HomeCherry Hill NewsSustainable Cherry Hill spreads sustainable message throughout Cherry Hill

Sustainable Cherry Hill spreads sustainable message throughout Cherry Hill

Sustainable Cherry Hill spreads sustainable message throughout Cherry Hill


Ten years ago, sustainability was not a word many people in the public were familiar with. There were groups of people who cared for environmental issues such as improving open space, connecting with nature and encouraging smart development, but the movement didn’t go much further.

It was around this time when long-time Cherry Hill resident Lori Braunstein took on the challenge of introducing the community to sustainability, the idea of creating a lifestyle to help sustain the earth well into the future.

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Braunstein worked with then-Mayor Bernie Platt, township council and other government officials in 2007 and 2008 to establish a 10-point green action plan. Council approved the plan in March 2008. The plan included the establishment of Sustainable Cherry Hill, an independent nonprofit dedicated to getting the community involved in the global sustainability movement locally.

“When Sustainable Cherry Hill came along, the idea of expanding traditional environmentalism to the broader concept of sustainability was just gaining popularity,” Braunstein said. “Our strategy was to reach out to those community members who did not necessarily identify with typical green issues.”

Braunstein became interested in sustainability through reading, documentaries and her own research. She realized traditional environmental movements only got a limited part the public involved. The main goal of Sustainable Cherry Hill would be to engage members of the community who didn’t connect with environmentalism.

Sustainable Cherry Hill was unique in a number of ways. At the time of its founding, there were very few sustainable groups in New Jersey. Sustainable Cherry Hill was setting an example for future groups in South Jersey.

Sustainable Cherry Hill would also be an independent nonprofit rather than a government task force. Braunstein feels this was crucial in allowing the organization to have a more regional impact.

“What the township did by explicitly supporting us as a non-profit, rather than insisting that we become another municipal committee, was quite unusual and innovative,” she said. “It gave us the township ‘stamp of approval’ without the accompanying constraints and bureaucracy of a government task force.”

The response to Sustainable Cherry Hill’s founding was overwhelmingly positive from the beginning. The organization had about 100 community leaders come out to a visioning event in 2009 and establish an agenda to create a “Sustainable Cherry Hill” in the future.

As time went on, the organization was challenged to become a mainstay in the community.

“The challenge really came once the initial excitement wore off and we had to convince everyone to engage in a deeper, more meaningful way with us,” Braunstein said.

This challenge was met in a few ways. The organization partnered with local government, schools, business and other community groups, challenging them to address sustainable issues through present-day initiatives.

The organization’s partnership with the schools was very important. Former Superintendent Maureen Reusche was passionate about sustainability and worked with Sustainable Cherry Hill to establish a sustainability plan for Cherry Hill Public Schools in 2014.

“Schools and children are a key leverage point in moving us toward a safe, healthy and sustainable future,” Braunstein said.

The creation of a variety of task forces, events and subgroups was also essential to the organization growing.

“We are creative in how we go about reaching people, whether it’s through our community upcycled craft days, our annual Food Day or Local Food for Thought Expo, the Sustainable Cherry Hill Earth Festival or our monthly Green Drinks networking events at Farm and Fisherman,” Braunstein said.

Sustainable Cherry Hill’s impact has been recognized in a few ways. Sustainable Jersey recognized the township as a Sustainable Champion in 2014. This year, Sustainable Jersey certified all 19 Cherry Hill Public Schools as sustainable.

Sustainable Cherry Hill has built a strong core of volunteers that is determined to keep the organization alive well into the future. In March, Braunstein stepped down as president of Sustainable Cherry Hill, allowing new community leaders to take the organization into the future.

“As part of our evolution, having me step away from that role and having other leaders take over and have it mature and evolve was a really important step,” Braunstein said.

Stepping into the role of president was Scott Downie, a long-time volunteer with Sustainable Cherry Hill.

Downie said he is excited to take Sustainable Cherry Hill into the future. Though the group has new leadership, the vision of the organization has not changed.

“We’ve done increasingly well over the years,” Downie said. “The number of people who are familiar with us to continues to grow.”

The group is continuing to reach out to new members of the community. Sustainable Cherry Hill’s newest task force, the Art and Sustainability Task Force, is a good example of this. Downie said the task force has been extremely popular with community members since it started in October 2014.

“The task forces are a good way for people to get involved with us,” Downie said. “One of the most active task forces has been one of the newest task forces. You may not think of art with sustainability, but they have some great programs.”

Sustainable Cherry Hill wants residents to stay actively involved. To do this, there is an e-newsletter residents can subscribe to for alerts about meetings and events. The group is also open to starting new task forces and considering ideas for new events and initiatives.

“We realize that moving forward, our programs need to cater to people in different ways,” Downie said. “We just want to keep growing in terms of what we offer folks and make sure we can put on programs that interest them and excite them.”

Sustainable Cherry Hill also plans to work more with other sustainable groups in South Jersey. Downie said the number of sustainable organizations has been increasing every year, which helps spread the sustainable message to more people.

“It also gives us many more opportunities to partner with those groups,” Downie said. “We’ll also continue to maintain the partnerships we’ve had for some time with the schools, township and county.”

Sustainability is no longer a word people are unfamiliar with in Cherry Hill. Braunstein is happy with the impact Sustainable Cherry Hill has had in the township and is excited to see how much the organization will grow in the future.

“I’m really excited to watch that and see the leaders take that role and move it forward,” she said.


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