By Beth Beloff and Shirlene Sitton
The 25-year Sustainability Plan for the city will be unveiled by the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission later this summer. In anticipation of that release, this article provides background on the planning effort and some preliminary findings from the plan. Future articles will highlight the plan’s recommendations.
Dating back to its Native American roots and subsequent founding over 400 years ago, Santa Fe has long valued its natural environment. Collaboration for effective land and water resource management has created a lasting community ethic. Now Santa Fe features vibrant environmental, social and economic systems. That perspective has enabled the community to renew, evolve and thrive.
The City of Santa Fe (city) has made a commitment to develop the necessary policies, projects, programs and infrastructure to respond to the threats associated with climate change, while addressing the health and vitality of the community. In 2007, the City Council created the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission (SSFC), a group of mayor-appointed citizens with expertise in environmental fields. In 2008, the city’s first Sustainable Santa Fe Plan was aimed at implementing a variety of programs to help the city become more adaptive and resilient to climate change. Many goals and objectives of that plan have been achieved, particularly in the areas of water, waste, transportation, renewable energy and green building codes.
In 2014, under the leadership of Mayor Javier Gonzales and City Councilor Peter Ives, the City Council adopted resolution 2014-85 declaring its intent for the City of Santa Fe to become carbon neutral by 2040; they also created the Climate Action Task Force. In 2015, the governing body adopted resolutions 2015-30 and 2015-57 combining these efforts and directing the newly appointed members of the SSFC to “…advise the Governing Body on the programs, policies and projects that will help improve the city’s environment as well as the health and quality of life of the people of Santa Fe; encourage the city’s economic growth; and ensure long-term sustainability of the city’s future.” It also instructed the Commission to work with staff to develop a 25-year Sustainability Plan (Plan) to reduce Santa Fe’s carbon emissions and energy consumption to achieve the city’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.
Santa Fe reinforced these commitments in 2015 when it joined the Compact of Mayors, a coalition of over 600 cities worldwide that have resolved to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change and publicly report their progress through standardized measurement of their emissions. The city passed a resolution in 2017 stating its support for the United States staying in the Paris Climate Agreement and urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the nation’s withdrawal from that agreement.
The Sustainable Santa Fe 25-Year Plan (Plan) is rooted in the concept of sustainability expressed via the triple-bottom-line, coupled with a commitment to carbon neutrality that recognizes the challenge of climate change, to become a more resilient community. In addition, the idea of a living and dynamic plan is critical to seeing these concepts evolve into actual outcomes. These themes are explored below.
The environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainability, referred to as the triple-bottom-line (TBL), are interdependent overlapping elements. Sustainability means meeting the community’s environmental, economic and social needs without compromising those of future generations. Santa Fe looks to enhance ecological resiliency, which is the ability of ecosystems to withstand and adapt to the stressors brought on by climate change and other human activities. Building a vital and diverse economy will help provide a high quality of life with equitable opportunities for Santa Feans. A TBL perspective recognizes that all dimensions support one another in creating a sustainable community. The Venn diagram depicting the three spheres of sustainability is illustrative of how the Plan considers the three underlying themes, with major cross-cutting themes. However, there are linkages between all elements in a holistic view, which is depicted in the Plan in a matrix that shows the strength of overlapping synergies. These categories under each of the three major elements also represent how the working groups were organized.
An ecologically resilient Santa Fe is one that not only protects and conserves its natural resources; it also seeks to adapt and restore them despite the pressures of climate change and its impacts on our region. Located in the dry Southwest, Santa Fe is acutely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Climate change is anticipated to exacerbate the threats of drought, wildfire, diminishing water supply, extreme temperatures and related health pressures. These impact the region’s energy, ecosystems, water, transportation, economic base, food and sociological systems. To adapt to these known vulnerabilities, Santa Fe must be resilient in its ability to absorb disturbances, anticipate challenges, be prepared to cope with stress, and evolve to navigate adverse climate stressors and risks. Additionally, a resilient mindset is required to responsibly manage our energy, ecosystems, water and waste resources now, against the anticipated adversity of the future, giving us the ability to respond and recover quickly.
