Jurich: A raised-eyebrow review of GreenTownWritten by Stacy Jurich | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently, the “GreenTown: The Future of Community” conference came to Toledo to “drive to create a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable Toledo-Lucas County.”
“GreenTown is a zero waste, carbon neutral event designed to ‘connect the dots’ between the public and private sector to create a stronger platform for common ground and building community,” according to its website.
I was curious to hear from a few acclaimed activists and leaders in sustainability who would be visiting Toledo for the conference, yet I was also skeptical because GreenTown is more or less a franchise conference that travels the Midwest. It is co-produced by a5, a Chicago-based marketing and communications firm, and Seven Generations Ahead, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “build healthy, sustainable communities.”
I raised an eyebrow at the $125 registration fee, which would mean a person working a minimum wage job would have to work 15 hours to register. I was and am doubtful of Mayor Mike Bell’s idea of sustainability and how he intends to “green Toledo.” I wondered if GreenTown was the latest corporate greenwashing trend or carried any legitimate prospects for the future of our city and our planet.
The main conference opened with a “Call to Action” by Mayor Bell, Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, and two of the conference co-producers. This was a thank you to the sponsors, an expression of excitement about the guest speakers and prospective outcomes, an acknowledgement of the number in attendance (Toledo’s GreenTown registration was larger than any other, more than 450) and an emphasis on different parts of the community working together.
During a short break between Mark Fenton, host of “America’s Walking” on PBS and Alexandra Cousteau, filmmaker and National Geographic Emerging Explorer, I had a chance to chat briefly with Mayor Bell. He had mentioned several times in his speech about “moving this forward,” so I asked him what that meant and what sustainability initiatives he intends to implement. Fortunately, his public information officer showed up quickly because as his eyes darted around and he repeated the simple ideas put forward by the most recent speaker, like benches and sidewalks and bike racks, I could tell he was at a loss.
I heard from the following officials, directly or publicly: Jen Sorgenfrei, public information officer; Tim Murphy, commissioner of environmental services; Patrick McLean, director of finance; Kevin Moyer, executive director of energy efficiency and alternative energy programs for Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. I gleaned from them that there is currently a strong focus and decent amount of funding for energy efficiency in buildings (both city-owned and privately owned), sequential implementation of green infrastructure (solar), considerations for “complete streets” to be included during regular construction and road improvements and a commitment to include environmental sustainability in the upcoming city budget.
According to Sorgenfrei, the GreenTown Conference is a catalyst to develop a sustainability plan for the City of Toledo, based on feedback from conference participants and input from the people as to a vision for a sustainable Toledo.
GreenTown afternoon sessions included: LiveWell Toledo-Lucas County; Sustainability and Community Planning; Green Economy, Green Living; Lake Erie: Our Shared Future; Green Building, Fresh Energy; Local Food; Green Outdoors. A hallmark of the franchised conference is a closing reception with beer from the local brewery. Toledo’s was no different with microbrews provided by Maumee Bay Brewing Co.
I was pleased to see a zero waste effort at the conference at SeaGate Centre, which included composting, no throwaway cups or mugs, recycling and cloth napkins for lunch. I also enjoyed the food and drinks provided by our hometown, including Flying Rhino Coffee, We-B-Ribs (shout out to the peach cobbler), Toledo GROWs and more.
This conference is on the right track. The track to sustainability needs to include even more participants, especially at the grassroots level. Most importantly, the track needs to give the well-being of our environment a prominent voice and heavy consideration in economic development discussions. “Ecology” and “economy” share the same root of “ecos,” meaning home. A strong and sustainable economy and a balanced home cannot exist without a strong and sustainable ecology.
Email Toledo Free Press Star columnist Stacy Jurich at email@example.com.
Tags: Alexandra Cousteau, Flying Rhino Coffee, Green Building Fresh Energy, Green Economy Green Living, Green Outdoors, GreenTown, Jen Sorgenfrei, Kevin Moyer, Lake Erie: Our Shared Future, LiveWell Toledo-Lucas County, Local Food, Mark Fenton, Mike Bell, National Geographic, Patrick McLean, PBS, SeaGate Centre, Stacy Jurich, Sustainability and Community Planning, Tim Murphy, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, Toledo GROWS, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Wandering Roots, We-B-Ribs