Paving the way for sustainabilityJennifer McLoughlin’s job is to talk the talk when it comes to environmental sustainability.
By: Hank Long, Woodbury Bulletin
Jennifer McLoughlin’s job is to talk the talk when it comes to environmental sustainability. But those who have come to know her during her time at city hall, know she walks the walk as well.
“We wanted somebody who really believes in sustainability and lives it out,” said Julie Lehr, the Woodbury communications and environmental coordinator, about hiring McLoughlin last year as the city’s first ever sustainability specialist. “After interviewing her, we knew Jennifer fit the bill. She had a lot of things in her life that show she has a belief in green living and preserving the environment. That was important for finding someone to take off in this new position.”
That was more than a year ago when McLoughlin, a Cottage Grove resident, was hired in October 2006. The goal was to develop a staff position to help the city manifest ideas coming from the newly-formed sustainability committee, which is a subcommittee of the city’s environmental advisory commission.
The sustainability committee got off the ground in January of 2007. Since then it has been charged with developing a green policy for the city, the committee has also helped establish performance indicators in the area of sustainability, monitor energy use in city facilities and promote sustainability to the public. But as the committee is made up of residents who volunteer their time, it needed someone to help advocate for their policies. That’s where McLoughlin has come in.
Since her position was created, McLoughlin’s weekly hours on the job have increased from 20 to 28. She’s also become somewhat of a spokesperson for Woodbury’s reputation as a forward thinking suburban municipality.
“We’ve done some amazing things over the last year when it comes to sustainability,” said Lehr, “and as a consequence, we’ve been asked to speak at a lot of different places. Jennifer has done that, but she’s had to turn down a lot of requests because she’s got a lot of projects she’s working on.”
One of those projects has been looking at ways to improve the sustainability of the city’s vehicle stock.
Last fall the city endorsed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. An aspect of the agreement states that the city will strive to makes its current fleet of vehicles more sustainable.
As a result the city will be testing E85 fuels on some of the city’s vehicle, to see its efficiency and performance. The city is also planning to purchase two hybrid electric vehicles in 2009 and 2010 and will study the efficiency of those vehicles.
“We’re also working on a car sharing program, so we can make sure the city is using its vehicles to their full potential,” McLoughlin said.
McLoughlin also helped the city recently make the switch to entirely “green” cleaning products.
McLoughlin’s work for the city of Woodbury is her first taste of the public sector, but she said she’s always been involved in the environmental field.
Her undergraduate studies in biology and environmental studies preceded her graduate studies in soil science at Iowa State University. After earning her master’s degree, McLoughlin began working for an environmental consulting firm in Eden Prairie, where she gained experience in development and alternative energy sources.
McLoughlin said she began to realize the everyday commute from Cottage Grove had become a strain on her time with her family and on the environment. That’s when the opportunity with the city of Woodbury came along.
“Few cities actually have a sustainability staff person, and I was very intrigued by the idea right away,” McLoughlin said. “And we live so close to Woodbury, I had already seen how it puts a priority on its natural resources.”
One of the main components of McLoughlin’s job has been to take some of the workload off Lehr, who has spent much of her time in her dual role as the city’s top communications official and as environmental education coordinator.
The city adopted sustainability as one of its strategic initiatives in 2005. Since then it has been working to adapt its earlier messages of energy conservation to more of a total package of environmental consciousness.
“People hear the word ‘sustainability,’ and they think it’s something new that the city is doing,” Lehr said. “But it’s something the city has been doing for years with aspects like our recycling program and lawn watering restrictions. But we’re also trying to provide some education on ways that residents and businesses practice sustainability.”
Last summer McLoughlin and sustainability committee members put on a booth at Woodbury Days to educate residents on sustainability issues. This spring the McLoughlin is helping the committee put together a workshop on rain barrels. And in May the city will hold its first-ever environmental excellence awards for local businesses who have demonstrated a commitment to sustainability.
“We’re excited about that, because we have some businesses that definitely deserve to be recognized for leading the way,” McLoughlin said.
McLoughlin said the biggest challenge she faces in her job is fitting all her tasks into a 28-hour week.
“We have people who are really committed to sustainability, which is a good thing, but means I have a lot to do every day,” she said.
Another challenge she hopes to have in the future is an occasional commute to work via bicycle.
“Woodbury has some great trail systems, but I kind of wish there was a good biking trail from Cottage Grove to Woodbury. It’s a commute that could be pretty doable.”