Duluth residents get engaged in stellar climate action plan

August 2021

If you’re going to plan around climate resiliency, you’ve got to have the community involved in the process!

We talked with Jodi Slick, founder and CEO of Ecolibrium3, about how they coordinated with multiple environmental and community groups during a pandemic to develop phase 1 of Duluth Citizen’s Climate Action Plan, a Northeast CERT seed grant project.

Please tell us about the project.

Jodi Slick: In June 2018, the City of Duluth adopted a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 as part of its Imagine Duluth 2035 Comprehensive Plan. However, City emissions are only 4% of community-wide emissions in Duluth. The Duluth CCAP is an effort to spread this goal community wide. Together we can reduce our community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050—that is over 2 million tons of GHG emissions, or 25 tons per citizen. 

Key action steps were taken from Project Drawdown, an international effort of scientists to calculate the most impactful changes to reduce greenhouse gases, and cross-referenced with the Imagine Duluth 2035 Comprehensive Plan, Minnesota GreenStep Cities, and the recommendations of local experts.

Conversations were held with more than 20 local experts with knowledge in food, agriculture, and forestry; public transportation, pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and clean cars; buildings and energy. These experts were contacted to give input on what action steps would be most effective in the Duluth area and whether they differed from the steps given by Project Drawdown. In the end key actions were created by combining the international expertise of Project Drawdown with the knowledge of local experts to create the 12 most impactful action steps for lowering carbon emissions in Duluth.

How does environmental justice fit into this project?

JS: In addressing our greenhouse gas emissions, we must also acknowledge that our food, transportation and energy systems have contributed to racial, economic, and other injustices. In response to this we drew on the expertise of multiple environmental justice frameworks including The Energy Democracy Score Card, Comprehensive Building Blocks for a Regenerative and Just 100% Policy, Dibajinjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu, and resources from the Climate Justice Alliance.

While we recognize that the Duluth Citizens’ Climate Action Plan does not account for every aspect of environmental justice, we hope it provides one of many introductions to environmental justice in the Duluth community and encourages more community action at the intersection of environmental justice and climate change. To learn more about environmental justice, see the community initiatives page for links to additional resources. We also want to recognize that our usage of the word “citizen” is intended to differentiate between the city government of our community and the people who inhabit it. The term is not used to exclude the members of our community who do not have legal citizenship status; this plan belongs to all people who live here.

In addressing our greenhouse gas emissions, we must also acknowledge that our food, transportation and energy systems have contributed to racial, economic, and other injustices.

Jodi Slick, Ecolibrium3

How will you measure success?

JS: Many modes of measurement of the impact of the project were discussed. In the end, the impact of this project will be measured by counting the number of actions taken by community members and the number of people, businesses, and institutions involved with the Duluth Citizens’ Climate Action Plan. 

Due to COVID, our efforts shifted from front-end loading community engagement to working on a more 1-on-1 basis to develop the DCCAP framework. The initial plan was soft launched in October 2020 with a larger public launch after the November elections.

We have already seen how the effort to put together the community initiatives is being used by other parties to advance sustainable development. For example, a group from UMD is looking at developing a sustainable research network and is using the landscape analysis that was part of this plan as a starting point for community connection. Finally, the plan helps the city government recognize that a broader view of “community” needs to be taken into account if we are to reach our goals.

What were your biggest lessons learned?

JS: Whoa…biggest lesson learned- we vastly underestimated the amount of time that we would put into this project. Because it is so essential to our mission and what our community needs, we consistently made decisions to expand the scope beyond our initial funding. 

Our process started with the supposition that creating just a “website” on local climate was not enough to move people toward better understanding and most importantly action. We also didn’t want to fall into the pitfall of just creating a “10-things you can do…” list. That meant that our project had to first work across sectors to determine what framework might make most sense and then localize the information. It didn’t make sense to suggest we do something in our community if that work is already being done. This led us into a huge expansion of our original work as we developed a full landscape analysis of initiatives already underway and documented them so hopefully people can connect into current work and conversations instead of reinventing the wheel. This meant research and writing about 280 current initiatives.

The other major design decision that we needed to make was whether climate action is about knowledge, individual actions, or advocacy. We found that it truly had to involve all three, thus again expanding our scope. We had to find a platform that would allow us to capture the knowledge pieces, connect people to other initiatives, and capture an ongoing engagement with the plan. This informed an organizational shift to Salsa Engage to be able to create autoresponders and data capture mechanisms that can keep the momentum moving forward on the plan. Adding a technology solution, again increased our time into the project, but we hope it was the right decision to allow us to maintain and continue to build on the work.

We also didn’t want to fall into the pitfall of just creating a “10-things you can do…” list. That meant that our project had to first work across sectors to determine what framework might make most sense and then localize the information.

Jodi Slick, Ecolibrium3

How did you connect your project to community?

Because of the pandemic, most of the work conducted was with community champions and experts to build the DCCAP site and initial plans/actions. Then it is continuing to engage with residents that want to take climate action. The plan uses technology that will allow for “engagement pipelines” that will continue to communicate and encourage next step action. 

This creates multiple on-ramps to the conversation. We did find that there are climate champions that need a deeper level of professional and personal support to continue their efforts. We were going to launch a leadership and reflection cohort to support these individuals, but that got shifted in time due to the pandemic and the significant scope increase for the DCCAP. We hope to bring this idea/project back to fruition this year!

Clean Energy Focus: City-wide Climate Action Plan

NE CERT Seed Grant: $5,000

Total Project Cost: $30,000

Other Funds: In-kind contributions from Ecolibrium3, Sierra Club, MNIPL, Duluth Climate Mobilization, Citizens’ Climate Lobby

Project Team: Brett Cease, Citizens’ Climate Lobby; Lisa Fitzpatrick, Duluth Climate Mobilization; Marissa Major, Ecolibrium3 and Duluth Children’s Museum; Bret Pence, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light; Jenna Yeakle, Sierra Club; and Melissa Hoang, Lora Wedge, Jodi Slick, Hayley Cormack, and Dr. Christina Schlachter all with Ecolibrium3

People Involved and Reached: 359 (more since launched in Nov 2020)

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