Glen Ridge is a leader in sustainability

Photo Courtesy of Sustainable Jersey
From left are Randall Solomon, executive director of Sustainable Jersey; Debbie Mans, mayor of Glen Ridge; Erik DeLine, deputy administrator/director of planning and development; and Gary Sondermeyer, chairperson, Sustainable Jersey Board of Trustees.

Glen Ridge received certification at the silver level by Sustainable Jersey this past November.

What that means is that the municipal government has undertaken efforts to implement sustainability throughout the borough, has succeeded and is now recognized as a state leader in this voluntary, self-reporting effort.

The goal of sustainability is to build resilient communities with solvable problems. This covers practically all societal interactions with the environment and people.

Management of pollutants, water, greenhouse gasses, land use, art centers offering diverse viewpoints and even supporting soup kitchens and food pantries are encouraged by Sustainable Jersey. Together with Glen Ridge, four other Essex County municipalities achieved silver status: Newark, Maplewood, Millburn and Montclair.

Eric DeLine, the borough deputy administrator/director of planning and development, said Sustainable Jersey was a program made up of a series of municipal actions and points. These points add up to three levels of achievement: bronze, silver and gold.

While many NJ communities have achieved bronze status or do not participate in the program, only Woodbridge, Princeton and Readington have gold

DeLine said that he and Mayor Debbie Mans coordinated the effort in the borough. Most activities that will be awarded points, he said, are environmental.

“The police department is concerned with safe routes to schools,” he said. “That has environmental benefits. So does its medicine ‘take back’ program because it keeps the medicine out of the environment. For the most part, every department effort has an environmental benefit: safe streets, shade trees, stormwater repairs. Even here at the municipal building, a benefit would be to use a green product of recycled material.”

Although Glen Ridge gains no financial benefit from its silver achievement, DeLine said it can accurately say it is environmentally friendly.

“It shows our community that its government takes these practices to heart,” he said.

Grant money is available through Sustainable Jersey and Glen Ridge received one in 2020. It was used to promote composting, recycling and education about these efforts.

Certification lasts for three years, but a community may reapply before then.

Sustainable Jersey got its start in 2006 when the College of New Jersey received funding from the Dodge Foundation to study the practicality of sustainability. Around the same time, the state League of Municipalities, Department of Environmental Protection and Board of Public Utilities were pursuing similar goals. In 2009, the four entities formed a partnership and in 2011 became a nonprofit.

Mans said receiving silver certification confirms that the borough is doing good things.

“We got a grant that helped residents to recycle properly,” she said, “and gave them opportunities to recycle nontraditional recyclables. But we have to prevent ‘wish recycling.’ The recycling facilities we use only accept certain materials.”

Mans said “wish recycling” is indiscriminate recycling. “We’ve been working hard to clean up our recycling content,” she said. “Recycling is a commodity. You get money
for it.”

She would also like to see more education, in the borough, for water and energy conservation. There are lawn sprinklers that help people save water, she said, but the borough has to let residents know about state and federal rebates if they purchase this new technology.

Regarding the motor vehicle fleet, Mans said it has to be determined if electric vehicles are feasible in Glen Ridge.

“We could be moving to an electric jitney,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but how do we get there?”

She said the borough does not have any charging stations for electric cars and grant money for that must be pursued.

The community garden on Benson Street is another possibility for Sustainable Jersey points. At one time, it was run by a nonprofit, Mans said, but the borough has taken over its operation.

“We’re thinking of more volunteers and more education for additional points,” she said, adding that the gardens provide fresh produce for community food banks.