By Augusta Statz
An event to promote the launch of a sustainability plan website was held on July 12 in a building that couldn’t be more appropriate for such an event, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified Visitor’s Center at Ellis Square.
In 2009, Chatham County set a goal to become the greenest county in Georgia. Since then, the Chatham Environmental Forum (CEF) along with volunteers from the business, government, environmental communities and citizens have been striving to meet that goal. That’s where this countywide sustainability plan, the JOiN Plan, comes into play.
According to Garrison Marr, a board member of CEF, the website is part of the goal of becoming the greenest county in Georgia in two ways:
First, it breaks down the JOiN plan to be accessible to different user groups such as residents and local businesses. This is contrary to its initial presentation which was organized by environmental discipline such as solid waste and water. This original format was harder for an interested community member or institution to know how get involved.
Second, the website can be used as a launching point for analyzing the JOiN plan from a business standpoint, highlighting ways to teach others how to use the JOiN plan through educational efforts, marketing efforts and outreach efforts.
Several parts of the JOiN Plan have already been accomplished in order to help Chatham County reach its goal. For example, Chatham Area Transit began using 20 hybrid buses and the Chatham County Commission now requires all new Chatham County funded buildings and renovations that cost more than $100,000 to achieve a LEED silver certification. A website is just the next step.
“The website is a next step in the sense that it galvanizes’ outreach and education activities and helps provide central communication around the plan as it’s being updated,” Marr said. “It also gives people and organizations who haven’t been in direct contact with the plan in the past, a way to connect with it moving forward.”
The website offers a way for residents, local businesses and organizations to get involved and have a say in the ways that Chatham becomes green.
“The most important part of this website to me, is that it creates a way for all members of the community, either as individuals or institutions to learn about and contribute towards the plan. Many sustainability plans assign accountability only to government, or only to key business institutions, but environmental impact is generated by all parts of the community,” said Marr. “For instance, if 90 percent of residents pledge to compost their organic waste, then it underscores the importance of local legislation [that supports that] and may indicate to community organizations that workshops offering support for that are likely to find an audience. Those same organizations can post their information on those services on the site’s calendar or blog for free, and residents can self-select if they’d like to receive information on community events specific to commitments they’ve made towards the plan.”
One way that residents can get involved is by taking the JOiN Pledge. This is a way that residents can say what they are doing to be green in areas like green space/land use, energy, transportation, climate change, water management, and also pledge to do better in these areas.
An example of how a resident would benefit from the pledge was provided by Marr: If a resident pledged to take a bus ride once during the year, the website would send out an email on a day like Dump the Pump Day when rides on the transit system are free. That way, the JOiN Plan is helping residents to meet their individual goals. By meeting their individual goals, the people of Chatham County are one step closer to becoming the greenest county in Georgia.
Marr hopes that the residents of Chatham County will help this website and thus the JOiN plan live up to its full potential.
“In my opinion, if the web site is embraced and well utilized it can become a tool for residents and organizations who are interested in the environment to connect with the broader community-wide effort to green the county,” Marr said. “Obviously, websites are limited in what they can accomplish by themselves, but it’s the hope of the CEF that the website helps community members feel connected to the plan, and ultimately helps the county move towards achieving action items and adding new ones.”
Contact Augusta Statz.