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Foreign delegates from seven nations seek green solutions during Beaverton visit

When it comes to environmentally sustainable practices, Clemens Maier noticed more what Beaverton has in common with its sister city of Trossingen, Germany, where he serves as the city's bürgermeister, than what sets the two municipalities apart.

'Everywhere in the world has similar problems and ideas to find solutions,' he said during a Sister Cities Exchange event Thursday at the Beaverton City Library. 'So, it's possible to talk about what best practices can be implemented. It's a good idea to have these exchanges' between leaders and students in different countries.

Observations such as Maier's are music to the ears of Beaverton Mayor Dennis Doyle. It was his idea to invite - for the first time - the six leaders or representatives of Beaverton's sister cities to town at once to share ideas about sustainable living concepts and approaches for growing cities.

Joining Bürgermeister Maier in Beaverton were Sung Moo-yong, mayor of Cheonan, Korea; Fukutaro Katsumata, deputy mayor of Gotemba, Japan; Wu Tsung-Chi, secretary general of Hsinchu, Taiwan; Oksana Tkacheva, adviser to the mayor of Birobidzhan, Russia, and Jean-Claude Léger, 'maire' of Cluses, France.

'For a first-time event, you're always worried that something's not going to work,' Doyle said on Tuesday, three days after the last of the visiting dignitaries returned home. 'As far as we could tell, everything worked.'

The leaders' visit coincided with the end of a three-week International Sustainability Leadership Project.

College students from countries representing Beaverton's sister cities - including Russia, Germany, France, Korea, Japan and Taiwan - mixed, mingled and collaborated with 26 college students from the Beaverton area.

Working in groups of 10, the participants tackled problems and formulated possible solutions related to energy use, transportation, waste and water management, green building practices and sustainable food systems.

The students presented their findings to the visiting city leaders and others Friday morning in the Beaverton City Library Auditorium.

When not discussing sustainable practices or comparing notes between the cultures of their respective countries, students spent time with their local host families, taking in various attractions in the greater Portland area and touring Beaverton businesses.

Sam Burkhardt, 20, a student at Humboldt State University in California, said he thoroughly enjoyed meeting and working with students from other parts of the world.

'I think I learned a lot,' he said last week. 'It's not often you're exposed to that many different cultures. It's definitely been a treat.'

Emanuel Matz, 20, who is studying public health and pre-law at Portland State University, said he was impressed with the ideas and perspectives that came about working with Burkhardt and the visiting students.

'I think it's a pretty ingenious idea,' he said of the international sustainability exchange. 'It's better to have a whole bunch of different minds working on one project.'

While Beaverton puts a lot of innovative sustainability solutions to use, Matz admitted some other countries participating in the program are ahead of America's curve in terms of energy conservation.

'Germany, hands down, uses a lot more clean energy than we do,' he said. 'Those students noticed a lot of different things here, like how (cities) keep all their lights on at night.'

Maier, who at 37 said he is not unusually young for a German city leader, said sustainability has been an integral issue in his city and country for decades. But he stressed that a healthy exchange of ideas was more important than comparing how countries are facing their sustainability challenges.

'For me, the most important thing is to give young people an opportunity to see another country and culture - to learn a different mentality and languages,' he said. 'It's been a great pleasure to be here. I will come back, for sure.'

Theresa Baird, program coordinator for Beaverton's Sister Cities Program, said coordinating the event was probably the most challenging event 'ever' in her life.

'Including birthing,' she joked. 'It was a huge project.'

Baird could be seen at the myriad events during the three-week program juggling clipboards, cell phones, walkie-talkies and bantering with any number of city staff, volunteers and visitors. She said the year and a half spent discussing and planning the student exchange event paid off in the end.

'The overall feeling was it was really exciting to have all these people around the world coming together at one place at one time,' she said.

Baird said even though the component of the city leaders' visit - which she credits as Mayor Doyle's brainchild - didn't surface until last fall, she felt the two programs ultimately dovetailed well.

'One would not have happened without the other,' she said. 'The participants just really got very excited about it: the message, the theme, the experience.'

Doyle credits local volunteers for making the event an enjoyable success for all involved.

'Forty or 50 volunteers worked pretty hard on this,' he said, adding he'd like to see the idea continue in other areas. 'I'm going to encourage other Oregon cities to take this on. The participants are not going to forget what happened here.'

One of those would be Léger, the 'maire' of Cluses, France. The Beaverton event marks his fifth visit to the United States.

While he was impressed with the students' presentations, Léger said he realizes it will take a long time for even the sharpest sustainability concepts to replace the status quo in terms of energy sources and consumption.

'It was very interesting to see what we have to do, and what we will do, to solve the many, many problems. But I am too old to see how they will turn out,' he said with a hearty chuckle. 'It may take 20 years.'

After visiting cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Charlotte, N.C., Léger said he's finally found his favorite destination.

'Beaverton, of course!' he proclaimed with another robust laugh. 'I speak from my heart. I like to be in Oregon.'