Santa Monica honored for groundbreaking efforts with National Leadership in Sustainability and Energy Efficiency Award
Many communities are dipping their toes into sustainability and energy savings. But there are few, if any, that have carried the water for such green issues for a quarter century. “And our energy and sustainability efforts aren’t add-ons; they are at the core of everything we do in the city,” said Shannon Parry, chief sustainability officer for the city of Santa Monica, Calif.
More recent milestones include such as the first electric Big Blue Bus and the Earth Day opening of a “Living Building Challenge” City Services Building designed to operate energy-neutral, water-neutral and waste-neutral.
For a quarter-century of such efforts, the city of Santa Monica received the International Code Council’s National Leadership in Sustainability and Energy Efficiency Award for 2020. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the growth and enhancement of codes or public policy advancing the principles of the International Code Council Sustainability Membership Council, in the field of energy efficiency and/or sustainability in the built environment.
Parry said it was great to receive the news of the award. “So much of this work was done incrementally over the past 25 years. It’s nice to look back at times like this and see how far we’ve come,” she said. “We are extremely lucky to have citizens who are involved and engaged in sustainability. The same goes for having a city council that has allowed us to become involved in every aspect of city operations.”
Parry also credited Santa Monica Building Official Ara Sargsyan for his work to get their work codified into the city’s building requirements. “It sounds simple, but putting our work into the codes was critical,” Parry said of Sargsyan’s work. “He is the cornerstone of our sustainability efforts.”
Santa Monica officials laid the foundation for that work in 1994 when the city became one of the first to adopt a comprehensive Sustainable City Plan with measurable targets. Parry was working on her double major in environmental science policy and management, and peace and conflict studies, at the University of California, Berkeley, when she began interning with the city of Santa Monica as part of her studies. “I was fortunate the city in 2005 had an entry-level opening in their sustainability department,” said Parry, who went on to earn her master’s degree in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Since that time, Parry worked her way up to chief sustainability officer for the city, where, she said, she gets to work with amazing people who help Santa Monica become imbued with sustainability and energy-saving work. After a quarter-century of focusing on sustainability, Parry said, contractors and major realtors not only are on board with the city’s energy codes, they are actually on boards and commissions, giving input into the efforts.
To help foster sustainability as the city grew, she said Santa Monica focused on trying to attract business partners that met the following criteria: energy/water use; revenue generated to the city; and whether they pay a living wage. From that, they were able to identify businesses in hospitality, technology and medical. They are part of a West Coast tech hub, she said, and the hospitality industry benefits from the city’s sustainability efforts. “We want to keep Santa Monica Bay clean not only because it’s our eco-system, but because clean beaches attract tourists. Tourists stay in our hotels, shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants. That’s only one example.”
In 2013, the city of Santa Monica became one of the first cities in the nation to adopt the Sustainability Rights Ordinance to codify its Sustainable City Plan and mandate biennial reporting of ecosystem health metrics. Parry said other cities around them for a while looked at them as a little odd for making sustainability intrinsic to city living and business. Now, she said, Malibu, Los Angeles and other municipalities large and small have joined the mission. “They’ve learned from our successes as well as our failures,” she said. “Sometimes, you have a code that is just too complicated and hard to follow. It’s amazing how streamlined and efficient it has become to adopt sustainability codes.”
And they’re not done. Parry said Santa Monica will be working to attain water self-sufficiency by 2023, zero waste by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. “COVID may change the timelines on us a little bit, but these are our goals.”