A gentler approach to sustainability
Rather than impose her ideas, Jenny Slepian works with Lake Oswegans to reduce waste, cut energy use and save money throughout the city
Jenny Slepian doesnt like the word sustainability even if it is part of her job title.
Its become a real buzzword, says Slepian, the City of Lake Oswegos management and sustainability fellow. I would rather focus on terms like energy saving, waste reduction and saving money.
Dont misunderstand: Slepian may not like the word, but she certainly believes in the concept and has played a key role in initiating sustainability projects since hitting the ground running a year ago and helping to revive the Citys Sustainability Advisory Board. She has helped to implement nearly a dozen new initiatives, including a residential composting program that is set to debut in June.
Jenny has been an asset to the city and to the sustainability efforts of our communities, says Duke Castle, one of the founders of the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network, which has worked closely with Slepian on a variety of projects.
I find her quiet competence very effective, says Dorothy Atwood, another Sustainability Network founder and board member.
Slepian brought impressive credentials with her when she joined the City staff, including a bachelors in geology and environmental studies from Bowdoin College, a masters in regional and resource planning from the University of Otaga in New Zealand and a masters in sustainability and environmental management from Harvard. Shes worked as a resource planner, environmental planner and project coordinator, most recently for The Greenbrier Companies.
She says she was stunned when she discovered that Lake Oswego was offering exactly the kind of position she wanted.
I was in Boston when I saw the job announcement, says Slepian, who has lived off and on in Lake Oswego since 2008. This job was part sustainability and part records management. It was this weird mash-up of my sustainability side and my IT side. Its like they wrote the job description for me. You never see jobs like that.
Since arriving in Lake Oswego, Slepian has pushed for the replacement of lighting at all City facilities with energy-efficient LED bulbs and composting at all of the Citys fire stations. She led the Citys initiative to purchase 100-percent clean wind power from PGE and regain certification as an EPA Green Power Community.
She continues to advise City departments in waste reduction, energy efficiency and sustainable operations, and provides outreach and education for the community. When the Lake Oswego School District needed help disposing of recyclable material and supplies from Palisades Elementary School last year, it was Slepian who stepped in to provide resources and advice.
What I like about this is that I get to work with people, Slepian says. As Americans, weve got to work on how to improve our own daily lives. And also save a lot of money.
Slepian says she has discovered that it doesnt work too well to barge into a new situation and clobber people with new ideas, so she tries to take a gentler approach.
You get a lot more buy-in that way, Slepian says. So what I try to do is work with people and try to find out what works for them. So much of my job is getting out and talking to people. I let them know that I am a resource. Im someone who people can ask questions of.
One of the first department heads she worked with was Ed Wilson, the Citys recently retired fire chief. Working with Wilson and Battalion Chief Dave Morris, Slepian discovered that there were 26 different kinds of lights in the main fire station; those have now been replaced by LED lighting.
There have been nonstop projects at the library, too, she says. The benefits of this will be reducing energy and reducing waste and saving the taxpayers money.
An added benefit is that Lake Oswego has become a model of sustainability for neighboring cities. Wilsonville, West Linn and Forest Grove might say, If Lake Oswego is doing it, maybe we should do it, Slepian says. We can share our experience.
Slepian says shes proud of the impact shes had even if she isnt too crazy about the word sustainability.
Were doing this with pretty limited staff resources. I have no sustainability budget, she says. But were still managing to get stuff done.