When Mary Beth Kass and Ellen Conrad asked Bedford Town Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts in mid-2008 how they could help move the town’s environmental agenda along, the supervisor’s response was simple.
“‘Raise awareness’ was her answer,” recalls Kass. In November of 2007, Roberts and the Bedford Town Board committed to reducing the 18,000-resident Westchester County town’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020. A year later, however, awareness among citizens simply wasn’t there.
“We had the research and we were working with all the best science, but, at the time, the missing piece was the community engagement,” said Kass, chair of the town-appointed Bedford Energy Advisory Panel (BEAP).
Together with Conrad, the president of the Bedford Garden Club, BEAP and the Garden Club began to visualize a “green” tradeshow in which Bedford residents could learn hands-on about the steps everyone could take to reduce emissions. “I think we have a community that’s very interested,” Kass said. “We wanted to include everybody, and we wanted to let them know what the hurdles were for our town."
On January 31st of this year, after five months of planning, the Bedford Garden Club and BEAP hosted the first-ever Bedford Environmental Summit. The event drew more than 1,000 attendees, far exceeding anyone’s expectations and generating considerable buzz about the potential for a “Sustainable Bedford.”
“The Bedford summit was such an incredibly vibrant community event,” said Antonia Bowring, OSI’s chief operating officer, who attended the event. “People were hungry for information about what they could do to decrease their environmental footprint. It really mobilized the community.”
As the dust settled from the summit, the two groups realized they needed to capture the momentum they’d generated and create a community in which Bedford’s citizens could take ownership of the task of reducing emissions.
Enter Jesse Catalano, a 21-year-old Middlebury College student originally from Cornwall and one of three 2009 recipients of OSI’s Barnabas McHenry Hudson River Valley Awards. An architectural studies major, he is also studying environmental studies and Italian, and plans to work in sustainable architecture post-graduation.
Catalano, everyone agrees, was the spark that Bedford needed to seize the momentum of the summit and carry it even further. Working all summer with BEAP and the Bedford Garden Club, Catalano helped create a draft of a town Climate Action Plan and a “Summit in a Box” how-to guide, as well as the Bedford2020.org Web site that will become the core of the town’s sustainable movement after it launches later this year. He also assisted with the creation of a community practices survey that will be used as a baseline measurement to calculate changed behavior as the town implements its Climate Action Plan.
“Jesse’s participation in the project was a major contributor to the success we are having this fall in moving forward toward implementation of the Climate Action Plan,” said Conrad, the Garden Club president. “Our experience with him has had an enormous impact on the Bedford 2020 Coalition’s future plans.”
The McHenry grants are awarded each year to young leaders in the Hudson Valley who demonstrate extraordinary leadership and a commitment to excellence in their chosen field. For Catalano, a member of the Vermont Student Environmental Coalition, the award was a perfect fit. He knew he wanted it as soon as he heard about it.
“It’s been really interesting to do this work on a town-level scale,” he said. “It’s great real-world experience to encounter roadblocks and problems. It’s been good to see how ready I am for this, how capable I am of working at this level.”
While OSI awards McHenry grants for three different disciplines—environmental conservation, historic preservation and the arts—it emphasizes above all that each grant go to a young leader, someone who embodies the spirit of awareness and appreciation that OSI seeks to foster throughout the Hudson Valley with its land protection efforts.
“Jesse Catalano's splendid work on the Bedford Climate Action Plan exemplifies the best in young leadership that we desire to promote throughout the Hudson River Valley,” said Barney McHenry, the OSI board member in whose honor the awards were created in 2007.
“This award was a perfect fit,” added Catalano. “I don’t know if there could have been anything better.”
Since the summit, a number of communities from all over the country have looked to Bedford for guidance on jumpstarting similar movements in their own towns. Responding to that demand, the “Summit in a Box” guide provides a step-by-step guide to organizing an environmental summit. It addresses everything from how to start, how to engage partners, how to advertise, how to fundraise and even how to feed hundreds of attendees. It will ultimately be available on the Bedford 2020 Coalition Web site as a free download.
In September, BEAP presented its draft of a Climate Action Plan to the Bedford Town Board. Focusing on four major sectors (energy, transportation, land and water use, and waste and recycling), it includes recommendations for ways that businesses, residences and schools can all reduce greenhouse gases in Bedford. After a series of public meetings, the Bedford Town Board, recognizing strong community support, has begun to explore incorporating the Climate Action Plan into the town’s Comprehensive Plan. A final public hearing will take place in early January 2010.
The Bedford Town Board has unanimously approved the Bedford Climate Action Plan, a move that launches the town into the forefront of local solutions to global environmental challenge. Read More.