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Shoreline’s Sustainability Strategy Bears Fruit: Interview with Juniper Nammi, Associate Planner, AICP.

Editor: The theme of this blog is to provide inspiration and practical advice to help build capacity in the realm of sustainability and green building. In 2007, O’Brien & Company partnered with the planning firm AHBL to help develop an Environmental Sustainability Strategy for the City of Shoreline. This Fall, we checked in with Juniper Nammi, Associate Planner for the City of Shoreline, and Project Manager for our contract to see how implementation of the Strategy is going.

Before we get into today, let’s provide the reader with some background. Can you provide a little history for our reader? JUNIPER: Certainly. As of 2006, there was actually a good deal happening throughout the City’s departments and among our residents with regard to sustainability. But there was nothing tying all of these efforts together and no comprehensive guidance going forward. In 2006 the City Council added "creating an environmentally sustainable community" to its goals. Under the Council’s charge, City Staff leadership worked on what this might mean and determined that a plan or strategy to define and direct municipal and community wide efforts towards sustainability would be helpful. The Council approved a consultant budget of $75K (keep in mind this was different economic times!) and City Staff leadership created an interdepartmental team to work with the consultant team. This team was the foundation for our green team which still functions today and is a key component of Strategy Implementation. The process took one year, and included review of our Comprehensive Plan and Development Code regulations, interviews with various city staff, and two very important community conversations. The Strategy document went through an intensive review and was adopted formally by the Council in 2008 with unanimous support of Council, Planning Commission, and the Parks Board.

Shoerline green team You mentioned an interdepartmental green team as a key component of Strategy Implementation. What is your role on the team and how does the team function? I’m co-chair of the green team along with Miranda Redinger. We have about 13-15 members at any given time and meet monthly, although there are subcommittees that meet in between to do more specific tasks. I’m happy to say that all City departments are committed and the work is included in our work plans. With lean times, it is definitely a challenge to get full support from every team member all the time, but the team does provide a city-wide forum for the implementation of ideas generated during and since the strategic planning process in 2007-08. As I mentioned earlier, prior to the Strategy there were a number of individual efforts going on. This team gives us all a better understanding of what's happening in other departments, and allows us to collaborate. It enables us to do what we are already doing, better, and to build on that.

What kind of budget does the team have? Not much. We have a few hundred dollars for direct expenses. However, sustainable elements recommended in the Strategy are being integrated into many of the City's projects. An important outcome of the strategic planning process was to add the question — What are the sustainability implications for your project? — to the budgeting process.

Bravo! What other positive outcomes have you seen? The Strategy provided a good starting point for the green team’s discussions, but it intentionally wasn’t a prescriptive plan. If you visit our City’s website you will see projects that have been completed or are in-progress that were identified at the community conversations we held as part of the strategic planning process. The City is also doing a better job of explicitly calling out the environmental sustainability implications of our plan updates and capital projects

A good example is our Transportation Master Planning process, which is currently underway. A number of specific recommendations in the Sustainability Strategy are related to transportation planning and the plan update is systematically reviewing those recommendations for incorporation into the Master Plan. Recommendations being considered include transit oriented development, improving the safety and connectivity of walking and biking routes in the City, and addressing transit service issues.

Anything else? We were able to secure grant funding for some projects including getting our sustainability indicators and baselines up on our website, conducting a carbon inventory, and updating our urban tree inventory and related regulations. Also, we have an approved framework for an environmentally preferable purchasing policy in place. Now we are working on specifics for various categories of purchases such as office supplies, janitorial supplies, or consulting contracts.

What about green building efforts? Planning and Environmental Services staff are currently developing a comprehensive Green Building Program, including evaluation of building codes, outreach materials, technical assistance and training opportunities, as well as incentives for greener buildings in our zoning standards. We are developing guidance for capital improvement projects to ensure sustainability is a consideration along with financial feasibility. In addition, we are in the process of benchmarking the energy efficiency of our facilities through a comprehensive carbon emissions inventory effort.

In addition to all the activity you've described, have you seen a change in the way City staff approach the concept of environmental sustainability? From the very beginning of the strategic planning process, the City Council and management staff recognized that environmental sustainability was not just about trees and recycling. There has definitely been an organizational shift in thinking about environmental sustainability, broadening staff understanding beyond the commonly understood environmental topics of habitat and the three Rs. Interdepartmental involvement supported by the leadership has been a big part of making this shift happen.

Strategy development engaged the community in planning. How is the public involved now? Public participation opportunities in environmental sustainability include outreach events such as Earth Day Every Day and Clean Sweep Recycling events, community meetings and public hearings related to specific plan and project development topics, and ongoing volunteer opportunities in our parks. At this time the City does not have a citizen committee or volunteer opportunity specifically related to the Sustainability Strategy implementation because the Green Team is primarily focused on city operations, updating processes, and developing new programs.

Any lessons learned you’d like to share with municipalities trying to do something similar? Start with the basics. In our case the leadership explicitly added sustainability as a value for our community. This begins to shape all other guiding documents and policies. And it is critical to have interdepartmental collaboration, even more so when our budgets are so constrained. For this to happen you need the blessing of your leadership, both from elected officials and City staff. Shoreline has been fortunate to have the continued support of our Council, our City Manager, Department heads, and the community at large.

Are there other tools besides a sustainable strategy that you feel are/could be useful for municipal planners? (Including tools that don’t exist but would be great if they did!) We need analytical and assessment tools that are easy to use — for example, a Life Cycle Cost Analysis tool that doesn't require you to be an LCA expert. We also need tools that can help us convey the significance of the data in an articulate manner.

What do you think the big opportunities are there now for municipalities? We need to be looking at neighborhood or district level solutions — although there can be challenges with maintaining centralized systems. Collaboration with neighboring jurisdictions will also be essential, especially given limited resources, to share ideas and tools that work as well as coordinate projects and ideas that need to be implemented at a larger scale. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel if the city next door has an excellent wheel model to get things rolling. Cascadia Green Building Council has issued a challenge to create Living Communities using the International Living Building Institute's Standard.. It will take some time and effort to shift the thinking of the building industry and general public as to why this approach is a good idea, but I think it's time to move beyond the low hanging fruit to more comprehensive steps toward sustainability.

Juniper Nammi is currently an Associate Planner with the City of Shoreline and a Shoreline resident. She acted as project manager for development of the Shoreline Environmental Sustainability Strategy and is currently co-chair of the City’s interdepartmental Green Team, which is charged with implementation of this Strategy. Juniper also works as part of the permit services team reviewing a wide variety of permits and assisting customers when they have questions about City regulations. She has a Masters degree in Water Resources Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2004).

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