SOLUTIONS: Coaltion is helping make Mercer County sustainable

Huck Fairman
In the fall of 2014, an off-shoot of Sustainable Jersey was formed, the Mercer County Sustainability Coalition, which serves our county, and is one of six such regional hubs in the state addressing sustainable issues.
The purpose of these hubs, and MCSC’s in Mercer, is to bring together the many ideas, plans and efforts formulated by Mercer County’s towns, 10 out of 12 having signed up. Sustainable Jersey provides statewide guidance, assistance, and support, while MCSC’s function is to inform, coordinate, innovate, share resources, and expand cooperation within Mercer.
MCSC’s program director for community engagement, Lauren Skowronski, lives in Plainsboro but works in Sustainable Jersey’s office at The College of New Jersey in Ewing. Her considerable experience working in different levels of state government has allowed her to understand both how our municipalities and counties work and what they need to improve in order to remain prosperous and healthy.
How did this coalition come about? In 2006, enough New Jerseyans saw that many changing conditions and issues needed to be addressed, in some cases urgently. If residents were to preserve their land, air, and water, and control and reduce rising costs and increasing pollution and CO2 emissions, deal with waste, habitats, and storm damage, many saw they needed to come together to discuss and organize. In 2009 Sustainable Jersey was created to provide ideas, guidance, financial support, and certification of sustainable improvements to towns across the state. To date, over 400 towns have signed on, recognizing that sustainable policies are not only desirable but essential.
Towns like Princeton, Lawrence, and others in Mercer County, each with their own green teams, have determined that reducing the costs for waste disposal, energy and transportation, while cutting CO2 emissions, and enhancing the capacity for resiliency (recovering from storm damage) along with preserving open spaces and natural habitats are all key to functioning, desirable communities. And those working on these issues have found that improvements in one town, or in one sector, benefit related sectors and surrounding communities. More than ever we are connected in many ways.
It was Liz Muoio, then the director of the office of the Mercer County Department of Economic Development and Sustainability who started informally calling together interested Mercer County residents to discuss sustainability ideas and steps that could be taken across the county. In time, however, the participants saw that more organization and coordination was needed as individual town green teams found their concerns and efforts not only reached in many directions but overlapped. They also saw that it was not efficient for each town to research, plan, and implement improvements on its own, particularly as many of the functions and jurisdictions crossed town boundaries.
Now with its mix of salaried staff and volunteers, MCSC works in several ways to effect this coordination. It creates events for the public, such as the Mercer County Living Expo, which brings businesses, volunteer organizations, community representatives, and the public together to share information, educational opportunities, services, and planning. It reaches out to businesses and faith-based organizations, along with towns, to help direct their efforts toward saving money and our environment. It assists all of these entities by sharing the latest technologies and information, housed as it is with The Sustainability Institute at TCNJ.
As our county has grown in population, complexity, and interconnection, as everyone tries to keep up with rising costs, advancing technology, and environmental stresses, it has become clear that some means was necessary, that some organization was required, to co-ordinate information and efficient effort. Mercer County Sustainability Coalition answers that need. 
Huck Fairman is a Princeton author who writes regularly on environmental issues. 