If it takes a village to raise a child, then surely it also takes a community to accelerate sustainability and climate action.
I recently saw that in action at the “Sustainability Community Dialogue” in Stoughton. The event was organized by Stoughton’s Sustainability Committee, with support from Dane County Extension staff who are helping the Stoughton Sustainability Committee engage the public and create the city’s first sustainability plan. The aim was to share information and receive community input on the goals and actions they want to be part of the plan.
The event was a huge success and also a model for other local communities that do not yet have a sustainability plan. First, thanks to the hard work of the committee, more than 60 local residents attended the event. Stoughton Mayor Tim Swadley noted that he saw posters promoting the event all over the city in recent days. The committee also had the foresight to offer free food and a kids table so that it was easier for people to attend an evening meeting. The event also leveraged the enthusiasm of members associated with Sustainable Stoughton, a local nonprofit that has been active since 2014. Notably, the attendees included half a dozen Stoughton High School students, including members of the high school environmental club. The students actively participated in the discussions too—showing lots more poise and thoughtfulness than I had when I was 16.
The biggest success, though, was the discussions. Extension staff created an agenda where people met in small groups to discuss specific focus areas. I had the privilege of listening into some of these discussions and my only regret is that I couldn’t listen to all six tables at once.
Halfway through the discussions people got to shift from one focus area to another. For event organizers that moment of shifting is always telling because it creates an opportunity for people to slip away if the event is not working for them. At this Stoughton event there was almost no attrition; people joined new topic tables and dug in again—the second round of discussions just as vibrant as the first. The event closed with table moderators sharing some highlights of the discussions at their tables. From there, the committee, working with Extension staff, will summarize the discussion more formally and use these insights in future public engagements as their sustainability plan evolves. Therefore, this event was a beginning, not an end. Again, during the closing, I was struck that participants stuck around for the summary and beyond; community members clearly appreciated an opportunity to talk about issues associated with energy use, transportation, water use and quality, waste management, community land use, and community engagement. I left the event feeling optimistic about sustainability and climate action across Dane County. The event in Stoughton illustrated that people are interested in sustainability and they want to do the right things, especially if we make it easier for them to do so. More, it created a model that other communities could follow to engage their citizens in discussions about priorities relative to sustainability.
We will achieve a clean energy future, one community at a time, across Dane County. And the Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change is always here to help communities pursue their sustainability priorities.
Kathy is the Director of the Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. In that role she's leading efforts to implement the Climate Action Plan. Prior to coming to Dane County, Kathy led Cool Choices and, prior to that, she led Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.
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