Sustaining the city

Jill Savery

She boasts degrees from UC Berkeley and Yale. She even has a gold medal in synchronized swimming from the 1996 Summer Olympic games. But Jill Savery is tackling an entirely different arena these days: She’s giving cities a green makeover. As a sustainability adviser for the municipal-consulting firm PMC, she focuses on urban-sustainability issues. Her resume includes working with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. A tried and true Sacramentan who has survived a drought, Jill wants to change the world—one city at a time.

Why environmental management?

I’ve been interested in the environmental field for years. I think my first concern dates back to the drought in California over 25 years ago, where we did just about anything we could to save water. I realized how much water you can save by doing simple things, and it made sense to do so all the time, not just in a drought. I took classes in college in environmental science and also sustainability back when the term was coined, and was drawn to its broader definition relating to social, environmental and economic systems. I realized that new approaches would be necessary to address global issues. I decided to go back to graduate school at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where I focused on urban sustainability challenges. It is great to be able to practice what I’m passionate about in my career.

What exactly is a sustainability adviser?

Sustainability is a broad term, and can mean a little bit of everything related to making our communities healthy and lasting into the future. To me, sustainability incorporates a holistic view of our community systems and our decision making processes, and ultimately an understanding that our actions impact the environment, people and the economy. At PMC, I work on a variety of projects for public agencies, for example: long-range planning, green building, resource efficiency, community-based social marketing, climate-change adaptation and mitigation, and more. We all want to live in places where we can breathe clean air, walk and bike to local stores, drink clean water, swim in clean rivers and lakes, enjoy parks, go to good schools, have access to good medical care, and get good jobs nearby. My role is to help cities and counties achieve these and other community goals.

What’s your biggest success so far?

Although I enjoy all aspects of sustainability and helping public agencies meet their goals, I’m very interested in climate change. Cities, counties and many other organizations are reaching real reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions. Reducing these emissions also benefits air quality and community health, and typically leads to financial savings from reducing resource use, such as energy and water. Helping public agencies deal with these issues and meet their own goals is very rewarding.

Let’s say Sacramento was your next project. What’s your first step?

Adopt and implement the city’s sustainability plan. The fact that the city of Sacramento is addressing the issue of sustainability is exciting, and I’d like to see that Sacramento’s vision of becoming the most sustainable city becomes a reality. Goals and targets related to community sustainability are included in the plan, such as requiring that city operations be powered by 10 percent renewable energy, developing a city-wide and regional climate action plan, and requiring new city buildings to be certified-green buildings that reduce resource use and provide a healthier indoor environment for workers. Of course, one can argue that the plan doesn’t go far enough, but let’s get these goals and policies implemented and start achieving real results, then raise the bar even higher.

Do you apply your experiences from the Olympics to your work?

Absolutely. Setting significant goals and doing whatever I can to reach them is what motivates me. Many pioneering public agencies and businesses are achieving great success at reducing pollution, conserving energy and implementing other sustainability strategies. I’d like to inspire public agencies to rise to the occasion as leaders in the communities they serve. I am also involved in a movement to make sporting events more sustainable, such as the Olympic games. I’m working with the organizers of the International Children’s Games to green that event, which will be hosted in San Francisco in the summer of 2008. The movement to make sporting events more sustainable is taking off worldwide. These events typically take place in urban environments and in large cities, presenting an opportunity for cities to encourage sustainable sport and reap the long-term benefits of their legacy.

What would you suggest toward the makings of a greener world?

Think about the impact of our individual actions. The solution to our environmental, social and economic challenges has to come from all of us. Collectively, individual actions make a big difference. We can think about our driving habits, our consumption, our use of natural resources such as energy and water, our housing decisions, the cars we drive and the products we use. We are not perfect, but we can make choices each day that will get us to a greener world.