Grand Rapids sustainability manager to speak at GVSU

GVL / Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte

James Kilborn

Given that 2017 ended as the second hottest year on record, questions remain about how cities are working to combat climate change at a local scale. Alison Sutter, sustainability manager for the city of Grand Rapids, will be at Grand Valley State University to address these questions and explain the city’s goals for a more sustainable future. The event will take place Monday, Jan. 29, from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the L. William Seidman Center’s Loosemore Forum B, located on the Pew Campus. 

According to the Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report, average temperatures and precipitation in West Michigan will rise within the next 20 years. Sutter will seek to illustrate what the future looks like for the region and share how the city of Grand Rapids is addressing the challenges of an ever-changing climate. 

Kelly Parker, director of the environmental studies program at GVSU, said Grand Rapids has a rich history of being at the forefront of environmental sustainability. 

“There is a fairly long history of this,” Parker said. “This didn’t just pop up yesterday. A lot of it is right down to the past mayor, George Heartwell, who made sustainability, resilience and energy independence a centerpiece of his view of the city as mayor. He promoted the Office of Energy and Sustainability in the city of Grand Rapids.”

Parker said Grand Rapids’ interactions with utility companies spurred the movement toward a greener, more sustainable region. 

“If you’re a power company and one of your biggest customers says they want all the energy to be green, it starts to move that way,” he said. “It’s had this ripple effect that you see in all kinds of ways, and there’s a lot of things happening at the same time. Looking at local and sustainable food systems, the farm-to-table movement—which has completely changed dining in Grand Rapids—local breweries, all of this has come together and makes Grand Rapids a model city for lots of other places in this respect.”

GVSU has partnered with the city in achieving its energy and climate goals. The university’s commitment to creating energy-saving LEED-certified buildings, coupled with the solar garden constructed in 2016, is a step toward realizing GVSU’s Climate Action Plan to become carbon-neutral by 2043. 

Elena Lioubimtseva, chair of the geography and sustainable planning department, who collaborated on the 2013 Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report, recommended that plans include methods to measure the effectiveness of climate-change projects. 

“I’d like to see more effort on how the city’s going to evaluate how successful it is in planning its climate-change mitigation and climate-change adaptation,” she said. “I’d like to probably see more quantitative metrics and how they would measure their success or how they measure their failure. I think we’re definitely going in the right direction, but there is room for improvement.”

Lioubimtseva also spoke about local green infrastructure within the city, such as bioswales, rain gardens and energy-efficient buildings. 

“One interesting example in Grand Rapids that I really love is the new (Downtown) Market: It uses geothermal energy,” she said. “There’s the rain garden just inside the parking lot; there’s a green roof; and then of course there’s a green wall.

“I think the city has done many great things in terms of neighborhood revitalization, in terms of greening space and definitely separating drainage systems. I think that was a colossal, very expensive project that has a huge impact.”

Sutter’s presentation will inform the public on the steps Grand Rapids is taking to increase renewable energy production and mitigate climate change’s effects within the region. Students are asked to RSVP to Robbi Osipoff at [email protected] by Saturday, Jan. 27, as seating is limited.