By Fiona Flowers

For The Diamondback

Sixteen Maryland municipalities were recognized last month for their sustainability efforts during the Maryland Municipal League Conference on Oct. 16, with Greenbelt topping the list.

Sustainable Maryland is a collaboration between the Maryland Municipal League and the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center. Municipalities across the state that put together green teams and demonstrate a commitment to protecting natural resources are eligible to receive a Sustainable Maryland certification.

Local municipal staff, elected officials and volunteers work together in green teams to promote sustainability.

“We have found that the formation of a green team is really fundamental in creating a successful sustainability program at the municipal level,” said Mike Hunninghake, Sustainable Maryland’s director. “It gets parts of the community engaged.”

Hunninghake explained that the sustainability certification aims to reward municipalities for curating and implementing sustainability action plans.

To earn the certification, municipalities and their green teams can complete certain actions from a menu of more than 90 options, such as creating a pollinator-friendly “insect hotel” in their community.

Greenbelt earned the Sustainability Champion title with 905 sustainability points.

Judith “J” Davis, who sits on the Greenbelt council and the Sustainable Maryland executive committee, served as mayor when the municipality began its partnership with Sustainable Maryland.

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Davis explained that Greenbelt is a community that has been concentrated on sustainability since its formation in 1937 as a planned development under former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Resettlement Administration.

“Back then, it was just … conserving things, making sure you were using your resources wisely,” she said. “We were started with the idea of a ‘green belt,’ and walkways and pedestrian safety kind of permeated all the philosophy of Greenbelt from the beginning.”

Municipalities must document their sustainability actions to qualify for points towards the certification, something Davis prides Greenbelt for maintaining.

“The thing is that Greenbelt does all these things … and many other cities also do it. It’s the fact that we are keeping track of it,” Davis said. “With this, we can really showcase what we’re doing and can be proud about it, and our residents can be proud about it.”

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Kristen Weaver, who serves as mayor pro tem on the Greenbelt City Council and a liaison to the Greenbelt Advisory Committee for environmental sustainability, said that in the face of climate change, sustainability is crucial to municipal agendas.

Weaver is set to succeed Davis as the Greenbelt representative for the Sustainable Maryland executive committee, and aims to preserve the champion status in the years to come.

“At this point, we can’t reverse climate change,” Weaver said. “We might be able to slow it down still with our choices and our behaviors. But what we can do is do our best to reduce the impact.”

Weaver explained that becoming part of a green team allows individuals to work together to address a phenomenon that they can feel powerless combatting alone.

“It’s this green team, it’s my community, it’s doing something so my part feeds into something larger,” Weaver said. “That can start feeling like you’re actually making progress against a really large, intractable problem.”