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Volunteer group striving for sustainable stepping stones

Plan to go greener to get hearing before Forest Grove City Council


What do cooking lessons, a living wage, affordable housing and a solar-powered trash compactor have in common?

They are all stepping stones to “sustainability,” according to a committed group of Forest Grove volunteers. For the last two years, the city’s ad hoc sustainability committee has worked to envision what the popular buzzword could mean in Forest Grove. After three sustainability summits and a town hall meeting on the topic, the committee is in the final stages of drafting the Forest Grove Sustainability Action Plan.

Committee members plan to present it to the city council Monday, Oct. 28, said Committee Chair Elaine Cole.

They’ll use the extra month to gather more feedback from the community, Cole said. Suggestions so far have ranged from using more electric-powered cars in the city’s fleet, to contacting the people who helped shape the city’s vision statement a few decades ago, Cole said.

The draft plan homes in on a half-dozen categories, including energy conservation and green buildings; food; materials management; natural resources; social equity; transportation; and planning.

And it defines ‘sustainability’ — a word many people still struggle to understand, said Robin Lindsley, a committee member and spokesman for the Dairy Creek Community Food Web.

“Resilient is another word I like to use,” Lindsley said. “It means you have the resources to help you with what you are going to be doing.”

After assessing current projects, stakeholders and protocols, the committee and other participants asked, “What do we want to do? What would be our call to action?” Cole said.

Some categories in the draft have already seen significant progress, whereas others still need leaders and organization, Lindsley said.

In the “food” section, goals include greater availability of community kitchens for small businesses and cooking lessons, feeding Forest Grove’s hungry and helping more people eat sustainably grown, local food.

Such food goals are achievable in part because of the momentum they’ve already got going, Lindsley said.

“We’ve had a couple of years to get going on this stuff,” she explained. Finding partners within the community has been crucial, especially when funds are so limited.

“It’s not that we have money to do it, it’s just that we’ve been working on making these connections happen,” she said. Materials-management goals include implementing a city-wide composting program and expanding to collect hard-to-recycle materials.

In social equity, increasing the living wage and affordable housing for Forest Grove citizens are priorities.

City Councilor Victoria Lowe is looking forward to seeing more projects that require short-term investment but deliver long-term gains, such as a solar-powered trash compactor for downtown Forest Grove and the weekly farmers market. Innovative changes in building codes or infrastructure are another possibility.

Sustainability is about whether a community’s decisions can be sustained over the long haul, Lowe said.

“We have to work really hard to hold on to what we have because the drive is really strong to sacrifice for the almighty dollar,” she said.

Many cities have undergone a similar sustainable-planning process, but the amount of citizen input here sets Forest Grove apart — especially since there’s essentially no budget for the work, said Cole, who has a master’s degree in environmental education and specializes in leadership and organizational change.

“I feel proud of ourselves because this is a grassroots effort,” she said. “It’s been hard, it’s been messy, but it’s been good.”

After city councilors consider the draft, they could sign off on the formation of a commission or a more formal plan to integrate sustainability through different departments. They could also consider hiring a sustainability coordinator, Cole said.

Robert Liberty, the director of Portland State University’s Urban Sustainability Accelerator, helps communities across the country conceptualize and implement plans such as this.Many plans don’t make the jump from words on a page to actually changing how communities operate, Liberty said.

“The plans that aren’t implemented are serving a political purpose. They create an appearance of addressing an issue without the burden of doing it,” he said.

The ones that are successful, however, start to gather support slowly when people see small parts of the plan becoming realty, Liberty said.

“When people see that a plan is being implemented ... people get excited,” he said. “You can build momentum around it.”



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