In the 2014 State of the City Address, Mayor Vruwink announced the creation of a Mayor’s Council on Sustainability. The re-formation/re-birth of a Sustainability Committee marks a major effort and continuation in a very important journey for Wisconsin Rapids’ Sustainability as it relates to consumption of resources (energy) and its environmental impact (recycling, emissions, etc.). A core group of individuals met for the first time on October 24, 2014 and have met since with the purpose of updating the Interim report drafted in 2012 under the direction of former Mayor Mary Jo Carson.
Sustainable practices can result in cost savings, increased employment, and enhance environmental quality and community well-being. To build a sustainable community, local government functions (e.g. energy, building, transportation, purchasing, investment, and hiring), need to be viewed and implemented as part of a whole system approach that engages the entire community.
The Mayor’s Council on Sustainability has provided a framework for making the city of Wisconsin Rapids a sustainable community. This council has developed baselines, which can be used for judging progress, and has drafted plans to move the city towards becoming a sustainable community, where people want to live and work. It is important to continue their work by following through on the recommendations and plans in this report to make the City more sustainable: economically, environmentally, and socially.
Living sustainably means living and working in ways that do not jeopardize our current and future social, environmental and economic resources. Living sustainably implies that our economy and society can continue to exist without destroying the natural environment on which they depend. A sustainable community acknowledges that there are limits to the natural, social, and built systems upon which it exists.
The concept of sustainable communities or eco-municipalities has been very successful in Sweden and in the United States and is documented in the book “The Natural Step for Communities” by Sarah James and Torbjorn Lahti.
Since beginning in the 1980s, more than 60 communities throughout Sweden have made a collective commitment to sustainable change and have officially adopted the Natural Step framework to guide the process. Also, each community has committed to a democratic, participatory change process involving citizens and municipal employees. These Swedish communities have chosen to go this route because of economic depression, declining populations (e.g. young people leaving to find better jobs and a more exciting lifestyle in urban centers), and the need to meet the demands for services (e.g. solid waste disposal, heat, power, social services for elders and those in need).
Many communities in the United States, including the city of Wisconsin Rapids, have initiated sustainable projects. For example, the city of Wisconsin Rapids’ wastewater treatment plant expansion included the purchase of a generator that currently operates up to 12 hours per day on digester-generated methane saving the city the cost of gas and electricity for that time period. In the future, the goal is to run on methane 24 hours per day. Another example is the energy-saving improvements to City Hall where all lights have been converted to LED and the HVAC system has been modernized.
While these projects have made progress toward sustainable goals, they largely are occurring on a project-by-project basis. Frequently these efforts are unconnected and un-integrated throughout municipal governments and the larger communities. In contrast, the eco-municipality model uses a systems approach. Key elements of the systems approach are widespread community awareness raising and integrated municipal involvement, using a common “sustainability” language. Using this common language brings about a shared understanding of what sustainability means and how to achieve this throughout all sectors of government and the wider community.
Communities and natural environments are complex systems. Adopting sustainability as a core objective can guide policy-making, planning and decision-making toward the common goal of sustainable community development. This is an essential foundation for living off the interest of the community and local region, rather than the capital, thereby safeguarding the social and ecological systems on which mankind depends for survival.