COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland and the Maryland Municipal League are teaming up to help communities plan and implement green, sustainable practices that may help them cope with tight budgets.
Based on a successful model in New Jersey, the free, voluntary program will guide communities through a series of steps that will ultimately earn them a "certificate of sustainability."
The program - Sustainable Maryland Certified - is expected to be attractive to smaller communities, and may eventually earn participating municipalities preferences in competition for state and federal grants, the organizers say.
"Planning for and adopting green, sustainable practices can be intimidating at first, so our idea is to create a menu of options that will help and encourage local officials to get on the path," says Joanne Throwe, director of the University of Maryland's Environmental Finance Center. "Municipal leaders tell us they'd like to green their communities, especially because they think it will cut their long-run costs. Our goal is to give them a free, voluntary entry point to help them begin, and then guide them through the process."
Throwe and her team unveiled the program and began recruiting communities to get involved at yesterday's annual meeting of the Maryland Municipal League. Local officials can now register online at the program's new interactive website: http://www.sustainablemaryland.com/index.php .
An advisory panel of about a dozen mayors in the league has been guiding Throwe's team as they put Sustainable Maryland Certified (SMC) together over the past several months.
"Maryland cities and towns have long searched for a systematic approach for accessing existing sustainability tools and resources available in our state," says Scott A. Hancock, the Maryland Municipal League's executive director. "Sustainable Maryland Certified is the right solution providing the proper incentives and enticements to encourage 100 percent municipal participation in sustainability efforts."
The program provides a framework, training, planning tools and an incentive to guide communities' greening efforts. The certification will prove to be a rigorous and meaningful designation, the organizers say. Certifications will be awarded at a ceremony in the fall of 2012.
Communities won't have to pay the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) to participate, and will be steered toward public or private funding that may help defray the costs of projects.
Eventually, the EFC hopes that communities that earn certification will get priority when they apply for state development funds. Communities can navigate the process at their own pace and tailor activities to fit their budgets.
INITIAL INTEREST FROM MAYORS
In Prince George's County, the Port Towns community of Colmar Manor says it wants to be one of the first municipalities to earn certification.
"Sustainability and healthy living go hand in hand," says Colmar Manor Mayor Michael Hale, a member of the program advisory panel. "It's all part of the ecosystem we live in."
Hale says he hopes to earn certification points for rooftop solar panels, rain gardens, and community gardens the town has recently worked to put in place.
"We need to create a stable relationship between human activities and the natural world by addressing economic, social, and environmental values," says Chestertown Mayor Margo Bailey on the Eastern Shore, stressing the need for the program.
"If municipalities are looking for cost-effective and strategic ways to protect their assets, revitalize their communities, and improve their long-term quality of life, we're there to help," Throwe says.
Communities can potentially see long-range economic benefits by incorporating energy saving measures, improving water quality and land preservation, strengthening local economic development, and addressing local health needs and inequities, she explains.
"We want to leverage our expertise to assist local officials across the state as they embark on sustainability programs," says University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. "This can stimulate economic development and community wellbeing, and that's a vital part of our service mission as a Land Grant institution focused on the statewide needs of Maryland citizens"
HOW IT WORKS
The program establishes a point system - earn 150 points and the community wins certification. Points are earned by setting up programs to address a range of issues such as global warming, energy, pollution, land use, air and water quality, health equity, support for local businesses, sustainable agriculture, green buildings, transportation, and more.
If the municipal initiatives meet established standards, the actions will be accepted and counted towards certification. Also, communities can earn points for new or pre-existing programs deemed to be "innovative demonstration projects."
More program details are available online:
Funding for the creation and administration of Sustainable Maryland Certified is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Town Creek Foundation. Program partners include the Maryland Municipal League, EFC's sister center, the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, as well as 87 other organizations from the public and private sectors, nonprofits, and academia.
The EFC is one of ten university-based centers across the country whose mission is to help communities identify sustainable strategies for financing their resource protection goals.
Director, UMD Environmental Finance Center
Senior Media Relations Association
University of Maryland