Last week, I arrived at the Congress of Cities in Phoenix, both excited and anxious about meeting our members and working a large conference for the very first time. Would I be in the right place at the right time? Would I have answers for the questions that our members might ask? For the most part, I was scheduled to work within the Green Cities track, helping to coordinate sessions and make sure things ran smoothly. Walking into the Convention Center on that first day, I figured I’d be too caught up in my work to fully listen to and retain information from the wealth of experts that were speaking.
Not only was my anxiety misplaced (the members were extremely welcoming and pleasant) but I was also able to learn an immense amount about sustainability initiatives across the country. There were several moments throughout the conference where I felt excited and inspired by what local governments were doing to actively pursue their sustainability goals.
Let’s take the mid-size city of Riverside, Ca. as an example. Their story begins in 2001, when the city made smaller, but crucial strides towards greening their internal operations (changing light bulbs, cutting energy costs, etc.) . Since then, with the support of the community, their sustainability efforts have taken off- within a few years, Mayor Ron Loveridge created a Clean & Green Taskforce; the Taskforce developed a Sustainability Policy Statement in 2007; and this policy statement ended up serving as the guiding framework for the Green Action Plan that the city implements today.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Green Riverside story is the number of creative strategies that the city is consistently utilizing to inform residents about local sustainability initiatives and keep them excited about current and future programs. Take, for example, the Green Riverside brand, which is not only displayed on their website, but also on numerous publications and reports that they distribute. Additionally, Mike Bacich and Ryan Bullard, both of whom attended the conference to share their success stories, host a radio show that is dedicated solely to sustainability topics. According to Bacich, it’s important to keep recognizing the progress that the city is making so that residents feel like their efforts have been worthwhile (in one of the sessions he even mentioned that they use the back of their utility bill to spotlight sustainability news!).
Clearly something is working in Riverside (as a side note- I happened to speak with a woman from Riverside during one of the sessions who mentioned that even dollar stores in the city have started bagging healthy foods). Listening to Mike, Ryan, and other speakers from around the country made me realize the importance of these creative outreach efforts in propelling a culture of sustainability that resonates with residents. You may never be able quantify the exact effect that branding yourself as a sustainable city, directly communicating your progress to your residents, or creating transparency within and outside of your city operations has on the success of your sustainability efforts. Nonetheless, these are crucial steps towards building a sustainable (no pun intended) and successful repertoire with your residents.
If you didn’t get to visit the Riverside booth at the City Showcase in Phoenix, I’d urge you to visit their website (http://www.greenriverside.com/) to get inspired and see what you might be able to take back to your own community. As for me- I’m already excited about the possibility of meeting more sustainability experts at our next conference!