“Think Globally, Act Locally.”
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. Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â Elements of the plan included a municipal energy audit and subsequent upgrades in energy efficiency, a solar panel installation on town hall, the “greening” of the municipal transportation fleet, use of environmentally-friendly products in municipal buildings and the community-wide roll out of the RecycleBank program.
Starting a Movement
In their research, the team discovered the importance of engaging, not just local government, but the rest of the community.Â A key component of the plan was the formation of a community education and outreach group, Sustainable Cherry Hill (SCH).Â Modeling itself after its more established central NJ neighbor, Sustainable Lawrence, SCH became a registered non-profit organization (501c3) in the summer of 2008.Â Now an independent and apolitical group, SCH began the process of developing its mission, goals and organizational structure.Â 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 ofÂ 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.
Taking it to the Next Level
AÂ high point of SCH’s development came in the form of a community visioning conference in summer 2009, “Cherry Hill 2020:Â Shaping a Sustainable Future”.Â 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..Â 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 inÂ the community to join in and expand the reach of these initiatives beyond conference attendees.
Task forces include: Green Building, Educating for Sustainability, Community Composting, Green Business, Bike Path/Sidewalks, Transportation, Renewable Energy, Local Food/Gardening, Land, Air and Water Conservation, Zero Waste and Urban/Regional Partnerships for Sustainability. Group leaders, initial meeting dates, as well as preliminary goals and agenda for each task force were also developed.
Each task force is up and running and has its own page on the SCH website. Sustainable Cherry Hill is encouraging all community members to find their niche in one of our task forces and to be part of the solution. Our task forces are community driven and self organizing. Â They plan education/outreach programs, act as resources to local government and the community and provide an opportunity for like minded individuals to make a difference in South Jersey.
Sustainable Jersey and EPA Partnerships
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 â„¢ 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 Â of certification in November of 2011. Only eight municipalities in the state of NJ have achieved this level of recognition.
In February 2010, we received the wonderful news that Cherry Hill was chosen as an EPA Climate Showcase Community. The $500kÂ grant will be split between Cherry Hill, fellow Sustainable Jersey certified towns, Highland Park and Montclair and Rutgers University in the category ofÂ Sustainable Energy Efficiency Demonstration Projects. SCH is a member of the project team for this initiative, which will be “unveiled” in October 2010. Â Check out the It’s in Our Power website for more details of this exciting effort!
Sustainable Cherry Hill operates in a positive, collaborative manner and supports the sustainability efforts of neighboring communities, local government, the school district and the region.