A year-long effort to create solutions for Black-, Indigenous-, and People of Color- (BIPOC) owned businesses on the Westside of Salt Lake City to pursue rooftop solar and battery storage has received a significant boost thanks to a commitment from American Express.
American Express recently announced a $5 million global commitment to help cities build resiliency and fight climate change ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference which took place in Egypt last week. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) has been awarded $1.2 million to work with three cities, including Salt Lake City, to install solar energy systems in our community.
American Express will provide $325,000 in philanthropic support to complement other incentives and financial strategies to help install solar with optional battery systems for small businesses on the Westside. These systems can lower energy costs for residents and businesses, can be more resilient than standard electric sources during extreme weather, support local clean energy jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“I’m thrilled with American Express’ generosity, which will build off the hard work our City team and partners have done to advance solar on our Westside,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. “We have the tools to reduce climate emissions, strengthen community resiliency, and save our businesses and residents money through clean energy, and this collaboration is a perfect demonstration of that.”
by SLCgreen Outreach Coordinator Stephan Sveshnikov
There are over three hundred food policy councils in the U.S., representing towns, cities, tribes, counties, and entire states. Salt Lake City’s Food Policy Council (FPC) is one of three in Utah, with another council in Ogden and one at the state level. Food Policy Councils unite community organizations to help guide policy related to our food systems. They inform local government on everything from food access and urban agriculture to food waste and climate concerns.
Salt Lake City’s Food Policy Council (formerly the Food Policy Task Force) was created in 2009. The group identifies policy and program opportunities and makes recommendation for how to create a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient community food system. Their first project was a sustainable code revision, which made it easier to keep chickens, bees, and grow food in Salt Lake. The FPC has supported the Sustainability Department on a variety of other initiatives over the last decade, including the SLC FruitShare program, the curbside composting program, the Square Kitchen Culinary Incubator, the Local Food Microgrant Fund, and much more. Fourteen members representing various sectors of the food system make up the FPC, from small farmers, to anti-hunger organizations, advocates for immigrant and refugee communities, and representatives of the public health sector.
This year, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future launched an initiative to help food policy councils around the country confront systemic racism and inequities in their local food systems. Fifteen councils from fifteen different states were selected to participate, including the Salt Lake City FPC! The initiative will help Salt Lake City as our FPC takes its next steps to build a more equitable food system.
Last year, as part of the city’s overall focus on equity and as part of an effort to co-create programs with residents, rather than for them, the Sustainability Department piloted the Resident Food Advisors Program.
Thirteen residents from a diverse set of experiences and backgrounds explored issues in the food system and strategized solutions for their communities, discussing everything from food vouchers to a food leadership academy, and in their final report, published last month, advocated the idea of an “Edible Salt Lake City” and made recommendations for how the city can achieve greater food equity.
We caught up with a few of the Advisors after their recent meeting with Mayor Erin Mendenhall to see how they’re feeling now that the report is out.
Zana Jokic, from Sarajevo, whose work as a medical interpreter has given her a unique perspective on healthy food access among immigrant communities, said she’s been sharing the report with everyone. “I’m so proud of our work,” she said. “I’m passing it around to friends, families, organizations,” anyone and everyone she can think of.
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!
In the months following our collective action to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, the air quality improved around the globe. According to University of Utah research, particulate matter pollution in Salt Lake City was reduced 59% as of May 6.
Although Salt Lake City is maintaining an “orange” status for our COVID-19 response, there has been an uptick in cases across Utah. In a city in which public health is harmed by poor air quality, any virus that affects the respiratory system is cause for concern. However, with the knowledge that stay at home orders temporarily reduced our local air pollution, we can learn more about possible ways of improving air quality in the future.
Let’s take a closer look at the ways air quality and COVID-19 interact – and some ways you can help protect the air and each other.
Sustainability encompasses both environmental action and efforts to build just and equitable communities. Indeed, climate change and pollution disproportionately affect people of color around the world. Therefore, the work of environmental justice is directly tied to equity and social justice.
The connections between sustainability and equity have often gone unnoticed or even been rejected. Nevertheless, the links between systemic racism and environmental injustice are undeniable.
Better understanding these links can help us all work towards building a more equitable and sustainable society. We’ve been delving even deeper into this work and these connections in the last few weeks and wanted to share what we’re reading and learning. Here are some resources we’ve found helpful:
PBS Utah put together this short conversational series How to Talk to Kids about Race, featuring several people from our SLC community you might recognize.
Somini Segupta wrote an expansive guide entitled “Read Up on the Links between Racism and the Environment“ for the New York Times. The reading guide includes everything from hard science to sci-fi, and provides a broad platform for understanding racial injustice in the context of climate.
You can also check out a new website co-founded by environmentalists Leah Thomas, Diandra Esparza and Sabs Katz, Intersectional Environmentalist. The site provides information from environmentalists in different communities including Latinx and U.S. Indigenous Communities– communities which have also continued to fight oppression and environmental racism. Intersectional Environmentalist provides extensive reading lists to understand all of the intersections of environmental work. Founder Leah Thomas’ writing was recently featured in Vogue, where she links her work in environmental policy to anti-racism.