As CARP deadlines approach, some advocates say city sustainability initiatives require increased funding and staffing

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Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

The Lakefill. As some CARP deadlines approach, advocates question whether Evanston is on-track and recommend increasing funding and staffing for environmental initiatives.

William Clark, Reporter

As deadlines set in the Climate Action and Resilience Plan approach, some advocates are questioning whether Evanston is allocating enough funding and resources to the Office of Sustainability.

CARP plans for carbon neutrality by 2050, but it also sets smaller, more specific benchmarks to ensure Evanston stays on track over the next few decades.

Some of these goals are quickly approaching. By 2025, CARP aims for all vehicle fleets operating in Evanston, including school buses, to transition to 50 percent electric vehicles.

It also aims for the city to divert 50 percent of waste out of landfills from 2017 levels through increased recycling, reuse and composting, and for 75 percent of Evanston electricity to be supplied by renewables by 2025.

But some advocates are concerned about whether these goals are attainable with the current amount of funding and resources the city government is putting into CARP implementation.

The Office of Sustainability operates under the City Manager’s Office, which comprises six percent of the city’s 2021 budget — in comparison, Evanston Police Department comprises 36 percent of the city’s 2021 budget. In 2021, $61,919 was set aside for the Office of Sustainability.

On top of the Office of Sustainability, there are two main other city bodies overseeing environmental policy in Evanston: the Environment Board and the Utilities Commission. However, while groups of volunteers appointed by the mayor operate the Environment Board and Utilities Board, the Office of Sustainability currently has one paid staff member: Kumar Jensen.

“There needs to be further staffing in order to really compile some better policy when it comes to environmental protection and climate action,” former mayoral candidate Sebastian Nalls said.

During the 2021 mayoral race, Mayor-elect Daniel Biss told The Daily he supported increasing the Office of Sustainability’s funding in order to improve CARP implementation.

Jonathan Nieuwsma, the 4th Ward alderman-elect and former president of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, said sustainability initiatives have saved the city money by decreasing energy costs. Still, he said the office will need more resources to meet CARP goals.

“I’m hoping we can find funding sources for this work that don’t put the cost impact on members of our community that are least able to afford it,” Nieuwsma said. “We can’t go green at the expense of residents who are already cost-burdened.”

Nieuwsma also said the city needs to develop a clearer roadmap when it comes to implementing CARP.

As Evanston’s city sustainability coordinator, Jensen coordinates CARP implementation in tandem with other city bodies and within the community. But right now, he said determining whether or not Evanston is on track to meet CARP goals can be complicated, since some goals are easier to track than others.

While the city can measure greenhouse gas emissions, the amount of renewable energy that users are purchasing and the rate of waste diversion, Jensen said measuring other goals — like reducing carbon emissions from transportation — requires more work.

Joel Freeman was a co-chair of the CARP Working Group, a group that helped draft the plan. Although the working group was dissolved after CARP was approved by City Council in 2018, Freeman said many of its members are still involved with overseeing implementation.

“Right now it’s all very piecemeal, so assembling that information is one of the (first) steps,” Freeman said.

Although measuring progress can be difficult, Jensen said the city will be releasing a report on Evanston’s CARP progress later this year. He said the city is on track to meet some goals, but not others.

Jensen said he thinks Evanston will reach CARP’s renewable energy goals for electricity generation as more and more residents install rooftop solar. The city also plans to launch a community solar program in May 2021.

The city plans to send out postcards announcing the community solar program when it launches and has partnered with the Chicago-based firm MC Squared Energy Services, LLC., an electricity aggregation program the city hopes will help increase renewable energy usage.

However, Nalls said there is still work to be done spreading awareness about renewable energy programs throughout the community, especially among low-income residents.

“One of the largest barriers is that sometimes residents don’t even know that these programs exist in the first place,” Nalls said.

Jensen said the city will need to continue expanding community participation in order to stay on track for renewable energy goals.

But when it comes to other CARP goals, Jensen was less optimistic.

“We are certainly not on track to meet our zero waste goals, particularly the 50 percent diversion by 2025 (goal),” he said.

In 2020, the Zero Waste Working Group within Evanston’s Environment Board reported that 80 percent of waste generated in Evanston ends up in landfills. Thirty percent of that waste is food waste and four percent is yard waste, both of which could be composted.

The working group recommended expanding citywide access to composting services, establishing mandatory recycling at all properties and commercial buildings and reducing contamination in recycling and compost streams in order to improve diversion rates.

Jensen said Evanston is also off track in reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector.

In terms of transportation, CARP’s first recommendation is that the city develops a transportation data collection program that measures vehicle-miles-travelled for multiple modes of transport. That program could then be used to gauge the impact of different policies on citywide transportation emissions. But Jensen said the city hasn’t developed that program yet.

Freeman emphasized that having more paid staff at the Office of Sustainability to work toward implementing and measuring CARP’s big, complex goals — as well as other environmental problems CARP doesn’t address — would be beneficial.

“The city has a lot on its plate,” Freeman said. “You’re going to need more people if you’re going to advance (CARP) more.”

A previous version of this article misstated when the city’s community solar program will launch and when postcards will be sent to residents.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @willsclark01

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