IN THE REGION — Over half of the towns and cities in Connecticut have registered with a program administered by Eastern Connecticut State University staff that encourages towns to catalog and publicly share their efforts at sustainability in economic development, arts and culture, and environmental conservation.
The program, Sustainable CT, offers towns access to experts, interns, and grants. In turn, towns are asked to submit reports covering 10 different practices, including planning, transportation, and stewardship of natural resources.
The reports are graded on a point system, and towns earning enough points are certified bronze or silver and the details of the towns’ programs are published on Sustainable CT’s website as a “roadmap” for other towns, explained ECSU’s Institute for Sustainable Energy Executive Director Lynn Stoddard.
“A lot of towns were talking about creating a sustainability plan,” Stoddard said. “We wanted to avoid the need for every town to hire someone to do that when we know collectively what those best practices are.”
Stoddard developed Sustainable CT in 2016 and 2017 in cooperation with with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), town leaders, and a number of public agencies. The program’s funders include the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, Common Sense Fund, and the Smart Seed Fund.
CCM advocacy manager Donna Hamzy said that the program helps towns to answer common questions.
“Different towns ask the same questions and a lot of them are trying do the same things to stay innovative and keep up with practices,” Hamzy said. “We’re always trying to help them understand what other towns are doing rather than reinvent the wheel.”
Over half of the state’s municipalities have registered with the program. Among those towns in southeastern Connecticut are Old Lyme, Chester, Clinton, East Lyme, Essex, Groton, Norwich, Stonington, North Stonington, and Waterford.
Old Saybrook and New London are the only towns in the region to have been received bronze certification, as of this article’s publication. By the end of November, Sustainable CT will announce additional certifications.
Old Saybrook Town Planner Christine Nelson said that Sustainable CT has encouraged the town to consistently review its different programs for environmental issues and look ‘big picture.’
The town’s report shows that Old Saybrook received points for forming a committee to study and advertise redevelopment of the Mariner’s Way brownfield area, for coastal cleanup efforts, for installing efficient streetlights, and for reports on vulnerabilities due to climate change in town.
“It turned out we were an active town in terms of land use and planning,” Nelson said. “It was like packaging up materials we’d already done and uploading them.”
Nelson and the town’s director of economic development Susie Beckman said that Old Saybrook has researched Sustainable CT’s website and borrowed language in updating the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
In Old Lyme, First Selectman Bonnie Reemsnyder said that the program gives her a broader outlook on the community.
“It really makes us take a look at how we are doing things in Old Lyme,” Reemsnyder said, “and take any opportunity to improve what we do to make ourselves more sustainable, limit our carbon footprint, look for opportunities to educate people on things like recycling and awareness of climate change, being more diverse and accessible to the community.”