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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

REVIEW PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - Jenny Slepian has spent a lot of time in fire stations since becoming the City's management and sustainability fellow, helping to replace lighting with LED bulbs and implementing a composting program.Jenny Slepian doesn’t like the word “sustainability” — even if it is part of her job title.

“It’s become a real buzzword,” says Slepian, the City of Lake Oswego’s management and sustainability fellow. “I would rather focus on terms like ‘energy saving,’ ‘waste reduction’ and ‘saving money.’”

Don’t 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 City’s 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.

REVIEW PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - Jenny Slepian cant help but smile when she turns on the lights at the main fire station in Lake Oswego. Before Slepian arrived, the station used 26 different kinds of lights.“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 bachelor’s in geology and environmental studies from Bowdoin College, a master’s in regional and resource planning from the University of Otaga in New Zealand and a master’s in sustainability and environmental management from Harvard. She’s 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. It’s 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 City’s fire stations. She led the City’s 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, we’ve 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 doesn’t 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. I’m someone who people can ask questions of.”

One of the first department heads she worked with was Ed Wilson, the City’s 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 she’s proud of the impact she’s had — even if she isn’t too crazy about the word “sustainability.”

“We’re doing this with pretty limited staff resources. I have no sustainability budget,” she says. “But we’re still managing to get stuff done.”

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..