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.
Vicki Bennett’s remarkable 20-year career with Salt Lake City Corporation reflects the changes in local and national work to protect the environment and act on climate. As director, Vicki has overseen SLCgreen’s work to reduce carbon emissions, improve city-wide waste diversion, support air quality initiatives, ensure that the City is prioritizing community sustainability, and direct equitable policies related to food security and energy. Under Vicki’s direction, Salt Lake City has become an internationally-recognized leader in sustainability.
After 20 years, SLCgreen’s beloved director is retiring. Vicki leaves an outstanding legacy, and she will be deeply missed by her friends and colleagues in the City. Her retirement gives us an opportunity to take a look at Vicki’s many accomplishments, and how our community has been shaped by her dedicated service.
Vicki became the Environmental Manager for Salt Lake City Corporation in 2001, a role meant to help regulate chemical use and reduce environmental pollution in the city. However, environmental work was quickly shifting towards addressing climate change. Vicki’s role expanded into sustainability, a field that connects equity and economic stability with environmental protection.
Thanks to Vicki, SLCgreen grew into one of the first sustainability departments in the country. As a Environmental Manager, Vicki served on Governor Huntsman’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change in 2007. During Mayor Ralph Becker’s administration, Vicki was placed in charge of a new Sustainability Division. SLCgreen eventually became its own department under Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
The realities of climate change became more and more apparent over that time. As a result, Vicki’s work shifted from climate mitigation to long-term adaptation and resilience. In the changing landscape of climate action, Vicki has continued to shape a vision of sustainability that supports the most vulnerable in our communities and activates our residents to participate in climate work on all levels.
Vicki’s steady leadership and stalwart commitment to advocacy has positioned Salt Lake City as an international leader in climate action. Vicki’s legacy is one of collaboration and dedication to connecting with others in order to make positive changes.
When world governments called on countries to commit to emissions reductions in the Kyoto Protocol, Salt Lake City was one of the first cities to join. Examining energy efficiency and tracking carbon emissions was the first step in addressing Salt Lake City’s sustainability goals.
Vicki’s ability to connect with people locally and around the world has helped Salt Lake City focus on critical sustainability initiatives. In Utah, she is a founding member of the award-winningUtah Climate Action Network, a group dedicated to collaborating on climate action in Utah. Vicki also helped launch the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, an organization dedicated to “connecting local government practitioners to accelerate urban sustainability.”
Sustainability Director Vicki Bennett with her Sustainable Business Leadership Award.
The SLCgreen crew at the Sustainable Business Awards luncheon.
Vicki Bennett accepts her Sustainable Business Leadership Award from Utah Business Magazine.
Award honorees Maura Olivos (Alta Environmental Center), Mike Johnson (3form), Vicki Bennett (Salt Lake City) and Jonathan Johnson (Overstock.com).
Today Salt Lake City Green Director Vicki Bennett was recognized with a Sustainable Business Leadership Award from Utah Business Magazine. And the entire SLCgreen team was there to cheer her on! Please join us in congratulating Vicki on this outstanding achievement.
Vicki Bennett has led Salt Lake City’s award-winning Salt Lake City Green program for 13 years, spearheading initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, improve air quality and divert waste from the landfill. “What we are trying to achieve is the healthiest possible place to live,” Bennett says. “That’s what the breadth of sustainability is all about.”
The scope of her work is reflected in the Sustainable Salt Lake Plan 2015, a plan that has been described as one of the most ambitious and broad-reaching sustainability agendas in the country. Some of the plan’s “targets” include increasing the number of CNG fueling stations and electric-vehicle charging stations in the city, increasing renewable energy generation for city buildings, increasing the residential recycling rate to 50 percent, increasing on-road bikeways by 50 percent—and many, many more.
The Sustainable City Dashboard provides details of the plan and its goals, and enables residents to track the city’s progress toward meeting those goals. Going forward, Bennett says the city will focus on climate issues and adapting to the changes that are already happening.
Community outreach is a major component of her work. She says, “It’s important to help people understand they are paying for the pollution they create,” whether that’s through health impacts, ecological degradation, or waste cleanup and storage.
Prior to joining the city, Bennett implemented environmental management systems for PacifiCorp and offered international environmental consulting for a variety of industries.