Act One: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” , 2007-8
When a small group of local community members grew concerned about the type of planet that we, as humans, were leaving to future generations, they took this old bumper sticker adage to heart. Realizing that solving tough community problems such as sustainability would require the formation of strategic and creative alliances, this group of pioneers approached the township of Cherry Hill with the goal of working collaboratively to address these complex issues. A unique and somewhat surprising partnership was created at a time when few local governments were addressing issues of sustainability beyond the traditional conservation of open space, regulation of water quality and tree planting. For a year, this team worked diligently and regularly to educate themselves about the steps that a local government could take to move a whole community towards sustainability. The resulting “10 Point Green Action Plan” passed unanimously in March 2008 by Cherry Hill Town Council and has been fully supported by Mayor Bernie Platt.
Act Two: Starting a Movement, 2008-9
In their research, the team discovered the importance of engaging, not just local government, but the rest of the community. A key component of the plan was the formation of a community education and outreach group, Sustainable Cherry Hill (SCH). Awarded its independent 501c3 non-profit status in 2008, SCH began the process of developing its mission, goals and organizational structure. Amid much media attention and community “buzz”, SCH held its first all-Cherry Hill official kick off meeting to a packed room at the Cherry Hill Library. A whirlwind year of activity followed that included monthly community educational programs, development of a local Green Drinks branch for social and professional networking “One Green Night a Month”, continued collaboration with Cherry Hill Township on their 10-Point Green Action Plan, the first ever Cherry Hill Earth Day Festival and much more.
Act Three: Taking it to the Next Level, 2009-11
A high point of SCH’s development came in the form of a community visioning conference in summer 2009, “Cherry Hill 2020: Shaping a Sustainable Future”. On July 16-18, 2009, 90 people representing a microcosm of the Cherry Hill community joined together for thoughtful and hard work taking place for 16 hours over three days. Their mission was to define a shared vision for sustainability for Cherry Hill over the next 10 years.. Sustainable Cherry Hill hosted the event, which was by invitation only and of no cost to participants. Participants ranged from teens to seniors and represented businesses, faith groups, education, community groups, government and environmentalists. Everyone came to the conference with their own unique set of talents, backgrounds and opinions, but were united in their desire to foster and improve the community. Professional facilitators, trained in the research based “Future Search” method spent hours working with participants in small and large groups to reach the final day of agenda setting. Task forces were created to move the vision forward with the goal of engaging others in the community to join in and expand the reach of these initiatives beyond conference attendees.
The unique, collaborative relationship between SCH and Cherry Hill Township resulted in our community becoming a Sustainable Jersey Certified Community (one of only 30 in the state) in November of 2009. Sustainable Jersey ™ is a certification program for municipalities in New Jersey that want to go green, save money, and take steps to sustain their quality of life over the long term. The “Green Team”, made up of township staff and community members continue to meet regularly and received the newest “Silver” level of certification in November of 2011.
Act Four: Collaboration and Partnerships, 2011-13
Sustainable Cherry Hill continues to operate in a positive, collaborative manner, supporting the sustainability efforts of neighboring communities, Cherry Hill Township, Camden County, the Cherry Hill School District and the region. Our community led Task Forces continue to thrive in areas such as alternative transportation, gardening, building/business, health, regional partnerships. Now approaching our 5th year as an official non-profit organization, it is estimated that we have reached almost 20,000 people through our Art Blooms Earth Festival, educational programs, outreach and networking events and have mentored dozens of other towns in South Jersey.