Washington, D.C., Oct. 21 – During a lecture at the National Building Museum, about 50 attendees learned that building a green community is a complex task, requiring involvement from businesses, citizen groups, government, and private organizations. But while the task is challenging, the reward is a community that is sustainable now and for future generations, explained Dave Feldman, CEO of an education and outreach program called the Livability Project.

As interest in the environment grows, the idea of a sustainable community is gaining momentum, Feldman said. As implementation director for Bethesda Green, a public-private partnership formed to promote an environmental mind-set in Washington suburb Bethesda, Md., Feldman has helped define community sustainability and create a plan for achieving it.

“Communities are coming together to say, ‘What do we need to do as a community to become sustainable?’” he stated.

Traditional green building tenets like low carbon emissions and reducing waste are factors in sustainability, Feldman noted, but a green community also promotes locally grown food, water conservation, maintaining natural habitats, the local economy, health and happiness of residents, and even culture and heritage. Culture and heritage “may not be green, but [they] make a community sustainable,” too, he said.

Greening Bethesda

Founded at the end of 2007 by Montgomery County council member George Leventhal and Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman, Bethesda Green’s  goal is to turn the town into a “green zone.” Its board of directors includes a diverse group of business owners and officials from government and citizen organizations.
Interested community members can take part in one of six working groups on topics such as “Recycling and Sustainable Materials” or “Education, Outreach, and Marketing.” The groups are helping establish the organization’s green plan and reach out to schools, non-profits, businesses, and the rest of the community to educate or build support.

In the eight months since the organization was formed, Bethesda Green has launched a number of initiatives. For example, it’s working with restaurants to collect grease that is sent for conversion to biofuel. Meanwhile, part of the Montgomery County vehicle fleet and the area’s trolley system now run on what used to be food waste.

The group also helped start a community farm, solar cooperatives, and collection points for used compact fluorescent lamps, toner cartridges, and other hazardous waste.

Bethesda Green cobbled together funding from private, public, and foundation sources, but also came up with innovative and green ways to raise money. Local businesses are sponsoring recycling bins for the downtown’s pilot recycling project; sponsored bike racks are next on the docket.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a variety of partners to raise a sustainable community.

Game Plan
To assist communities in attaining their green goals, Feldman created the Livability Framework, an action plan he applied in Bethesda. It has 12 parts:

  1. Assessing the community. “What makes the community unique?” Feldman suggested. “What are things that work already that you might want to scale up?”
  2. Envisioning the future. Community leaders should create a vision plan they can reasonably tackle.
  3. Establishing a sustainable structure. Feldman suggested creating an entity, perhaps a 501(c)(3) organization or other group, that brings together diverse stakeholders to set the goals in motion.
  4. Building organizational capacity. The action group should figure out how to reach out to various community members.
  5. Developing a green action plan. The organization needs to decide how to meet its environmental goals.
  6. Engaging the entire community. The group should discuss how to change behaviors, educate the citizens, and solicit financial support.
  7. Providing education and events. Events like green educational events are about building community.
  8. Generating multiple income streams. The group may need to be creative to enable financial support from public and private sectors.
  9. Creating an online presence. “There are a lot of tools that we can provide online that will help people make good decisions,” Feldman said.
  10. Forming a community hub. Finding a venue--physical or online--for people to gather is as much about community as it is about green.
  11. Documenting and measuring feedback. It’s important to measure how the group is effecting change, although documenting efforts like education can be challenging.
  12. Celebrating success. The group should promote its successes to propel itself forward.