A grassroots movement designed to promote Lethbridge as a leader in environmental sustainability and influence change at all levels is gaining momentum in the community.
Environment Lethbridge is a community council involving citizens, organizations, business and the city, whose main goal is tackling issues that affect all aspects of daily life, such as waste disposal and energy use.
“Our intent is to provide a co-operative process for the flow of information, advice and expertise between members of the community and the City of Lethbridge regarding environmental sustainability,” says steering committee member Braum Barber, who has been involved since the inception of the group last year.
Barber says the group is reaching out to the entire community, including the industrial sector, for input and involvement as the group moves forward.
“What we’re finding is there is quite a large number of people in the community who see environmental sustainability as an important part of doing good business,” he says.
Non-profit organizations, educational institutions and government departments can apply to become community partners with Environment Lethbridge at annual cost of $100. Upon acceptance, they will lend their expertise and resources when necessary.
The founding community partners include the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce, Exhibition Park, the Industrial Association of Southern Alberta, Lethbridge College, Lethbridge Naturalists Society, Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization, Lethbridge Sustainable Living Association, Mission and Social Action Committee of McKillop United Church, the Oldman Watershed Council, the Southern Alberta Group for the Environment and the University of Lethbridge.
After spending the past two years formulating the policies and guidelines that will govern Environment Lethbridge, the steering committee is ready to hand over the reins to its newly elected executive council, which will propel the group to the next level, he says.
Mike Spencer, chair of the executive council, says in the year ahead Environment Lethbridge will focus on community awareness and engagement and ongoing education about environmental sustainability.
“We’re looking at ways we can connect with the average person in the community,” he says. “This may be the person who is not currently recycling, for example, maybe because of barriers that we need to look at removing.”
The group plans to offer workshops in the community and possibly a speaker series to create awareness on issues and priorities related to environmental sustainability, he says.
“These would be on topics like learning how to compost, insulate homes or install solar panels,” he says.
Spencer says the group would like to work with city schools so residents can be educated early in their lives on the importance of environmental sustainability.
He says the group believes that a sustainable city can only be achieved through the partnership and collaboration of the entire community.
Some of the issues the group plans to investigate further include waste and recycling and solar energy. More issues will emerge as community input is received, he says.
Spencer says Environment Lethbridge is supported by the city and has been described as the “fourth pillar,” with Economic Development Lethbridge, the Allied Arts Council and the Lethbridge Sports Council being the other three. The pillars serve to provide residents with opportunities for health, prosperity, culture and environmental responsibility.
Two popular city initiatives — the autumn events Re-Use Rendevous and the Green Life Expo Trade Show — are being turned over to Environment Lethbridge to organize and enhance, he says.
“We see this move towards greater environmental sustainability as a way of building community pride,” he says. “There’s already a tremendous amount of good work being done, but people don’t hear about it — there is a real need to share our knowledge.”
Eventually, it is hoped the group can be considered a major consultant on government policy, incentives and bylaws, he says.
Individual residents and businesses are encouraged to volunteer, with opportunities available to join work teams, committees or task forces.
“Our initiatives are going to take a tremendous amount of volunteer work as we move forward,” Spencer says.
The group also plans to begin tracking air quality, water quality, energy consumption and waste diversion in the city in an effort to establish benchmarks.
“We can’t sing our praises of being a city which promotes environmental sustainability without having some way of showing our progress in these areas,” Spencer says.
Currently the group has a static website for the collection and sharing of information, which will be evolving to a more dynamic platform in the New Year, says Spencer.
The website will be the hub where residents can access information, such as how to a benefit from an existing incentive program to make their homes more energy efficient, he says. They can also learn about and purchase rain barrels for their properties, make donations to support Environment Lethbridge or apply for volunteer positions.
The website, which also includes detailed information about the group’s mandate, contact information and event listings, is located at: http://www.environmentlethbridge.org.