I recently sat down with Director Kate Lawrence of the Office of Sustainability as well as Sustainability Program Manager Carolina Ramos to catch up on the new Electric Vehicle Charging Stations recently placed on Marin Blvd along with other developments we can expect. It was great to chat not only about what they’ve implemented, but also their future plans and overall vision for sustainability in Jersey City.
The Office of Sustainability is behind some of the recent sustainability efforts across Jersey City, including the recent single-use plastic bag ban, and continue to encourage the community to make changes at home including composting, reducing waste, and recycling.
Kate Lawrence: I’m the Director of the Office of Sustainability. Carolina Ramos and I together make up the Office, which has been in operation now since March of 2018. We’ve been working since 2018 on trying to make the city more energy efficient and ultimately reduce our carbon emissions. One of the ways we identified to do that was to switch our fleet vehicles over to electric vehicles. In order to do that, you need to also have the infrastructure in place. We have just installed two fleet chargers – each charger can charge two vehicles. It’s a dual port, level 2 charger. Then we have one dual-port level 2 public charger on the street.
Kate: The two chargers in the parking lot are going to be for the electric fleet vehicles, which will be arriving within a couple of weeks. We’re getting four 2019 Nissan LEAFs and we worked through a national cooperative contract brokered partly by the Climate Mayors organization that Mayor Fulop is a part of. It’s comprised of U.S. mayors committed to combatting climate change through the Paris Agreement. We’re planning to place electric vehicle chargers in other locations in the city, including the City Hall Annex and Riverview-Fisk Park. Some will be public, some will be specifically for our fleet vehicles, including the DPW location on Linden Avenue. Public chargers will be soon rolled out and accessible, and there will be a fee just for the cost of electricity.
That’s really cool. Is there a long-term plan to roll this out in the City, or will it only be in certain areas?
Kate: We’re looking to electrify our fleet, but it has to happen slowly. We’re still working on what our ultimate goals are, when we want to fully electrify our fleet, but we do know that’s where we want to go. The Mayor is extremely supportive of initiatives to make the City more sustainable, which has been crucial for our office to have the flexibility to think outside the box and come up with innovative ways to improve the City and the environment. As far as EV charging stations, there are a number of stations in the city operated independently by other organizations. We do want to make sure there are chargers available to the public in all wards, and anyone who wants an electric vehicle won’t feel like they’re impeded from that by not having access to a charger. We’re committed to putting the chargers in the locations I’ve identified and looking to place chargers in locations where there is demand.
Are there any other sustainability efforts you have in the works?
Kate: I’m sure you’ve heard of some things already happening – we’re getting electric garbage trucks, we also put in place the protective bike lanes city-wide.
Carolina: We are installing solar panels at our DPW facility.
Kate: Half of them have already been installed, and the other half will be finished by August. They will charge the facility completely on a sunny day. The city is also working on the on-demand public transit initiative, and we have the Shade Tree Committee being formed to help make sure trees are planted properly and to make sure the public has a say on where trees should go. In the Office of Sustainability, we have a theme every year that we focus on. This year’s theme is Sustainable Neighborhoods. We’re looking at ways to connect people to their neighborhood and how to make it sustainable with local actions. We recently did the Sustainable STEAM Challenge.
Carolina: For the Sustainable STEAM Challenge, we incorporated STEAM with Jersey City public schools. Kids from K-2 were involved in a contest where they designed a logo that would go onto the reusable bags printed out by Goldman Sachs. The designs were focused on recycling or anything Earth-friendly, and this was in conjunction with our plastic bag ban (in effect as of June 28). The older kids from grades 3-12 participated in a science fair-styled contest where they identified a problem in their neighborhood and came up with a solution as a project, which was then presented to judges. On May 3rd, we held an event here with the judges, experts, and the public schools; we also held a ceremony for the winners. That was a great, successful event where we were able to get the public schools engaged.
Kate: We’re planning on doing that every year. Next year, our theme will be Climate Action. The Sustainable STEAM Challenge works in parallel with our Office’s theme for the whole year. We’re working with the school district to incorporate our theme year into their curriculum. We’ll start off in the fall, talk to the teachers and get them excited about it, and then they’ll try to identify a teacher in each school to create a team and incorporate it into the whole school year’s curriculum. For the Year of Energy, we did a bunch of education and identified projects to move forward on with municipal operations, so that involved the solar panels at City Hall, the electric vehicles, and we’re working on upgrades for city buildings to make sure they’re energy-efficient. We are also looking at different opportunities we have for working with the Green Business program and get the word out on how people can save money.
Carolina: Our Green Business Certification Program awards Green Business designation to businesses who fill out an application. The Jersey City Environmental Commission plays a big role in that – they review the application and approve or deny or ask for additional information. We have about 21 businesses in the Green Business program, and now we’re adding tiers to it since it’s growing so businesses can be offered incentives for reaching certain tiers. It’s a great program we’re hoping to expand to get everyone more environmentally conscious.
Kate: It helps us appreciate businesses that are already green and also encourage businesses to be green. Kanibal & Co and Short Grain are a part of that program, as well as Hound About Town. We give them a decal that says “Green Business” and they can display it in front of their store.