An economically vital community is one that invests in and uplifts its unique human and natural capital. For Santa Fe this means community development that encourages local entrepreneurship, cultivates innovation and supports a skilled workforce. It provides a systems approach to infrastructure in the built environment, transportation system and broadband that reflects community values of affordability, quality of life and accessibility. It provides economic security for its residents with living wage job opportunities, and it reinvigorates a sense of community from the neighborhood to the entire city. An economically vital Santa Fe can support the community’s human activities while enhancing other living systems.
Quality of Life and Social Equity
A socially equitable community with high quality of life is one in which every person has equal access to resources in order to successfully meet basic needs. Santa Fe has a unique mix of people from different ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds. To support this diverse community, this plan strives to convey and facilitate a strong social sustainability framework to address the issues of climate change, affordable housing, transportation, diversity, food systems, education, and health and wellness.
The Sustainable Santa Fe 25-Year Plan addresses the goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. Carbon neutrality means achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in carbon dioxide equivalencies, therefore lessening the emissions associated with contributing to climate change. This goal will be achieved by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sources and sectors, including transitioning to a 100 percent renewable energy supply by 2040. That can bring us close, but not to zero. To achieve carbon neutrality, we must also offset the remaining greenhouse gas emissions through increasing the sequestration of carbon by our soils and plants, and by purchase of carbon offsets.
Plan Development Process
Development of this plan required multiple reviews. It was an inclusive process, guided by five major themes:
1. Leading by Example
2. Employing a Regional Perspective
3. Leveraging Existing Efforts and Best Practices
4. Integrating Triple Bottom Line Considerations
5. Engaging the Community
To address the myriad issues that are interrelated to sustainability, 11 working groups were organized by TBL perspective. These groups were composed of commissioners, subject matter experts from our community, and city staff—over 100 people. They met regularly to characterize the issues in the elements, set goals, and formulate recommended strategies and actions reflected in this plan. Commissioners, city staff and some working group members wrote the draft elements, and staff experts continued to work with the commission to finalize each portion of the Plan.
In May 2017 four community conversations were conducted in the four city districts to get input from the community on the recommendations. The feedback from the community has been incorporated into the final recommendations.
A Living and Dynamic Plan
The Sustainable Santa Fe 25-Year Plan must be able to adapt to changing environmental stressors, economic conditions, and community values and opportunities. Our goal is continuous improvement in the indicators for both human and ecosystem health, monitored through periodic reviews, minor adjustments and major updates to the plan. The processes for tracking these trends, monitoring the status of targets, re-prioritizing strategies and updating the plan are detailed in the Implementation section.
Our Path Forward
At the core of achieving the vision of a Sustainable Santa Fe is building the organizational capacity of the City of Santa Fe to implement the many strategies and ideas in this Plan. The city government can then leverage its network of public and private institutions to influence local, regional and state action to benefit community members. Through their actions, residents and businesses can create change to make Santa Fe become more sustainable and resilient. The following are important elements of equipping the City of Santa Fe organization to implement the ideas of this plan:
- Dedicated sustainability office—staffing and related budget—with authority to implement strategies, policies and plans;
- Formalized sustainability coordination across the organization through an interdepartmental Sustainability Council;
- Realignment of the mission and duties of the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission to support and complement implementation at the city, within the governing body, and in the community;
- Building a coalition of public and private institutions to work together on local, regional and state sustainability issues;
- Collaboration with the residents and businesses of Santa Fe by engaging the community in planning processes and dialogues, sharing outcomes and empowering actions.
An evaluation process using sustainability and practicality criteria was used to assess and prioritize strategies. The details of the evaluation process are provided in the Implementation section of this plan, and the evaluation outcomes are summarized throughout the plan.
Looking to the first year following Sustainable Santa Fe adoption, the following priority themes and strategies are recommended for implementation:
- Ensuring city government accountability, leadership and advocacy
- Coordinating education and outreach
- Maximizing energy efficiency
- Accelerating renewable energy
- Maximizing water conservation
- Developing/redeveloping in a more sustainable way
- Developing more affordable housing
- Transforming the transportation system
- Enhancing regenerative natural systems and processes
- Reinvesting in the local economy
- Empowering the next generation
Beth Beloff, chair of the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission, has assisted businesses, governmental and non-governmental organizations and communities in becoming more sustainable.
Shirlene Sitton is director of the City of Santa Fe’s Environmental Services Division and liaison to the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission.
A plan designed to respond to threats associated with climate change, while addressing the health and vitality of the community.
The environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainability (triple-bottom-line) are interdependent overlapping elements.