Lawrence Township: Making Strides to Sustainable Living

(Left to right) Jessica Munyan, Haley Purcell, and Rachel Nangle

Sustainable Jersey is a non-profit organization that supports New Jersey municipalities in their reduction of waste and greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring environmental equity. To this end, municipalities earn points as they complete certain environmental actions such as the creation of ordinances, policies, programs, and systemic improvements. There are a total of 157 actions within 18 categories, totalling 1,615 possible points. Of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities, 160 have a Bronze certification and only 33 have achieved the highest certification, Silver. Municipalities must recertify every three years.

Lawrence Township acquired its initial Bronze certification in 2009 and has gone through three cycles of recertification. This spring, students participating in Rider University’s Sustainability Studies Capstone Seminar collaborated with the Township’s Environmental Resources and Sustainability Green Advisory Committee (ERSGAC) in ambitiously moving the Township from Bronze to Silver certification.

At Tuesday’s town council meeting, Rider University students Hayley Purcell, Jessica Munyan, and Rachel Nangle, and their advisor, Professor Brooke Hunter, reported completion of 36 actions, spanning 11 categories, worth 435 points, well over the 350 points needed to qualify for the Silver designation, ahead of Sustainable Jersey’s June 5th deadline.

To the council, Purcell stated, “This project ultimately demonstrates Lawrence’s commitment to sustainability and makes it a leader among the surrounding municipalities.”

As part of the certification project, the Rider students completed a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) Analysis, which identified Lawrence’s greatest accomplishments in sustainability and its largest challenges. Among its strengths are the availability of locally sourced food, waste reduction, the  Annual Living Local Expo, and commitment to open space preservation. The Township’s weaknesses include a lack of community participation, poor public communication and outdated websites, and deficient planning and organization of Sustainable Jersey certification action items.

Recommended priority actions include improving public communication, increasing community outreach, enhancing sustainability education and outreach to schools, taking advantage of grant opportunities, improving the Township’s Sustainable Jersey recertification process, and building on Lawrence’s strengths which will distinguish Lawrence’s commitment to sustainability and hopefully motivate community action.

Munyon acknowledged the particular challenges that suburban areas have in living green, citing their dependence on automobiles, lack of continuous sidewalks, deficiency of gathering places, and the population’s confusion as to what sustainability is and why it’s important.

“Sustainability is more than just recycling. It incorporates people, planet, and profit,” Purcell noted.

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