This summer, SLCgreen’s Debbie Lyons stepped into the role of Sustainability Department Director after the retirement of our long-time director Vicki Bennett. We are thrilled that Debbie will oversee the City’s goals to achieve 100% community renewable energy, reduce emissions connected to climate change, conserve resources, reduce air pollution, and improve community access to fresh, healthy food. Join us in celebrating Debbie’s new role with a look back at how her career has shaped Salt Lake City’s innovative programs and initiatives for over 25 years!
Prioritizing Safety and Sustainability
After earning a degree in Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety from BYU, Debbie started her work with Salt Lake City in 1995 as an intern with the Public Services Department. During her time as an intern, Debbie was instrumental in developing elements of Salt Lake City’s Waste & Recycling program that continue to have significant impacts, including the first City-wide curbside recycling and compost programs, the expansion of glass recycling around the state, and the City & County Building’s first office paper recycling program.
Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall’s new 2021-2022 city budget emphasizes financial stability for Salt Lake City, as well as “opportunities for an abundant, transformational, equitable future for all the city’s communities.”
The $350 million budget allocates funds to numerous initiatives and programs that will help Salt Lake City implement recommendations from the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing as well as expanding support for affordable housing. Salt Lake City will continue to prioritize building a sustainable and resilient city for all residents.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, residents have had unprecedented access to local government, connecting with departments more than ever. As SLCgreen moves into the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, we aim to build from this access, inviting more of our community into the decision making process, and working with the community towards greater sustainability and resiliency for all.
The newly approved budget allows Salt Lake City to continue to invest in critical public services, renewable energy projects, air quality, food access, climate equity, and more, which are described below.
Waste and Recycling Rate Increase
The adopted budget contains a rate increase on garbage containers. As you may recall, the Sustainability Department undertook a large public engagement process in late 2019/early 2020 to evaluate residents’ satisfaction with our waste & recycling services, and to seek feedback on how they’d like to see future rate increases occur.
While we do not take lightly the fact that rate increases impact everyone– and some more than others– we want you to know that we have worked hard for years cutting costs and streamlining our operations to forestall the need for a rate increase. However, it has been nearly seven years since we last raised rates. In that time, the cost of doing business has increased– impacting everything from purchasing and maintaining our refuse vehicles, to disposing of garbage at the landfill, to keeping up with the cost of living. For a couple of years, there were also fees associated with processing the City’s recyclables. (So far in 2021, we have begun to make money again on recycling which is great news. We are committed to maintaining a robust program through the ups and downs of the recycling commodity market).
In our policy division, we are moving forward with some impactful and important projects. Here’s a closer look at some of what’s in store for the Sustainability Department’s Energy & Environment Division:
Advancing Salt Lake City’s Community Renewable Energy Goals
The Community Renewable Energy Program (C-REP), empowered by the Community Renewable Energy Act, H.B. 411, will help Salt Lake City reach its goal of community-wide net-100% renewable electricity. In 2022, Salt Lake City will work with other participating communities to bring Salt Lake City closer to its goal of 100% renewable electricity for the whole community. Learn more on the Utah100 Communities’ website.
February is (finally!) here! And that means that the Clear the Air Challenge has begun!
In the last few years, Utahns have worked together to improve air quality in the Salt Lake Valley. Early last year, the EPA announced Salt Lake City and Provo were in compliance with federal standards for PM 2.5, the fine particulate matter that pollutes our air quality along the Wasatch Front. This significant milestone came after years of community wide work to take action to clear the air.
In 2020, we learned that the steps we took to slow coronavirus cases resulted in quick changes to our air quality. COVID-19 continues to threaten our community’s health and economic security, resulting in increased social inequities. Many of the changes we’ve made in this crisis are not sustainable in the long term. However, our work to improve Salt Lake City’s resiliency includes taking actions that support public health and security, and that address environmental issues like air quality.
This month, we challenge Salt Lake City community members to participate in the 12th annual Clear the Air Challenge! The Clear the Air Challenge is a chance to level up your efforts to improve air quality. The Challenge runs the entire month of February, chosen due to the seasonal inversion that makes wintertime air quality especially bad. However, the steps you take this month can make a difference for our air all year long.
For many of us who are still spending more time at home, the challenge will feel a little different this year. We’ve put together some helpful facts, tips, and inspiration to get you going on the 2021 Clear the Air Challenge!
2021 is here! SLCgreen is excited to move forward. But as we prepare for the year to come, we’re also ready to incorporate what we’ve learned from 2020.
At the beginning of 2020, SLCgreen was eagerly preparing for a new administration and planning for a year of innovative sustainability projects. After a busy 2019 we were ready to take the next steps towards bringing net-100% renewable energy to our community. A new state-of-the-art recycling facility was near completion. And an innovative resident-led food equity program was convening to help improve food access in Salt Lake City.
The challenges of the past year have been harrowing. Within the first months of 2020, Salt Lake City pivoted our work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We experienced an earthquake that damaged our homes and businesses. Hurricane-force winds toppled thousands of trees and left many members of our communities without power for several days.
Despite it all, SLCgreen was able to accomplish many of our goals with the help of our dedicated crews and community members. The challenges our community faced in 2020 laid bare the deep connections between equity, resiliency, and climate action. The year required us take more direct actions to improve our emergency response plans, to better support the voices of residents who have been excluded in the past, and to expand our communications to facilitate more collaborative work.
SLCgreen is ready to build off of what we learned during the past year, but before we set our sights on 2021, here are a few highlights from 2020.
SLCgreen is wishing you a healthy and happy holiday! During this time of year, we’ve been reflecting on the unprecedented challenges we’ve faced as a community brought on by the pandemic, hurricane-force windstorm and earthquake. This year, we’ve worked alongside our community members to continue essential City operations and services and step up efforts to help those who have been impacted the most by the devastating pandemic. More than ever before, we are witnessing the evidence of an undeniable connection between environmental justice and social equity.
SLCgreen’s mission is to protect our natural resources, reduce pollution, slow climate change, and establish a path toward greater resiliency and vitality for all aspects of our community. Our environmental work goes hand in hand with the efforts to improve equity in Salt Lake City.
Thanksgiving this year will be different as we all work together to keep our community safe. We reduce risk of spreading the COVID-19, and invent creative ways to keep connected to our families virtually while still being able to share in the traditional Thanksgiving traditions. As we all work through reimagining the holiday, the city’s Resident Equity Advisors are hard at work making sure everyone in our community – families, elderly, children, and all individuals suffering from food hardship have access to a healthy, nutritious food.
One in nine Utahns struggles with hunger, and equitable food access is still a major concern in our community. This year, we’re taking time to reflect on our connections with food. Food is a basic human right and is on of the foundational pieces of community resilience and SLCgreen’s focus areas. Our department launched the Resident Food Equity Advisors program to engage our vulnerable communities and empower them through shared decision making.
Read on to find out more about what these advisors have been working on!