A Sustainability Coordinator for Harrisonburg!

sustainability coordinatorCity Eyes “Green” Keeper: Sustainability Position Would Help Track Carbon Footprint

February 10, 2014 Daily News-Record by Preston Knight

The Harrisonburg Rockingham Green Network’s request for the city to add a sustainability coordinator may be granted a year after the fact.

Read this article here: DNRonline _ City Eyes ‘Green’ Keeper.

The HR Green Network’s letter to City Council on April 30, 2013, supporting a “performance contracting” approach and “sustainability coordinator” position is here.

The city’s beginning thoughts about a job description are here. Please offer comments about what else should be in the job description or how it should change. This is their first effort; expect it to change because they have not done this before.


Harrisonburg has demonstrated the will and ability to grow smartly and care for limited resources in many ways. For example, a new bike-pedestrian plan has been approved, the school system is working on upgrading its energy efficiency, and the water plant is adopting measures to save energy and reduce costs. A sustainability coordinator could expedite and further these efforts to allow our area to stay happy and healthy long into the future.

Now is the time to plan for the future as we deal with a growing population, further development, raising energy costs, and environmental uncertainties.

The Harrisonburg Rockingham Green Network (HRGN) steering committee is proposing the addition of a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator position to the City of Harrisonburg’s government. This position would be answerable to the city manager.

Why: Streamline communication processes

Over the past few years issues of sustainability have been a major concern in our community.  Hundreds of people showed up for two different sustainability summits.  In each case hundreds of issues, concerns, ideas and opportunities for making our city more sustainable were introduced.  Issues such as backyard chickens, urban gardens, landscape regulations and bicycling and walking infrastructure have produced more public involvement in city council meetings than nearly any other issues.

Sustainability issues, such as these, are complex and require coordination among several different city departments, involve many different stakeholders, and require citizens to engage with innumerable city representatives. 

The City’s recent experience with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan is instructive.  It took years of advocacy at city council meetings, meetings with city staff, and countless hours of organizing citizens just to get to the point where progress could be made.  Once the city identified a clear process for developing and updating the bicycle and pedestrian plan remarkable progress was made.  Creating a designated sustainability coordinator will streamline this process for future projects and opportunities.  

Citizens are frustrated by slow progress, and are confused about which city departments to talk to about their concerns, issues and ideas.  The process is inefficient and duplicative.  No doubt staff and city counsel could make better use of their time as well.   There is no reason for each and every one of these issues to come before city council several times.

What: Save money, and become a cleaner, healthier, safer city

More and more towns and cities are incorporating sustainability departments into their governments to coordinate and enhance resource conservation efforts, save money and maximize results. We can too!

Sustainability is the ability to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This requires cooperation between sectors and long-term thinking.

Regardless of varying personal views on environmental issues, conserving resources and energy makes sense on a basic level: it saves money and positively impacts our health.  In many cities sustainability coordinators have been able to save cities money. 

How: What would a sustainability coordinator enable the city to do?

  • Coordinate the implementation of the city’s newly developed Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan
  • Identify opportunities for upgrading and implementing energy efficiency measures
  • Identify opportunities for conserving other natural resources—such as water,
  • Identify and pursue alternative funding streams for sustainability projects—there are ample opportunities for private foundation and government supported grant funding for sustainability  projects
  • Facilitate coordination among different city departments to develop ways to best implement sustainability projects like the bicycle/pedestrian plan
  • Provide community stakeholders with an access point for communicating concerns with the city.  The complexity of sustainability issues makes it difficult to engage with a variety of departments—this  will save staff time and city resources
  • Facilitate coordination with local businesses, community organizations, and universities to leverage knowledge, skills, resources, and develop plans that are cost effective, realistic and workable
  • Communicate and coordinate with a wide variety of local stakeholders to ensure that plans are cost effective, realistic and workable
  • Facilitate the development of a sustainable energy plan starting with an evaluation of our current inputs and outputs and needs for the future.
    •  Explore opportunities for conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.
    • “The Virginia Energy Plan, released in September 2007, set a goal for the Commonwealth to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2025. The reduction in emissions will be partially achieved through energy conservation and renewable energy actions listed in the energy plan.” – sealevelrisevirginia.net  Governor Tim Kaines’s Commission on Climate Change’s Final Report: A Climate Change Action Plan from December 2008 is available here and offers a wealth of information that can be utilized at the local level.
  • Coordinate and enhance current efforts of resource management and pollution control in sectors such as:
    • Energy – from building efficiencies to vehicle use to facilitating development of community solar and wind energy projects
    • Transportation – through promotion of alternative transportation opportunities, mass transit, and bicycle/pedestrian plan
    • Waste management – enhance recycling efforts (downtown recycling bins!), evaluate emissions controls, facilitate development and implementation of storm water run-off infrastructure and management programs
  • Facilitate land use planning – through promotion of urban gardens, greenways, tree planting projects and sustainable agriculture
  • Facilitate water use management and conservation –through promotion of water conservation, public education about protecting water resources, and encouraging best management practices for  controlling run-off and protecting water quality 
  • Help prioritize needs and make assessments of costs and benefits of particular projects and initiatives –there are many grants available for this kind of work
  • Recommend policy initiatives by working with city departments to assess cost and benefits to further maximize sustainability efforts
  • Advertise available resources and funding sources for residents and small businesses to reduce their use energy and resource use … like through the Community Energy Conservation  Program, and the Department of Energy’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE).
  • Take advantage of national programs and organizations that reach out to local governments … like The Georgetown Climate Center: Helping communities adapt to climate change and ICLEI- Local  Governments for Sustainability. The Obama administration is reaching out to local governments to facilitate sustainability adaptation. See Coral Davenport’s article.
  • Develop citizen input committees to leverage the talent and expertise in our community
  • Establish a Sustainability Award, as done in Boise and Roanoke, to generate creative thinking and motivation among businesses, organizations and individuals.
  • Promote, coordinate and leverage the considerable efforts already being made at JMU and EMU campuses and utilize the technical expertise available here
  • And more!

Harrisonburg council members need to hear from you!

Mayor Ted Byrd   Ted.Byrd@harrisonburgva.gov
Vice-Mayor Charles Chenault   
Richard Baugh  
Kai Degner  
Abe Shearer   

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