Kate: For the coming year of Climate Action, we’re working on our greenhouse gas emissions inventory and finalizing that report, which will be presented to the public this summer. We are working on a climate action plan, making sure we involve the community in that process. We’re working on our outreach plan for this fall and early winter to make sure people have a chance to understand what the greenhouse gas emissions inventory says, make decisions on where they want the city to be in as far as what our goals are for reducing our carbon emissions, and how we’re going to get there. We’ve been issuing bulletins about this in our quarterly newsletter. Now that the greenhouse gas emission inventory is finalized, we’re looking forward to how we can use that data and try to communicate to the public what all the issues are and how they can get involved.
With the composting pilot program, people can compost and drop off at three different locations. The city just started this pilot program in the Spring. It allows people to drop off their compost at these locations at no cost. It’s one day per week at each location – Riverview Farmers Market, Mandela Lot Community Garden, and Brunswick Community Garden. The Office of Innovation has been working with the Department of Sanitation to make sure we have informational talks and materials for composting in their own backyard.
What has the community involvement been so far? Are residents reaching out about things they want to see?
Kate: Yeah, we did extensive amounts of outreach for the Single-Use Plastic bag ban. We gave presentations to over 30 organizations, talked about the bag ban, and also gave updates to what the Office of Sustainability is doing. We encourage people to reach out to us on social media and via email, and sign up for our quarterly newsletter on our website. We also manage the Environmental Commission, so we’re always at the meetings and the public often comes to talk about policy changes they’d like to see or other initiatives. We hope, with the upcoming outreach we’ll do with climate action planning, that we’ll get people excited about more projects and have more of a dialogue on things they can do and things they’d like to see.
Are there any things in particular you’d like to see from the Office of Sustainability?
Carolina: Definitely. I think we hope we can energize the local people to become more aware of the issues at hand that affect them every day. They can speak to representatives or they can reach out to us so we can all work together toward creating a better future for our city.
Kate: Internally, we’re trying to move the needle on sustainability within municipal operations and create a better dialogue among different departments, as well as between departments and the community so we can work together toward common goals and identify what our goals are to create action plans. That’s really important because sometimes, people are unsure of what they should aim for or how they can get there. I’m hoping our efforts will get people more involved and give them the tools they need to identify who they can work with and what they can push for.
Has sustainability been a passion of yours for years, or did it sprout through the Office of Sustainability?
Kate: I’ve been working in sustainability for a while. Before I was with the Office of Sustainability, I was the Environmental Planner for the city. Before that, I was the Sustainability Coordinator in Albany for four years. Prior to that, I was working for a sustainability network and I focused on the environment as a planner when I was in grad school.
Carolina: For me, I wasn’t really involved in sustainability. I grew up in a city, but when I went off to college, I was able to learn about different subjects and fields. I ended up studying Environmental Science and was able to apply everything I learned. That’s what inspired me to pursue a more sustainable lifestyle.
That’s so cool. Is there anything else you want people to know about the Office of Sustainability and its initiatives?
Kate: The first year, before the office was official, when I was still the Environmental Planner, I collaborated with the Office of Innovation on the Year of Water initiative. The Office of Sustainability has taken over a lot of that work, so we’re continuing to work on green infrastructure, storm water issues, and tree-planting initiatives.
Definitely sign up for our newsletter. We try to get up all the information about the projects we’re working on and want people to know all the ways they can get involved. Follow us on social media and check out our website. Stay tuned for the outreach component of the climate action planning. We really want to get people’s input on where they would like to see the heading and what kind of things they’d like to see or prioritized.
– while checking out the electric vehicle charging stations –
Kate: What we didn’t talk about is how all of the pieces, as far as what transportation is working on and what everyone else is working on, are all part of the Administration’s greater vision.
Brian Platt: We understand that there are many pieces of the puzzle coming together to make this city a more energy-efficient and sustainable place. One big step for us is reducing the number of vehicles in the fleet through a car-sharing program in addition to replacing older vehicles with more efficient electric models. We plan to have four electric vehicles here at City Hall along with 4 more at our public works facility, all of which will be included in our car sharing program. This will allow us to replace 12-14 older passenger cars and SUVs with more efficient electric vehicles in a system that better optimizes the use of the vehicles. Another big step is to utilize energy from more efficient and renewable sources. At Public Works, the chargers will be hooked up to a massive solar panel
s array we are currently installing. We are also encouraging the use of transportation sources that produce less carbon emissions, such as bikes and walking, one of the many reasons we are installing protected bike lanes and making streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. We have 9 miles of protected bike lanes being installed this summer and fall that will create the beginning of a network across all wards of the city.
Kate: It’s all part of the greater vision of the Mayor and the administration. While we’re working on our climate action plan and the greenhouse gas emissions inventory, we haven’t put any actions on hold. We’re continuing to move forward on many different actions across several aspects of city life while also creating a plan because we know we need to take action now.
The first four electric fleet cars are expected to arrive in August, and then the garbage trucks will be within a year.
Brian: The highest polluting vehicles that are on the streets for the greatest number of miles is garbage trucks. We have some garbage trucks that are 20, 30 years old. Even new garbage trucks pollute more than regular vehicles, so this is a big win for us.
Kate: An important thing to think about with electric vehicles is not only are we reducing carbon emissions, which is important for climate change, but we’re also reducing the particulate matter emissions we’re putting into the air. Living in an urban area with a dense population, it’s important that people have clean air. Electric vehicles are also quieter. People do complain about garbage trucks being noisy.
One of the other things for the year of Sustainable Neighborhoods is that we’re making sure people know how to get involved in sustainability initiatives in their own neighborhoods. If anyone is unsure or has an idea about something, they can reach out to us at the Office of Sustainability.