By Daniel Schemer, October 2008
On Thursday, October 16, 2008, Umass Dartmouth hosted the Southeastern Massachusetts Regional Sustainability Exchange as part of the continuing effort to united communities in awareness and common goals towards a sustainable future. Located in the conference hall of Woodland Commons, the Exchange brought a full house comprised of a veritable "who's who" of faculty, staff, students, administrators and members from various local, regional, and national organizations dedicated to sustainability.
"The turnout today has far exceeded expectations, and I'm very excited about this," said Steve Smith, Executive Director for The Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District (SRPEDD), who also co-sponsored the Exchange.
Coffee and pastries were served in the lobby before the event got underway a little past 9 a.m. Speakers scheduled either relied on lecture format or brought along Powerpoint presentations for their allotted time. There was also time given for questions after each speaker finished. "Partnering with the University is the perfect way for us to move forward," said opener Susan Peterson, Chairwoman for SRPEDD, commenting on the recent advances on campus thanks to The Office of Campus and Community Sustainability.
After a lengthy introductory process, the Exchange began with an appearance from former mayor of New Bedford, John K. Bullard, representing Mayor Scott Lang's Task Force on Sustainability. "The Task Force represents the thinking of the citizenry of this region." The Mayor's Task Force on Sustainability, which Mr. Bullard is Chairman, is charged with preparing recommendations and achievement methods to improve municipal energy and environmental practices. They recently brought a proposed draft to three public schools meetings for citizen input and hope to have a final draft prepared for the Mayor within a month. "Sustainability is a monumental goal and can seem intimidating. Our only prayer is if it can be carved up into pieces and distributed accordingly...It's liberating and exciting to know that you're all in this together," said Mr. Bullard.
Before becoming Mayor of New Bedford from 1986 to 1992, John K. Bullard was a preservationist for the city's waterfront historic district for 12 years. "In New Bedford, citizens always thought that they couldn't afford a nice environment and had to choose between that and affording to live, and that simply is not true," explained Mr. Bullard. His years as mayor and particular interest in sustainability led him to work under the Clinton Administration as director of the first federal office on sustainable development, as well as the President's Council. He's currently president of the Sea Education Association at Wood's Hole.
The next presentation came from Deirdre Healy, Community Services Coordinator for the Umass Dartmouth Career Resource Center, who represented the Fairhaven Sustainability Committee and its agenda. "I think that civic engagement and sustainability are calls to action," said Mrs. Healy. In addition to presenting the committee's timeline and website on screen, she also talked about the success of the town's Farmers' Market, events such as the Community Service and Green Fairhaven Fairs, developments with the recycling program, and the recent approval of windmills. "We wanted the committee to be public, official, and on-the-record...We chose projects that are easily achievable and had a quicker impact," said Mrs. Healy. For more information, go www.greenfairhaven.blogspot.com.
Steve Smith from SRPEDD offered up his organization's Report of the Futures Task Force, an extensive, multi-paged article highlighting logical actions and regional adaptive planning over the next several decades for the sustainable environment. "When we first got started 50 years ago, we were planning as if fossil fuels were unlimited and cheap, and we never challenged that assumption. Over the last 50 years, we've been living in a very unsustainable manner. We carved up towns and have fragmented the environment. We did some very stupid things," confessed Mr. Smith on the need for redemption. Among the topics the report discusses are transportation, land use, economic development, municipal services, energy, and agriculture. Servicing 27 towns, SRPEDD's objective is to research, provide technical assistance, prepare ordinances, program funds, and make plans for the future of the region. To read the full report, go to www.srpedd.org/futurespolicy.pdf.
"Sustainability is a journey, and if we knew how long this journey would take, we probably wouldn't have started," joked Susan Jennings, Director of the Office of Campus and Community Sustainability, who was next in line to discuss the success and progress of many academic, operations, research, and community service endeavors. Over the last year many regional organizations and activists have looked to Umass Dartmouth as inspiration for change in dealing with environmental affairs and this admiration was praised. "I'm very grateful for the commitment to sustainability by all those involved, here today." Touched on briefly were the formation of the Sustainability Initiative, the various projects every committee of the Initiative are undertaking, the advances in the recycling program, the Chancellor's signing of the Presidents' Climate Commitment, the creation of a Green purchasing guide for the campus, the significance and shaping of the Sustainability Minor, the possibility of building Master's Program for Sustainability, and the recent presenting of the Lead by Example Award from Governor Deval Patrick's Office.
The final presentation before lunch was from Missy Stults, Senior Program Officer for ICLEI, or Local Governments for Sustainability. "Our mission is to build, serve, and drive movements in local governments to reduce greenhouse gas and improve sustainability," said a fast-talking Ms. Stults, who was here to promote ICLEI in the hopes of gaining municipals in this region as members. With 11 offices on 6 continents and membership from over 977 cities and towns worldwide, Local Governments for Sustainability provides technical consulting, training, and informational services, as well as a peer network, to build capacity, share knowledge, and support in helping local governments and regional organizations create effective, cost-efficient ways to achieve sustainability objectives. "The tools and resources we develop depend on the needs of our members." Go to www.iclei.org for more information.
By noon, everyone broke for lunch and settled into discussions at their tables. A mixture of brainstorming dialogue and consuming food comprised the next 2+ hours with the focus on what resources and support organizations need that Umass Dartmouth or SRPEDD could provide? Notes were taken at each table and collected by a representative of SRPEDD as a guide for more conferences to be planned. Overall, everyone in attendance seemed very fortunate to have been at the Regional Sustainability Exchange. The enthusiasm in the room never waned throughout the course of the day, and you can bet there will be plenty more of these in the future.