"Our individual actions do matter in the grand scheme of things,” says Christine Symington, program director of Sustainable Princeton. “Sometimes it’s hard to see how, and it can be a bit overwhelming. But they do matter.”
Sustainable Princeton will update its Sustainable Princeton Community Plan, which was adopted by the town in 2009, on Wednesday, December 13, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Call 609-454-4757 or 609-924-9529.
The presenters include Symington; Matt Wasserman, the Sustainable Princeton board chair and one of the authors of the sustainability plan; and Molly Jones, the group’s executive director.
“We are really excited to report on the work that has been done and know it will inspire Princeton to work with us in the coming months on a climate action plan for Princeton,” says Jones. “We hope to leverage this report and reinvigorate the community to take it to the next step.”
The Sustainable Princeton Community Plan, an initiative of the Princeton Environmental Commission, sets forth a long-term vision, action strategies, and a way to track progress toward achieving its goals. It was the first joint effort of this kind to include both Princeton Borough and Township, which were separate municipalities at the time of the original report.
One of the outcomes of the plan was the formation of the aforementioned group, Sustainable Princeton, which became an independent nonprofit in 2012. Led by executive and steering committees, the community plan includes the municipal government, nonprofits, businesses, and schools, as well as town residents.
The goals include greening the built environment; improving transportation and mobility; building a strong local green economy; protecting environmental health and natural resources; curbing greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change through energy conservation and renewable energy; and fostering an educated, engaged, vibrant, and socially responsible community.
Noting that it has been six years since Sustainable Princeton’s last progress report, Symington says it is important to revisit the group’s original goals, refine them where needed, and identify additional priorities. The need to address climate change has become a major issue for the group, which has been working on ways to take action. Earlier this year the group received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for $100,000 to develop a climate action plan.
“We see the December progress report as the first step,” Symington says. The next step is to create a greenhouse gas inventory, which will be presented at the library on Wednesday, March 7. The results of this work will help define the Climate Action Plan, which will be presented Wednesday, May 16.
In addition to being awarded the grant, Sustainable Princeton has earned bronze and silver certifications from Sustainable Jersey, a statewide nonprofit group that supports communities working to improve environmental quality.
Addressing issues related to transportation and mobility, Sustainable Princeton worked with the municipality to install the Spring Street Garage electric vehicle charging station in June. It added a bike and pedestrian plan to the circulation element of the Princeton Master Plan and worked on expanding the Zagster bike share program.
Recently Sustainable Princeton participated in a parking study that includes recommendations on maximizing existing parking capacity as an alternative to building new parking areas.
Addressing the issue of food waste and landfill garbage, SP worked with the municipality to offer curbside organic waste pickup service for residents. Symington says she expects this program to grow on both town and state levels.
Symington has been interested in the environment since growing up in Levittown, Pennsylvania. She studied at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in science. Her focus was on education, and she originally planned to teach environmental science. However, her interests changed, and after graduation, she found work in the financial services and technology field.
Although the work gave Symington the opportunity to apply her managerial and analytical skills, she realized this was not the career path she wanted to pursue. She left her position at BondDesk Group LLC about four years ago and began searching the internet on the topic of sustainability.
She came across Sustainable Princeton and began learning more about environmentalism in the Princeton area. She joined SP as a volunteer and later became the organization’s energy director. She became the program director in 2016.
Symington says her father, who was a software engineer, instilled in her a curiosity about how things work. This curiosity led to her desire to understand human interaction with the environment and the interconnectedness of things.
For those wanting to do their part for a cleaner and healthier environment, Symington offers a few suggestions:
Sign up for curbside food waste recycling if you live in a town that offers it. If it is not available to you, ask your officials to offer this service.
Walk and bike more. Drive less.
If you’re planning to buy a new vehicle, consider electric.
When doing yard work, cut/mulch the leaves and leave them on the ground. Symington says this helps the ecosystem of your lawn, provides food for insects and birds, and is more environmentally efficient than having them picked up and trucked away.
In the home, focus on being more energy efficient. Use Energy Star equipment, and insulation, etc. (For more suggestions visit SP’s Waste Reduction page online at www.sustainableprinceton.org/waste-for-residents.)
Both Symington and Jones are optimistic about residents’ and companies’ participation in SP’s initiatives. “The collaborative and focused effort that went into the 2009 plan is an example of the good things that result when we focus on prioritizing sustainability as a community,” says Jones.
“Start by incorporating small lifestyle changes, and it will be easier to move up to larger ones,” says Symington. She believes the actions of SP will have a positive ripple effect beyond the town’s borders.
“Towns like Princeton want to improve its livability and its vitality,” she says, adding that the town’s commitment to doing this creates a heightened awareness overall. “This can have a positive impact at both a national and global level,” Symington says.