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Cuyahoga County creates Department of Sustainability

David Beach  |  10/29/14 @ 11:00am

A new Department of Sustainability is being created within Cuyahoga County government. The county is joining other major institutions in Northeast Ohio – including the City of Cleveland, large companies, universities, and health care systems – to hire dedicated sustainability staff to think holistically about economic development and a healthy environment.

Cuyahoga County goes green<br />The new Cuyahoga County Administration Headquarters has numerous green building features, such as efficient lighting and a green roof. A new Department of Sustainability will help the county do much more to improve its environmental performance.

Cuyahoga County Council voted unanimously on October 28 to approve an ordinance creating a new Department of Sustainability.

“This is a real win-win,” said Councilwoman Sunny Simon, who initiated the legislation. The new department will enhance collaboration within county government and between the county and municipalities, she said.

According to the ordinance, the Department of Sustainability will have the following functions:

  • Promoting environmentally sustainable business practices in the internal operations of the County;
  • Collaborating with businesses, non-profit organizations and government agencies to develop programs incorporating environmentally sustainable methods into accepted practice;
  • Promoting economic development to support businesses that provide environmentally sustainable goods and services;
  • Educating the public about environmentally sustainable practices;
  • Advising, when requested, the County Executive and the County Council on policies and programs related to environmental sustainability.

Next steps will include hiring a Director of Sustainability and defining a work plan for the new department. It’s likely that programs to help residents and businesses finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects will be a priority. The new department also can help other county departments and agencies save energy (and save money), as well as adopt smart practices related to a host of other sustainability issues, such as waste and recycling, procurement, green building, reuse of vacant land, transportation, and water quality.

Kudos to Councilwoman Sunny Simon for initiating the legislation. And kudos to the ad hoc group of citizens who raised the issue and supported Simon through the legislative process. This group included State Rep. Mike Foley, Environmental Health Watch executive director Mike Piepsny, Emerald Cities Cleveland director Shanell Smith -- and myself.

I was really excited to have the opportunity to support this. It brought back memories of work I did 10 years ago to help create the first sustainability staff position at the City of Cleveland. I referred to the history of that success when testifying in favor of the new county department at a recent County Council committee hearing – see the remarks below.

Connecting the dots: The value of a staff person focused on promoting sustainability within local government

Statement by David Beach, Director, GreenCityBlueLake Institute, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, at a Cuyahoga County Council committee meeting, September 24, 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to speak in favor of a new Department of Sustainability for Cuyahoga County. I have been working on environmental and sustainability issues in the county for more than 25 years, so I have some perspectives on what works to make our communities cleaner, greener, healthier, and more prosperous in the long run.

I think one of the most important things I ever did was write the grant proposal in 2004 that led to the City of Cleveland hiring its first sustainability manager. The idea was that the city was missing opportunities because there was no one in City Hall responsible for thinking creatively with a triple-bottom-line mindset of sustainability, asking the right questions, connecting the dots, making change, and tracking progress in a strategic manner. The promise was that, if there were such a person, he or she could quickly identify projects that would not only make the city a healthier place but save the city money — enough money so the savings would pay for the new staff person and more.

And that’s what happened. The administration of then-Mayor Jane Campbell hired Andrew Watterson as the city’s first sustainability manager. Andrew (who is now advancing sustainability at Key Bank) began focusing on the energy efficiency of city buildings and vehicles, and he found many quick pay-offs. (The city’s goal is a 20% energy reduction from municipal operations by 2020, which should result in about $12 million in annual savings.) Andrew also started high-profile public programs, such as Sustainable Cleveland 2019, which are engaging the whole community in creating a more sustainable economy and making Cleveland “a green city on a blue lake.”

Now the city has an Office of Sustainability with half a dozen staff persons, many of which are funded by grant dollars that have been attracted to the city because of its growing reputation as a sustainability leader. Mayor Frank Jackson has recognized that the sustainability manger position is so valuable that he made it a Chief position, the highest level of authority in his Cabinet. This recognizes that sustainability cuts across departments and that a local government works best when it thinks holistically about solutions.

I believe a similar process can happen with Cuyahoga County. County government is different from city government (e.g., it has different functions and it covers many communities and has a more regional focus), so a county sustainability program will be different. But there are tremendous opportunities — for savings, for helping residents, for making the county a more competitive place to do business, and for improving health and the environment. You just need someone whose job it is to connect all the dots.

Thanks again for the opportunity to speak. I look forward to assisting the county as it creates its sustainability department.

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5 years ago

Congratulations on a job WELL-DONE!

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