Small Municipal Governments with the Ability to Make Big Changes
Emma Perry, City Sustainability Fellow, describes her lifelong passion for the environment and how her work with the City of Portland Sustainability Office is making small changes that lead to big impacts in the fight against climate change.
After growing up loving being outdoors and exploring what my small Vermont town had to offer, my passion for the environment was clear and strong. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that offered classes like “ecosystem ecology” and had a semester long outdoor learning program that I attended my sophomore year. At the University of Vermont (UVM) I had the opportunity to take classes such as environmental ethics and policy and ecological design solutions. I knew my future would be working in the environmental field. After four years of studying and discussing environmental issues and climate change, I had a degree in Environmental Studies and Food Systems. However, the relieved feeling of being finished with college wears off quite fast when you can’t find a job. Of course, I learned about future job opportunities in the field, wrote my resume and worked on my LinkedIn profile, but there was not a course in college to guide me to take the actions of going out and getting a job. I was a sophomore in college when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which meant that no internships or in-person networking was possible as a student. So, I was left with a degree in something I was so passionate about with no direction to go in.
As I was searching for jobs in the Spring of my senior year, I was discouraged by the fact that every job similar to what I thought I wanted to do required a master’s degree or 5 years of working experience (and these were for entry level positions). I ended up taking a job at a summer camp working as an environmental educator on their farm. When that job ended, I wanted something new and exciting. I settled on moving to Maine and I spent my time searching for any and all environmentally-related jobs. When I found the Resilience Corps, I instantly knew I needed to do anything it took to get this fellowship.
Before being placed with the City of Portland Sustainability Office, I had never considered that municipal governments played a role in sustainability or environmental issues, but after four months of the Resilience Corps my view has completely shifted. My role at the City of Portland has opened my eyes to all the possibilities a smaller city can make to not only improve the social and environmental aspects, but also how big of a role the city can play in state policies and initiatives. We work on all aspects of sustainability, from improving the rate of city wide composting with our eight free drop-off sites, to energy benchmarking for buildings, to landcare campaigns that educate citizens on how to sustainably care for their lawns and gardens without using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. We just finished an initiative called Electrify Bikes, which is a branch of Electrify Everything, a program in Portland to encourage and incentivize citizens to think and act on their energy usage. The Electrify Bikes program was funded by ARPA grant money, and we were able to award 75 people with up to $3,000 to put towards an electric bike. The goal was to incentivize residents to replace their cars and reduce the amount of single person car trips within the city. We had such great success that the grant money was gone in two and a half days and there is hope for more funding in the future to continue the program. The Electrify Bikes program was my first lesson in just how much room there is to grow. It takes capacity, passion, and time to successfully run a program like this which many cities and towns don’t have or simply aren’t focused on. However, after seeing how much interest there was in this program, and the others that we run, it is clear that residents here in Portland are thinking about sustainability and want to make changes.
I am so impressed and inspired by the work happening in Portland and it’s made me curious about the work that is happening or could be happening in other cities. While I have recently learned that there is work being done around sustainability in other municipal governments, like Boulder, Colorado and Providence, Rhode Island, it was something I had never considered was happening let alone something I could pursue a future in. I had been taught about changes happening around sustainability and climate change within bodies like the US government and the IPCC, or small changes that individuals were doing to better their community and local environment, but I am now wondering why we never learned about the work that could be done and the job opportunities that were available within smaller cities and towns across the country. After my time with the Resilience Corps and the City of Portland is over, I hope that I can find a job that is also making small changes for large outcomes towards the fight against climate change.
Emma grew up in Manchester, Vermont where she spent most of her time skiing, exploring in the woods, and playing soccer for her local high school. She recently graduated from the University of Vermont where she received a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Studies and Food Systems. After graduating Emma spent her summer working as a farm and food systems educator at an outdoor summer camp in Northern Vermont. Emma is interested in helping to foster a deeper connection between humans and the environment as well as educating people about the small but impactful changes they can make to make our city, and world, a more sustainable place. Emma moved to Maine to be closer to the ocean, and in her free time she loves to explore all that Maine has to offer with her dog Arlo. Whether it be hiking, cross-country skiing, or being on the water in the summer, you can find Emma at her happiest in the outdoors. As a Resilience Corps member, Emma looks forward to being a part of a team that’s helping turn Portland into a sustainable city for residents now and in the future.