Speakers, Participants Explore Sustainability Through the Lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
More than 500 attendees gathered on October 14 for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s (MORPC) annual Summit on Sustainability. This year’s Summit, held at the Hilton Downtown Columbus, brought together more than 500 community leaders to explore and share sustainable, and to celebrate individuals and collaborative efforts making a difference in Central Ohio. This year’s event theme, Transforming Our Future, featured various sessions in which speakers explored sustainability through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This year’s keynote speaker, Alan Walts, Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, Director of Tribal and Multi-media Programs Office, focused on environmental justice issues and how the U.S. EPA is ensuring that everyone has a voice in decisions that affect their land, air, and water. Luncheon speaker Nichole Oocumma, PhD, SHRM-CP, Director of Talent Development, CareSource, discussed how to be an inclusive leader when working on sustainability initiatives with Central Ohio communities.
Each year, MORPC recognizes individuals and organizations demonstrating leadership and a commitment to sustainability planning and practices across the region. This year’s Regional Sustainability Awards go to Ty Marsh, former Executive Director of SWACO, recipient of the Leadership in Sustainability Award; Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow, recipient of the Collaborative Achievement in Sustainability Award; and Bertie Fields, founder of Black Girls Do Bike, recipient of the Leadership in Mobility Award.
For more than eight years, Marsh served as SWACO’s Executive Director and oversaw significant change. SWACO now boasts a recycling rate of 51 percent – far exceeding the national average – and a highly efficient municipal solid waste landfill with more than 40 years of capacity remaining to serve the public.
Under his leadership, SWACO’s Carbon Emissions Management Plan set a goal to reduce carbon emissions 64 percent by 2032. The plan, implemented in 2020, addresses landfill gasses, SWACO’s fleet of vehicles and equipment, energy usage and waste-management practices at SWACO’s headquarters and other facilities. SWACO facilities are now powered 100 percent by renewable energy, and the organization has reduced its building energy emissions by 99 percent.
Additionally, under Marsh, SWACO launched food-waste drop-off programs in Grove City, Hilliard and Worthington, Franklin County. Together, the seven drop-off locations composted more than 400,000 pounds of food in a year. Lastly, a partnership with the City of Columbus and AEP Energy Partners for the Columbus Solar Park – the largest solar array on a closed landfill in the United States – will generate clean energy for the region, powering 5,000 homes.
More than a decade ago, the Buckeye Lake Area Civic Association, embarked on the mission to improve the watershed that makes up the Buckeye Lake region. The result: Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow was launched, in partnership with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Fairfield, Licking and Perry counties, and the Divisions of Parks and Wildlife for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Over the years, agricultural, commercial, residential, and recreational stakeholders came together, guiding development and watershed policies in a thoughtful, lake-sustaining manner. This creative collaboration, focused on monitoring water quality in the lake and streams, identifying the origins of pollutants and sediment, and coordinating improvement projects to the Buckeye Lake Watershed.
Honoree, Bertie Fields launched Black Girls Do Bike because of her passion about making cycling accessible to all people, especially black women. She recognizes the health, wellness, and quality of life benefits of cycling and is committed to breaking down the barriers that women and people of color face when engaging in cycling activities.
Black Girls Do Bike provides a comfortable positive place where women can support, advise, and organize rides that promote function, fitness, freedom, and fun. Among the many other rides Fields organized in 2022, she curated a Celebrate Trails Day ride in partnership with Rails to Trails Conservancy and Remember Us Urban Scouts. Celebrate Trails Day was held this past April as part of a series of trail events occurring across the country along a national trail known as the Great American Rail Trail. In fact, the Columbus event was the most well attended event in the country. In an activity traditionally dominated by men, Fields has established that the trails are a place for black women and girls feel the joy of cycling.
Energy, water quality, housing, active transportation, social equity, and economic development were some of the topics featured at the day-long summit. The event included an attendee favorite, Pecha Kucha-style presentations from Dr. Amy Action, Executive Director of Rapid 5; Craig Turner, Executive Director of Edge Innovation Hub; Kristen Atha, Director of Public Utilities, City of Columbus. Also, in a first for the Summit, four sessions explored the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion when developing policies and programs to ensure fair opportunities for all regarding sustainability.
This year’s summit was made possible thanks to program sponsor The Ohio State University; network sponsors SWACO, Ohio University, and NOPEC; and supporting sponsors COTA, Ohio EPA, Energility, and Open Road Renewables. Breakout session sponsors included AECOM, American Farmland Trust; Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District; Encova; Sky Nile Consulting; Kegler, Brown, Hill + Ritter; MurphyEpson; HDR Inc.; Ohio Environmental Protection Agency; COTA, Ohio Air Quality Development Authority; SME; SWACO; and Measurement Resources. The morning plenary sponsor was Columbus State Community College.
Presentation materials from 2022 Summit on Sustainability can be viewed on MORPC’s website at www.morpc.org/event/summit-on-sustainability. To view a copy of MORPC’s Regional Sustainability Agenda, visit www.morpc.org/sustainabilityagenda.