Climate Action Team Produces Draft Strategic Plan

Climate Action Team Produces Draft Strategic Plan

Following six months of discussion, a leadership team of Village staff and community representatives has published a draft Climate Action Plan. The overarching goal of the plan is to achieve a 35% reduction from baseline levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. The public is invited to review the plan and leave online comments through June 21.

Sustainability has been one of the top priorities for the Board of Trustees over the past two years. A study by Village consultant paleBluedot laid out the case for addressing climate change, noting that temperature increases are already affecting Northbrook with more severe weather events, diminished air quality, strains on public health, and other impacts. The study argued that a “business as usual” approach will cost the Village economy an average of $51M annually by 2100.

To explore possible responses, the Village assembled a Climate Action Planning Team with representatives from Village staff, commissions, and stakeholder organizations including the Chamber. The Team’s mission was to identify ways to both reduce the production of GHG within the Village and to make the community more resilient to climate change impacts. The Team set an overarching goal of reducing GHG emissions by 2030 to align with the standards set by the Paris Climate Agreement.

Chamber Board member Robyn Kole, Karlin Kerschner Sharpe & Co., represented the Chamber on the team and found the experience to be eye-opening. “We were assigned to groups to study two broad topics and review up to a hundred different approaches for each, and then cut it down to a workable number,” she explained. “I had never been very involved in green issues before, but I learned a lot. There are so many people in the community that are really passionate and knowledgeable.”

Facilitated by paleBluedot, the CAP Team reviewed possible goals and strategies with an eye to affordability, feasibility, breadth of impact, ratio of benefit compared to cost, and track record for success.  The resulting Draft Plan recommends 190 action items across eight socioeconomic sectors: Transportation, Buildings and Energy, Waste Management, Water and Wastewater, Local Food, Health and Safety, Greenspace, and Climate Economy.  According to Village Sustainability Coordinator Tessa Murray, the first four sectors focus on reducing GHG while the last four promote resiliency.

Each section of the report explains the relationship of the topic to climate change, describes policy strategies, and includes additional tips for concerned individuals to adopt. Specific action items are assigned to community organizations best suited to develop them into practice.

For strategies involving the private sector, the Plan recommendations largely rely on a combination of education and incentives to promote participation by residents and businesses. A few examples of policies with special relevance for businesses:

●     To reduce vehicle miles driven by workers, promote tele-working as an alternative to commuting and encourage employers to implement subsidized or discounted public transit options (Action Items TL 1-2 and TL 2-3).

●     To increase renewable energy use, incentivize solar panel installations in commercial and industrial buildings (Action Items BE 1-3 to 1-5)

●     To improve community-wide energy efficiency, establish programs to promote retro commissioning and operation/maintenance practices for commercial properties, beginning with 10 large businesses per year (Action Item BE 6-1)

●     To decrease the amount of solid waste, phase out single-use products like bags, utensils, and takeout containers by implementing an opt-in fee for such products (Action Item WM 1-1)

While established businesses would be addressed largely with incentive and education strategies, new developments would be subject to requirements for energy efficiency, waste diversion, and other goals. The Village is asked to take a leadership role by adapting zoning rules, investing in energy-efficient vehicles and infrastructure, and developing partnerships to support strategies.

While the scope of recommendations may seem daunting, Director of Development and Planning Services Michaela Kohlstedt emphasizes the various approaches will be implemented only as appropriate to achieve the larger purpose of the plan. “The goal is to reduce emissions,” she explained during the Plan Commission meeting on May 18. “It’s not to just do all the items and cross them off the list.”  The CAP is conceived as a living document that will be updated as results are measured over time.

In May and June, the CAP will be presented at meetings of Village’s various commissions for feedback while public feedback is simultaneously collected online. A public open house with Village staff is also planned for Wednesday, June 16 from 4:00-7:00 p.m. at Village Hall. The CAP Team may revisit sections of the Plan that are noted to raise significant concerns.  Aside from those discussions, the CAP is expected to be presented to the Board of Trustees at a public hearing on July 27.

“It will be very interesting to see how these ideas will be picked up,” says Robyn Kole. “I think communication will be very important to get the public involved in making changes. This process has taught me that there are steps everyone can take and that we all need to be more cognizant of these issues.”