In 2017, after President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, the City of Kent passed a resolution symbolically endorsing the agreement to protect the planet from climate change.
Five years later, the city will now pursue actions that are more than symbolic. Kent leaders have hired a consulting firm specializing in sustainability to recommend policies that will reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.
In doing so, Kent joins a growing number of American cities and states that have seen inaction at the national and global level and decided to take matters into their own hands. In Ohio, Cleveland has had a climate action plan since 2018, while Columbus launched its own program last year. Akron has announced plans to reduce carbon emissions, but has not adopted a formal climate action plan.
If Kent implements a formal climate action plan, it would be one of the first among cities its size in the state, according to data from the Zero Energy Project, a company that tracks municipal emissions reduction plans.
During the first week of October, Kent began work with KERAMIDA Inc., a sustainability and climate action consulting group, to create a climate action plan and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city.
On Wednesday, Nick McCreary, senior sustainability manager for the firm, introduced himself and his team to the Kent City Council.
He said his four-person team had spent the week meeting with government and community leaders to learn what they thought should be included in the climate action plan.
“The goal that we have for Kent is to deliver a suite of pragmatic and science-based greenhouse gas reduction strategies that are in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Accord,” he said. “We will be specifically focusing on strategies that reduce greenhouse gasses from Kent, because greenhouse gasses are the cause of the climate emergency that we are living in right now.”
On Thursday night, 15 Kent residents met with KERAMIDA representatives in the first of a series of discussions with the public.
McCreary said that for a plan to be pragmatic, it needed to be constructed in cooperation with the people of Kent.
“This plan needs to be actionable and it needs to be able to be implemented in your community, and that means it needs to be community based,” McCreary said. “We do not see ourselves coming in here and telling y’all what to do. Kent has a long record of environmental advocacy and action that honestly predates my life. Y’all are the experts, we are here to learn from you; shine a light on the amazing work that you’ve done.”
The attendees split up into groups comprising retirees, parents, government officials and students of both Kent State and Kent Roosevelt High School. They brainstormed ideas for the plan and talked about possible roadblocks.
In December, Bridget Susel, community development director, and assistant to the City Manager Patti Long presented a greenhouse gas inventory to city council as a first step toward addressing emissions in Kent.
Susel said that while she and Long were able to complete the project, it was “out of our wheelhouse” and so she asked council to appropriate funds to hire an outside consultant to continue the climate action plan process. She chose KERAMIDA.
“There is a science and a methodology to developing a response to emissions and addressing climate action, so we hired [KERAMIDA],” Susel said.
McCreary spoke with the council about the difference between sustainability and climate action, saying that while KERAMIDA recognizes the importance of sustainability initiatives, its emphasis is on combating climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The KERAMIDA team includes experts on community activism and climate science, and they said they plan to produce real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and energy expenses for the city through their expertise.
“Every recommendation we make will have technical backing with objective scientific studies being done to illustrate projected greenhouse gas reductions and cost savings,” McCreary said.
The climate action plan will focus first and foremost on reducing the greenhouse emissions coming from the City of Kent, but McCreary said KERAMIDA will not be producing a “one-off” plan.
“Climate change is occurring, and we have done a study that shows what climate changes will be happening to the region,” he said. “And the climate action plan addresses that to make sure that Kent continues to thrive in the face of those changing situations.”
McCreary said KERAMIDA will work with community members and compare to other plans in other cities to find the best solution for Kent.
“I am very excited about this, it just seems like we are really taking this seriously,” Council Member Heidi Shaffer-Bish said. “I am a little disappointed that basically I just heard about this. I’m not able to attend the public meeting [Thursday] night… This feels like a one shot deal to get your ear.”
Susel assured Shaffer-Bish that she would be meeting with the KERAMIDA team on a bi-weekly basis, so any ideas or input that Shaffer-Bish had from herself or constituents could be presented to them at those meetings.
Council Member Robin Turner asked McCreary what the educational aspect of the KERAMIDA program would look like for residents.
“To get a little bit more into the details of the structure we are considering for the climate action plan, education will be one of the key areas that we address,” McCreary said. “Because we know a huge lack of climate action comes from [lack of] education. So that will be integrated into any of the strategies we propose.”
The climate action plan that KERAMIDA completes will have to be approved by city council and then implemented under the direction of the city’s Sustainability Commission.
City council had granted the Sustainability Commission up to $30,000 to hire a consultant for the climate action plan, and the city is set to pay KERAMIDA $29,900 for its services.
Owen MacMillan is a reporter with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University, producing local news coverage in partnership with The Portager.