Catherine Hurley, Evanston’s Sustainable Programs coordinator

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Anyone who has met Catherine Hurley, Evanston’s Sustainable Programs coordinator, can attest to her creative, high-energy, can-do approach to her work. The RoundTable recently caught up with Ms. Hurley to talk about her first year on the job. 

RT: What are your primary responsibilities as Sustainable Programs coordinator?

CH: My job is to help implement the Evanston Climate Action Plan – to help Evanston reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and become a truly sustainable community. That means working with City staff to make municipal operations more energy-efficient and engaging with the community to encourage residents and businesses to adopt more sustainable practices. 

I spend about half my time on deliverables – a presentation to Council, a grant proposal, a new publication or program. Our new composting program is one example. We retrofitted and are distributing free compost containers made from old 95-gallon refuse carts, and we developed a great 15-page composting guide.

I spend the rest of my time making connections – going to meetings, answering emails, responding to ideas, linking people and groups with similar visions, creating opportunities.

RT: How would you assess your progress thus far?

CH: We’ve made good progress in reducing emissions from municipal operations. City staff members have done a great job of institutionalizing sustainability into their decisions. They understand how capital expenditures – lighting upgrades, for example – can both save money and save energy so they routinely incorporate energy-efficiency into City purchases.

Now we’re looking at the next wave of improvements, the new technologies that will get us to the next level – electric vehicle charging stations, for example.

RT: What are your short-term and long-term goals?

CH: Short term, the focus is on moving the needle, on achieving a measurable reduction in emissions. We’re on target with City emissions. But increasing energy-efficiency in the broader community is more challenging; we have to change by influence. Market factors will help here –as energy costs go up, for example.

Long term, we want Evanston to become a fully sustainable community. This means achieving not only our environmental goals but also attending to the other two legs of the sustainability triangle: economic vitality and social justice. We want to create opportunities to advance all three together. It’s exciting to see how the Evanston150 ideas touch all three aspects of sustainability and provide a blueprint for another fabulous 150 years for the community.

RT: Of the things you have accomplished thus far, what gives you the most satisfaction?  

CH: I love being a connector, being in a position to bring ideas to the right people to make things happen. Take the composting project. The Evanston Environment Board wanted to promote composting, and a group of residents was interested in finding a way to repurpose the City’s old refuse carts. This was a perfect opportunity to bring people together to move an idea to fruition.

The residents critiqued the design of the compost bins and helped write and distribute our new composting guide. And now several students from Engineers for a Sustainable World at Northwestern have developed a survey to get feedback from the people who are using the new bins.

RT: What led you to pursue this career path?

CH: I liked math and science in high school and eventually went into engineering. I really liked how it is oriented towards problem-solving and gives you the tools to accomplish things. I worked on sustainability projects as a consultant for a while, but I wanted to get closer to implementing solutions instead of just making presentations. 

RT: Is there someone in your field whom you especially admire?

CH: I remember reading about the Roebling family, who built the Brooklyn Bridge. People at the time were skeptical that it could be done. But the Roeblings weren’t deterred. That’s a can-do message that’s relevant for us. Can we make Evanston carbon neutral? Many people would say it’s not possible. But I say we can. Will it be easy? No. Doable? Absolutely. Let someone else say no; we’ll say yes.

RT: What new initiative are you most excited about?

CH: I’m really excited about the electric vehicle charging stations that are coming to Evanston.  A dedicated group of industrial engineering students from Northwestern had already done some research for us. So we were ready to move ahead when the company that will provide charging stations for the I-GO car sharing service offered to provide the City with public-use charging stations at each of the I-GO locations. We will have six public charging stations initially, with the possibility of more next year. 

Evanston will be one of the very few suburban communities where charging stations will be available for public use, and we’ll be promoted on the provider’s website. This will attract electric car drivers, who will shop and eat here while they charge their cars. All this reinforces Evanston’s image as a forward-thinking, green community.

This has been a productive year, but there are some really exciting things in the works. 2012 is going to be great.