SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sustainability is big word; literally because it’s six syllables and figuratively because it encompasses so much of daily life and work.

“…sustainability means that we are taking care of our natural environment so that we can have a quality of life today and tomorrow,” said Holly Meier, the city of Sioux Falls’ sustainability coordinator.

How does a growing city protect its water, prepare for hotter temperatures, flooding, droughts and air pollution? By developing a sustainability plan that focuses on priorities developed from community input and a steering committee that represents parts of the community including business and those who protect the environment, Meier said.

Sustainability includes practices like recycling and converting the city’s streetlights to LED lights. Those practices are familiar and were part of the city’s 2012 sustainability master plan.

But that plan is almost 10 years old and it’s time for an upgrade, Meier said. The city is creating a new sustainability plan that should be approved in 2022.

The city of Sioux Falls has a steering committee working with Meier to develop the plan. The work included a community survey in April with continued community input to follow, she said.

“The process will be community-driven. It will be led by the steering committee but it will be driven by the community at large,” Meier said.

The roughly 1,400 survey responses in April show that Sioux Falls residents are ready to do more when it comes to green energy, protecting water quality and choosing options that protect the natural environment, Meier said.

More than 85% of the respondents said they were at least concerned about harm from environmental hazards such as water and air pollution, hotter temperatures, flooding, droughts and similar. A total of 88% were concerned or very concerned with 40% at concerned and 48% at very concerned.

Harm from environmental hazards was a concern for respondents but there was a level of concern about sustainability and environmental issues in general.

Lofty goals with realistic benchmarks

The new sustainable strategic plan will include “loftier goals that are difficult to measure,” Meier said.

The city can have a lofty, or a more abstract goal of reducing waste, Meier said. But within that goal there must be measurable targets and a strategy to achieve those targets, she said.

Residents have already reduced waste by increasing recycling from 12% in 2008 to 20%, Meier said.

Increasing the amount of material recycled in the city was one of the goals of the 2012 plan.

A tree does more than provide shade

To Meier, a tree is great example of how sustainability is applied in everyday life.

A tree absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. A tree’s roots can hold storm water. A tree’s shade can reduce energy use. And trees can beautify a neighborhood.

The city will likely want a tree-planting program but any tree program needs to be equitable and accessible throughout the community.

Neighborhoods in need of trees may include low-income areas, Meier said.

Making it second nature

Meier said a new sustainability plan can help cultivate “a culture of sustainability.”

“You want it to be second nature to recycle…and bring reusable bags to the store…,” Meier said.

Creating second nature habits will require education and encouragement, she said.

The plan can’t use guilt to make people adopt habits good for the environment, Meier said.

Rather, “you want to find the sweet spot.” The spot where people are helped to make the choice and learn to make the choice.

Sioux Falls already has education programs in place including signs at storm water inlets to remind people that what enters the storm water system can eventually reach the Big Sioux River.

An educational sign at a storm water drain in Sioux Falls.

“The education and outreach that we do is essential,” Meier said.

City has some of its own goals

Although many of the overall goals in the new plan will be driven by the public, Meier said the city has set some of its own goals for the plan.

The city will reduce its greenhouse emissions by 2030. Meier said the city is using goals set by other cities in the Midwest as a marker.

The city’s website page on sustainability said, “Global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C.”

Meier said the Sioux Falls goal will be based on the national and international guidelines, which are based on science.

What’s happening now as the new plan is developing

The new sustainability plan will be shared with the public in October.

Until then, Meier and the city will be working on other sustainable projects.

Meier is working with the city’s fleet division to add the city’s first electric vehicle.

The city is also adding more nature-based elements to city property. The environmental office is an example as recycled products are used for various parts of construction, Meier said.

The city will be taking bids for a project called Central Green Infrastructure Improvement along Covell Avenue.

This is an example of a possible feature in a green storm water project planned along a section of Covell Avenue. Photo is from ISG and the city of Sioux Falls.

The improvement will be a storm water retention and drainage area that will incorporate features most often seen in a park.

The city bought houses in the area of Covell Avenue at 28th and 29th Street, and 35th and Duluth Avenue.

The vacant land will be replaced by plants, trees, a walkway and likely rock features to create a 24-hour storm water retention area.

Meier said the improvement will be a public place for people to enjoy the outdoors but will also serve as an outdoor learning center.