GR sustainability plan builds relationship with GVSU

GVL / Nathan Mehmed
Amber Hendrick uses the water bottle filling station located in Kirkhof. The aim is to keep GVSU sustainable

Nathan Mehmed

GVL / Nathan Mehmed Amber Hendrick uses the water bottle filling station located in Kirkhof. The aim is to keep GVSU sustainable

Molly Waite

Many people say two heads are better than one. So, when the heads of Grand Valley State University and the city of Grand Rapids met to create Grand Rapids’ Sustainability Plan 2.0 earlier this year, the plan took on stronger sense of community.

“We’re working together, hand-in-hand with Grand Valley and other colleges and university in the region, to find the best solutions to region-wide issues,” said Haris Alibasic, director of the Grand Rapid’s Office of Energy and Sustainability. “When you look at our new sustainability plan, while it relates to the city as an organization, its own operation and resources, it does have a larger implication in the region. It does have a huge impact on the community.”

The Sustainability 2.0 Plan is a follow-up to the original plan adopted by Grand Rapids in 2006, said Emily Martin, graduate assistant of the GVSU Sustainable Community Development Initiative. The 2006 plan was generic with broader goals.

The new plan set specific goals with measurable targets and timelines for the achievement of these goals. The plan also assigned responsibilities to various departments.

“The sustainability plan is almost like a blueprint,” Alibasic said. “What it does is basically provide specific targets and outcomes which then guide our specific work, budgeting and performance. Compared to the previous plan, which was a very good start, this plan provides us with the opportunity to specifically direct local plans and provides accountability for the work that we do.”

Martin, who worked with Alibasic to help develop the new plan, said researchers developed the plan by reviewing sustainability plans in other cities to evaluate their goals and determine which might be useful for Grand Rapids.

“[The plan] sets a vision for what the city can accomplish in regards to sustainability and puts in place measurable goals towards achieving that vision,” Martin said. “It is important for Grand Valley to be involved in this work because our success is linked to the success of our region.”

Not only did the community participate in development of the plan, it also had a hand in the plan’s adoption. Norman Christopher, the SCDI executive director, said the decision to implement Sustainability Plan 2.0 was unanimous among the Grand Rapids departments.

“It didn’t come from the mayor and the city manager,” Christopher said. “They built it up by talking to each of the different departments. So instead of someone waking up one day and telling them what their new goals are, they went to each department.”

For Christopher, the level of collaboration was important.

“When you talk about leadership, I think that deserves an enormous amount of credit for showing it,” he said. “A business can learn from their plan, and we’re learning from it. When we take a look at our new sustainability plan, we can learn a lot from looking at how the city built theirs.”

The Sustainability Plan 2.0 is available on Grand Rapids’ official web site, For more information about the sustainability work being done in Grand Rapids, visit

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