By Donna Drewes and Randall Solomon
As Pam Mount presented the overflowing bag of fuzzy, ripe peaches to Stephen Shen, the Minister of the Environmental Protection Administration of Taiwan (EPAT) and his delegation, a big grin spread across our faces. This was a really great day.
It had only been two months earlier when our roles were reversed, and we were the ones touring Taiwan to develop collaborative partnerships. Although we hoped that our new friends in Taiwan would visit New Jersey, we were surprised when we got a call one month later that Minister Shen didn’t want to waste time. The Taiwanese EPAT delegation planned to visit New Jersey on August 9th and hoped we would set up meetings with communities and stakeholders involved with Sustainable Jersey.
We put together a jam-packed, one day New Jersey tour that included a selection of short meetings with Sustainable Jersey’s friends and community leaders. As the meetings progressed, we realized that we were learning a lot as well. Listening to the program participants tell their Sustainable Jersey stories was powerful. Sustainable Jersey is making an impact.
Caroline Ehrlich, Chief of Staff for Woodbridge Township, met with the delegation first and candidly told the group about her Sustainable Jersey experience. She said that when she first approached Mayor John McCormac to see if she could register and work toward Sustainable Jersey certification for the town, he said that it was fine, as long as Woodbridge Township “won” or got the most points in the certification.
Carol explained to the Taiwanese delegation that the Sustainable Jersey certification action list became her “bible.” She spent months visiting the Sustainable Jersey web site and clicking on the actions to learn what she needed to do.
She told Minister Shen that Sustainable Jersey allowed a regular person like her to become a sustainability expert that was able to lead a team of community members and municipal staff to achieve certification. She recounted how she quickly became passionate about the green initiatives and shared her goals with everyone around her. By involving a cross-section of people that live and work in Woodbridge, she was able to gain the support and build the workforce she needed to get sustainable programs and initiatives done.
Hearing this story was especially inspiring because Woodbridge Township didn’t just get certified. Carol and her team have earned the Sustainable Jersey Sustainability Champion award for the past two years after securing the most points in the certification program – just as Mayor McCormac had requested.
A few years ago, Woodbridge Township may not have immediately come to mind as a green leader in New Jersey. Sustainable Jersey has helped quantify what each town in New Jersey is doing to become more sustainable. Now Woodbridge is at the top of the list.
The Taiwanese delegation proceeded to meet with the Sustainable Jersey certified communities of Lawrence and West Windsor Townships. Meetings with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and New Jersey Board of Public Utilities were very productive.
The day finished with an inspiring tour of the Ben Franklin Elementary School which signed a sister school agreement with JianAn Elementary School in New Taipei, Taiwan to collaborate on sustainable education initiatives.
On hand to welcome the Taiwanese visitors were U.S. Representative Rush Holt (Democrat-Hopewell Township), Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, and officials of Lawrence Township’s school board and administrators, teachers, staff and students.
Minister Shen and his delegation seemed very pleased with the day. As he accepted the bag of peaches, he said, “the Sustainable Jersey program is admirable. New Jersey and Taiwan are similar places with a lot to learn from each other.”
In the short-term, we hope to apply the Sustainable Jersey certification with pilot Taiwanese communities and develop a sustainable schools certification.
Sustainable Jersey has had a whirlwind exchange with Taiwan and learned so much. But we are equally inspired after listening to the stories of our friends and communities in New Jersey.
Join us for the third annual Sustainable Jersey awards luncheon at the New Jersey League of Municipalities annual conference on Tuesday, November 15, 2011. For information visit the Sustainable Jersey events page.
Photos courtesy of Ideal Image Consulting
Sustainable Jersey staff and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.