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Harnessing Local Volunteers with MCAN

Cambridge Day at the dasHAUS exhibit had a lot of material! Check out my previous posts covering it, focusing on passive houses and Massachusetts Green Communities.

Transitioning from Lisa Capone’s talk on Green Communities, Rob Garrity, the executive director of Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN), boasted that the 70 cities covered by his organization’s 46 branches are twice as likely as others to hold the Green Communities designation. MCAN supports local volunteers, organizing them into a statewide movement, and Garrity echoed Capone’s paeon to local government, characterizing it as operational, as opposed to the more ideological state and federal government.

Garrity’s advice was definitely on the operational side of things. He had some great suggestions for the membership of a good energy committee (any committee, really—including Berklee’s reconstituted sustainability committee, perhaps?). These include:

  • native experience (who know about the subject at hand)
  • inspired amateurs (who don’t know their suggestions are crazy and so are more ambitious)
  • old hands (who know how to get things done)
  • cranks (who will complain about the results if they’re not pulled in early)

He also recommends that committees be voluntary rather than appointed, and inclusive rather than limited. This is from hard-earned experience. Garrity’s own town of Norfolk had a limited, appointed committee and was ultimately not able to get Green Communities designation, but a neighboring town with an open, voluntary committee was.

Despite not being able to agree on adopting the stretch code, Norfolk has made a lot of progress, including a new solar facility on otherwise unproductive landfill space. This is why the highly individualistic approach of MCAN is useful. It helps each town customize its climate action plan and get things done, even if they can’t do it all.

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