Cara Pratt has some big shoes to fill as Evanston’s new Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator. Kumar Jensen, who formerly occupied the position, “was tremendously organized and did a really good job of building out this role,” she said.

Jensen stepped down in August to focus on his family and caretaking, according to his LinkedIn post. Pratt took over the position in October and is dedicated to advocating for the growth of Evanston’s Sustainability Office, currently a one-person operation.

Cara Pratt, Evanston’s new Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator. (Photo courtesy of Cara Pratt)

Pratt said she is passionate about environmental justice, including ensuring equal access to clean air and water and providing education on why climate change matters to all community members. Not everyone in a community feels as though they are included in conversations about climate change, she said, adding those community members often feel more connected to environmental justice work. 

Pratt also wants to continue implementing Evanston’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP) and engage with the community to demonstrate why the plan is relevant to all of Evanston.

Many of CARP’s goals are incremental, like ones set for 2030, 2040 and 2050, and Pratt is looking to develop goals for some of the interim years. She sees CARP as a living document because technologies can change and the plan needs to reflect the best options at any given point, she said. 

“I’m hoping that we can get some visible projects moving within the next couple of months, whether it’s solar panels in the community, or just more opportunities to really engage with some environmental justice projects that Jensen had started,” Pratt said.

Before coming to Evanston, Pratt worked as the Sustainability and Conservation Coordinator for the city of Racine, Wisconsin. The position was brand-new; Pratt was the first person in the job.

“I just really started to grow in that role and enjoyed the work that I was doing,” said Pratt, “but after about 2½ years, I felt like it was time to move to a community that was a little bit more advanced in its climate action planning process.”

Pratt met Jensen two years ago at a networking event organized by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, which brings together people who have sustainability roles in local government. 

Pratt said she knew of Jensen as the most prominent figure in the area in that role, and when she learned that he was preparing to move on to something new, she applied for his job. 

Many cities in the Midwest don’t have a dedicated sustainability staff person, Pratt said. Those cities tend not to take advantage of grant opportunities and don’t have as much local renewable energy on-site. Because Evanston has a climate action plan, as well as a Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator, the city is already more advanced than many other municipalities, she said.

Past work and projects

In Racine, Pratt worked to help install the city’s largest solar installation, which helps generate revenue for other projects. In Evanston, her goal is to introduce similar projects that generate revue, which will pay for future projects. 

Pratt’s other past projects included installing the first electric vehicle charging station within Racine city limits and electrifying the city’s bus fleet. 

Pratt’s environmental justice work in Racine involved heading the city’s lead pipe replacement program. Due to historic redlining, which left many people of color in areas where housing conditions are old and poor, communities of color in Racine are predominantly located in areas with lead pipes, she said. As the head of the program, Pratt worked to secure grant funding to cover all costs associated with replacing lead pipes, including yard and sidewalk restoration. 

Pratt said she notices how much Evanston residents care about climate change and environmental justice, and working with community members who care about these issues is one of the reasons she loves working in local government.

“I get to work with people who are passionate about where they live,” Pratt said. “There’s nothing better than that.”

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

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