2018-09-07 / Community

Our Sustainable City

Sustainability at a glance: Myths and introduction
By Lucy Brennan,
Sustainability Program Coordinator

Much like South Portland as a city, the Sustainability Office considers itself small but mighty. The strong interest of citizens and elected leadership in mitigating the impacts of climate change and planning for resiliency enables profound community-wide progress. With demand for a prosperous City and a healthy environment, now, more than ever, there is opportunity for local climate action.

In March 2015, South Portland created a new Sustainability Department to implement the Municipal Climate Action Plan. Over past three years under the direction of the City Council and the leadership of Julie Rosenbach, the office has implemented the Climate Action Plan and related initiatives across municipal departments, schools, and the community. Noteworthy progress includes:

• The installation of Maine’s largest municipal solar array, producing 12% of municipal energy;

• A Benchmarking Ordinance incorporating sustainable development into the growth of Mill Creek;

• A Pesticide Use Ordinance establishing organic land care methods as the primary means to caring for public and private property;

• The adoption of ambitious goals to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 and commit to 100% clean energy for municipal operations by 2040;

• And most recently, the rollout of a City-wide food waste recycling program.

South Portland is on the leading edge in Maine where a municipal sustainability department may still be considered relatively novel. Nonetheless, the City works alongside counterparts in Portland, Falmouth, and Scarborough and joins a network of over 180 municipalities and counties nationwide driving towards sustainable progress. As the field continues to gain recognition, the question ‘what is sustainability, anyway?’ understandably demands greater clarity. To help illuminate what this work truly entails we have righted common myths about sustainability for you:

 ‘Being green’ is the same thing as sustainability. Although there are points of commonality, important differences exist here. Sustainability deviates from the preference for the natural often associated with ‘being green.’ Ongoing technological developments such as alternative energy generation, electric vehicles, and weatherization are far from natural but central to sustainability planning.

 Sustainability is just about the environment. This myth is debunked in the mission statement of the Sustainability Office itself. In creating a sustainable South Portland, the office is “to guide the development of policies and practices that simultaneously promote economic well-being, strong community connections, and a healthy environment.”

 Sustainability and development are competing interests. In fact, these two core values of the City are not at odds. Sustainable development will make the City more resilient and adaptable to the unavoidable impacts of climate change and to changing economic conditions. Partnerships with residents and business owners have already helped the City to implement meaningful programs and policies that benefit all stakeholders, such as the City’s Benchmarking Ordinance.

 Sustainability is too expensive. The truth here lies in the higher upfront cost of installing more efficient technology upgrades such as LED lightbulbs or air-source heat pumps. But the myth lies in the favorable financial story over time. Long-term savings will provide a greater payback for your investment in the years to come. The City maintains a strong focus not only on enabling equity in access to efficient technologies but also ensuring all members of the community have an opportunity to engage with sustainability planning processes.

 Sustainability is an all or nothing game. Living sustainable is not a headfirst dive into the deep end of the pool. To get started, find what changes you can make in your lifestyle (e.g. bringing a reusable bag to the store, separating your food waste from the trash, or digging into organic lawn care by gathering a soil test.) And understand, we all have different entry points and habits we aren’t willing to compromise on, at least just yet. Once you are in the practice, building on the momentum will affect greater impacts.

Our Sustainable City will be a recurring column in the Sentry intended to provide residents with news and information about our initiatives in South Portland. Upcoming articles will dig into organic fall land care practices, unearth how the city-wide food waste recycling program works, and keep residents plugged into the development of South Portland’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

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