Sustainable Maryland helps communities become more eco-friendly
By Hannah Marszalek
As our awareness of climate change and other environmental issues grows, individuals and communities around the globe are feeling increasingly pressed to take action. Municipalities here at home are turning to Sustainable Maryland’s free certification program as part of their efforts to become more green.
Launched in 2012, Sustainable Maryland provides support and access to resources for Maryland municipalities that wish to become more sustainable — and helps them save money while doing so. It is modeled on a popular program in New Jersey and exists thanks to a collaborative effort between the Maryland Municipal League and the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center.
“The program operates on the premise that by engaging local governments in sustainability we build a strong foundation for the work that needs to be done with respect to critical issues like climate change, environmental justice, and strong local economies,” said Mike Hunninghake, who has been Sustainable Maryland’s program manager since 2013.
The program has certified 41 municipalities in the state, including College Park, Hyattsville, Mount Rainier and Riverdale Park. To participate in the program, a municipality must establish a group of dedicated volunteers — a Green Team that includes municipal officials and community members — and an action plan. Participating jurisdictions must complete a number of mandatory actions, according to the Sustainable Maryland website. Hunninghake noted that these actions were established by the organization’s stakeholder groups, and they collectively focus on issues such as historic preservation and transportation. Municipalities may complete actions by establishing ordinances, upgrading facilities and improving certain types of programs.
College Park established its own Green Team, the Committee for a Better Environment, in 2012 to advise the city council on existing environmental issues and implement corresponding sustainability programs. The city approved a five-year strategic plan in 2015 that includes goals such as establishing community gardens and additional parks, creating partnerships with the University of Maryland and maintaining a bikeshare program. The committee has also worked to address issues related to stormwater management, and waste reduction and recycling; they also promote community education in partnership with the College Park Arts Exchange and the College Park Community Library. Earth Day events, and tree plantings and cleanups are some of the group’s popular activities.
In January 2022, Sustainable Maryland added 20 new actions to their roster and introduced a higher certification tier, Hunninghake said. While a municipality may earn certification by meeting the minimum requirements, completing additional actions may earn them higher certification. Certifications are valid for three years, after which the participating municipality may be recertified. A municipality may also choose to recertify earlier if they so desire.
Sustainable Maryland provides links on their website to educational resources, available grant programs, and events and training related to sustainability. These offerings are designed to educate both individuals and communities and promote networking among participants throughout the state. “The peer network that has been created across the state has been a source of information and inspiration to a wide range of communities, elected officials, staff and residents,” Hunninghake said. “In this way, Sustainable Maryland has had a broad and deep impact in the state, and it will continue to expand its efforts to support the sustainability initiatives of municipalities in the years to come.”
For more information about Sustainable Maryland’s program and available resources, go to sustainablemaryland.com.