Catalyzing Change: Sustainability In A Southern Town

By: Kealy Devoy, 2011 Climate Corps Public Sector Fellow at the Town of Cary, NC; MEM candidate at the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

This summer, I am working with the Town of Cary in North Carolina to identify energy efficiency improvements throughout its organization. My focus is on two projects: fire and emergency services sustainability, and energy planning. Cary’s commitment to saving energy deserves applause.

My goal is to see tangible energy efficiency improvements. Some of these changes are easily measurable: energy use reductions, dollars saved, and greenhouse gas emissions avoided. Others will be tougher to track, such as determining the number of Cary employees who are aware of sustainability initiatives.

Catalyzing change takes time, certainly more than 10 short weeks. However despite this limited time period that I have, there are many strategies that can be used to point organizations in the right direction. During the Climate Corps Public Sector training, Paula Thomas, the Sustainability Director for the City of Raleigh, gave the fellows a list of ways to become agents of change in the municipalities, churches, and universities that we are working with. Her seven core steps to catalyzing change are:

  1. Make it official.
  2. Identify the changers.
  3. Change is not binary.
  4. Operate in parallel.
  5. The Rule of 7.
  6. Market internally and externally.
  7. Celebrate successes.

#1: Make it Official

The Town has already taken action on the first step: ‘Make it official’ with its mission statement, adopted by the Town Council in 2006. The statement upholds Cary’s sustainability goals and includes, “We will preserve and protect our environment. We will be good stewards of our finite resources.”

Making good on its word, Cary established the Environmental Advisory Board in 2008. Comprised of sustainability experts and community members, the board evaluates and recommends best practices to Cary to reduce its impact on the environment and use of natural resources.

Cary’s creation of a Sustainability Manager position last year came from the advice of the board. The Sustainability Manager, Emily Barrett, addresses energy efficiency for the entire town, not just departmentally. Emily’s work has led to the development of a comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions inventory. This type of investment is crucial to making energy efficiency improvements, since it establishes the baseline and helps identify low-hanging fruit.

The Town’s inventory is the basis for the Strategic Energy Plan that I am working on, which includes fire and emergency services sustainability and energy planning.

Paula Thomas’ seven steps are proving to be very helpful as I work with the Town to pursue sustainability in meaningful ways. Check back soon for more on the remaining six steps!

This post reflects the personal opinions of Kealy Devoy, and does not reflect the positions, strategies, or opinions of the Town of Cary.

EDF Climate Corps Public Sector (CCPS) trains graduate students to identify energy efficiency savings in colleges, universities, local governments and houses of worship.  The program focuses on partnerships with minority serving institutions and diverse communities.  Apply as a CCPS fellow, read our blog posts and follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this program.

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