sustainability groups including Sustainable Hudson Valley, Bedford 2020, and the Fairfield Sustainability Task Force, all of which have worked very hard and succeeded at moving the needle on sustainability in their towns. Scott Thompson from Fairfield announced the creation of sustainablefairfieldcounty.org, a collaboration designed to avoid calendar overlap between towns’ sustainability events and cross promote each other’s events. April 28 is Westport’s Greenday event and Fairfield’s EV Showcase corresponds with national Electric Drive Week and allows guests to take test drives.
Sustainable Connecticut announced that they have 20 towns and cities as members and are partnering with the Green Bank, C-PACE program, Council of Governments, and The Nature Conservancy. Greenwich was the first town in Fairfield County to join.
The talks ended with mention of building a regional sustainability network with other states. We’re in!
It was impossible to leave RCSD2018 without feeling comforted by the UN’s bold vision for creating a sustainable planet (someone is actually on top of this!), and upbeat about the past and future impact of their programs and regional collaborations. However, LGCT’s Sustainable Development Goals Network is the game changer for us, because the UN Goals will remain an unfulfilled dream if they can’t continually be translated into Local Actions.
RCSD2018 was organized by Live Green Connecticut, a leader in sustainable events and a Sustainne Community Partner. Live Green Connecticut is cultivating the world class Sustainable Development Goals Network that connects the Global Goals to local initiatives through regional collaboration.
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