Our View: Sustainability doesn’t need a coordinator | SteamboatToday.com

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Our View: Sustainability doesn’t need a coordinator

— Steamboat Springs City Manager Alan Lanning is absolutely right – now is not the time to add an $80,000 to $100,000 “sustainability coordinator” to city staff.

We’re not convinced there will be a right time, including when the 2008 budget is approved.

The city’s Green Team, a volunteer group that takes on local environmental initiatives and activities, recommended that the City Council consider adding such a position. Sustainability is the effort to properly balance human needs with the need to protect our surrounding natural environment. The sustainability coordinator would lead city efforts on conservation and energy efficiency and help area organizations and communities with sustainability initiatives. Also, the coordinator would be responsible for implementing the Sustainability Management Plan, which was developed by the Green Team and adopted by the Steamboat Springs City Council last August.

“There’s a ton of great ideas,” Councilman Ken Brenner said Tuesday of Green Team efforts that could be fueled by a full-time leader. “We will see results between now and the end of the year.”

But the rest of the City Council followed Lanning’s advice and postponed any such decision until the 2008 budget cycle. “This should be part of the budget process,” Lanning said at the council meeting. “I’m not sure that we needed a parade of people telling us that we need a coordinator : This (item) is not a public forum to push an agenda.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

Don’t misunderstand – we support the city’s Green Team and efforts at sustainability. But sustainability is not a government program and it’s not a city department. It’s simply a philosophical approach to governance.

The Sustainability Management Plan adopted by the council last summer emphasizes “top-down” concepts such as environmentally friendly management and construction policies, and “bottom-up” practices such as improving light fixtures and air-conditioning units. Implementing such practices is the job of all city departments and all city employees, not a single coordinator.

In fact, it could be argued that hiring a full-time coordinator will slow, rather than spur, sustainable practices. The reality is, once a coordinator is hired, city employees will see sustainability as the coordinator’s responsibility, not theirs. At that point, the sustainability coordinator becomes a prime example of the very inefficiency he or she is trying to eliminate.

The city has a Green Team. The City Council has adopted a Sustainability Management Plan. It has a city manager and department heads fully capable of following sustainability recommendations and policies. That’s a lot of sustainability tools already in place.

Sustainability should be a consideration in all city decisions. Reducing waste, enhancing energy efficiency, using green building techniques and promoting renewable sources of power all are important. But achieving such changes will require a team, rather than an individual, approach. Spending $100,000 to staff an office that will coordinate and lead the sustainable charge would be, we think, a waste of the city’s money.