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Building a Sustainable Garden State, One Community at a Time

The schools program will raise students’ and teachers’ awareness of green issues while saving money for school districts, said Dr. Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

“We believe that board members need to be trained in the many benefits of sustainability and green technology so that schools can be operated more efficiently, and the money saved can be put back into instruction,” he said in a statement.

Among current participants, some townships are motivated to out-green others, said Randall Solomon, the group’s other codirector.

“There’s a virtuous competition,” he said. “Municipalities want to one-up their neighbors.”

Solomon cited his own community of Highland Park which raised its sustainability standard to silver this year after seeing nearby http://www.twp.woodbridge.nj.usWoodbridge attaining the higher level. Highland Park earned the higher certification with 355 points this year but remains well behind Woodbridge which, with 870 points, has by far the highest sustainability rating in the state.

Woodbridge’s latest green projects include a 30 percent reduction in the miles traveled by trash trucks; conversion of salt-spreading trucks from gasoline to electric; and the purchase of 12 gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles for its municipal fleet. It also purchases recycled paper, green cleaning products, and energy-efficient appliances.

Communities are increasingly concerned with presenting themselves as environmentally conscious, just as politicians are aware of the vote-getting potential of green credentials, Solomon argued.

“Green branding is important to the image of a town,” he said. “There are very few people who have a negative association with a place that pursues sustainable policies.”

More tangibly, people are motivated by simply saving money by using less energy and less water while generating less waste, all areas that are low-hanging fruit for local governments struggling to balance tight budgets, Solomon said.

“A lot of these things are just stingy government,” he said.

Despite the green zeal of towns like Woodbridge and Frenchtown, their current ratings don’t show that they are truly sustainable, Solomon said. The majority with a bronze certification, though moving in the right direction, are not sustainable yet, while silver towns are making “significant” progress, and are statewide leaders, he said.

Sustainable Jersey hasn’t yet published a gold certification but is working on it, Solomon said. When launched, it will differ from the lower levels by setting performance standards such as specific reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The program’s success has made it a national model, and it’s beginning to be replicated in other states. Maryland now has a statewide program that’s similar to New Jersey’s.

But for now, the program is unique, said Michelle Knapik, Director of Sustainable Environment Programs at the [hppp://www.surdna.orgSurdna Foundation] which promotes green programs nationwide, and supports Sustainable Jersey with $225,000 a year.

“I do not believe there is any (other) systemic program that connects the learning across communities at a statewide level to leverage resources in effective ways in a way that Sustainable Jersey does,” Knapik said in an interview.

She argued that New Jersey’s small size has aided the process of communities learning from each other in urban, suburban, or rural settings, but said the model is replicable anywhere.

“It’s at a point where national funders and others can come in and say, ‘Wow, you are capturing amazing learning about this operating system. How can we help you replicate it in other places?’” she said.

Curtis Fisher, northeast regional director for the National Wildlife Federation, said Sustainable Jersey succeeds because it helps people act on their sincere but unfocused desire to live with more environmental sensitivity.

“People want to do this but they may not know how to do it,” he said.

Although communities may save money and make themselves more attractive to business by going green, people are really motivated by a concern for the earth and future generations, Fisher said.

“Most people come to this because they want a better future for our planet and their children,” he said.

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