Committed Communities Pushing for Sustainability

Cynthia Solomon Barber is being recognized as a Champion of Change for her innovative energy priorities and sustainable living practices making a greener community a possibility in any American city or town.


I am truly honored to be recognized as a Champion of Change for Greening Our Cities. This honor is a testament to the hard work of the City of Tallahassee - our elected officials, city administrators, employees, and our citizens - to create a sustainable and livable community; an effort, I am pleased to have been selected to lead. I have always wanted to work in an area where I could really make a difference. That is why I chose a career in local government.

However, in my wildest dreams, I never thought I would be the City of Tallahassee’s Chief Tree-Hugger. Like many others, my traditional perception of “the environmentalist” is the image of some radical tree-hugger clinging to a large oak tree destined for its demise. The mere thought of “going green” strikes fear in some of us.  It can provoke thoughts of sacrifice in nearly every aspect of one’s life. 

Well, sustainability is not an all or none proposition. It is the power of the individual actions that each of us can take that truly creates sustainable, livable communities. I wish I could tell you that journey will always be easy and the changes readily accepted.  But, I recall the day that employees were notified that we were giving up our garbage cans – trading them for recycling bins. I thought I would need an escort to my car. However, over time employees have embraced the program, increased the agency’s recycling participation, and even become champions of the program.

Major metropolitan areas, including cities, suburbs and rural townships in this country and around the world are currently being plagued by environmental, social and economic problems, and these problems have created huge budgetary constraints that cannot be addressed simply through traditional approaches. Through the concept of sustainability, cities, such as Tallahassee, are innovating and coming up with solutions that will result in greater environmental stewardship, economic prosperity, and social equity.

The City of Tallahassee, Florida’s first Gold Certified Green City, as a longstanding history of fostering proactive environmental stewardship, social justice, and a strong and vibrant local economy. Our City’s commitment to sustainable practices is further buttressed by the fact that the leading cities of the future and the cities where growth will occur are those cities that have embraced a new way of thinking about the earth’s resources, its people, economic well-being, fairness and justice.

The commitment to sustainability permeates the culture in the City of Tallahassee. Innovations in our fleet operations include making bio-diesel for our vehicles from used chicken fat and giving new life to an old diesel-fueled truck by converting it to an electric powered vehicle. The Partnership for Idle-Free Tallahassee brings governments, businesses and citizens together to reduce unnecessary idling of vehicles.  The Schools on Solar Program is a mechanism to provide renewable energy to local schools, while educating students. The REACH Program is a hands-on energy conservation program that focuses on increasing energy efficiency one neighborhood at a time.

The state-of-the-art Smart Grid system provides a platform of options that will help customers save energy, save water, and save money. Advanced wastewater treatment, the multi-modal district, community gardening programs, permaculture in local parks, Green Building Incentive Program, Brownfields redevelopments, walkable communities, greening the airport, and curbside recycling are all local sustainability initiatives being implemented by our City. I think you get the idea. The City of Tallahassee is committed to creating a sustainable community.  

Each of us has a role in preserving our environment, building a prosperous local economy and promoting fairness. However, one of the biggest challenges in my line of work is communicating sustainability in a way that results in immediate commitment from everyone. I have come to realize that during these tough economic times, people are more likely to commit to sustainable habits when it is couched in economic terms. Building an economic case for sustainability programs is therefore a top priority for all professionals in this field. 

Cynthia Solomon Barber is the Director of the City of Tallahassee’s Environmental Policy and Energy Resources (EPER) Department. EPER is responsible for ensuring environmental regulatory compliance for numerous operations and facilities, as well as developing and implementing environmental policies, programs and initiatives that help to build a more sustainable livable community.

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