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Meet the Climate Smart Communities Team

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Founded in the spring of 2022, the Climate Smart Communities Team is focused on the development and encouragement of Climate Smart Communities, a program started by New York state to encourage and assist local governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adjust to the changing climate. The team is composed of three undergraduate student researchers, Ka’ai I, Kaitlin LaRosa, and Taylor Puccella.

Although the state hasn’t yet defined what a goal certification looks like, one of the team’s research points has been looking into not only the barriers preventing communities from working towards more sustainability but also solutions. They’ve directed their focus to creating programs and partnerships with the local Central New York municipalities in order to address the barriers and create tangible steps towards their goals.

Ka’ai explains the team’s projects this year, “all we've been working on is solutions, not problems, and I love that. I think it's a much more dynamic part of the product, I think it's more engaging, and I think especially since it's grounded here in SU, when we're talking about creating this project, we're talking about not just helping municipalities but also really helping students.”

On November 1, 2023 the team hosted a workshop with local community leaders to discuss and brainstorm how DSL could support their efforts in transitioning to a Climate Smart Community.

The room was full of community leaders, including local municipality officials, city planners, SU faculty, and private actors. Many of the represented communities have already made great strides in implementing climate-smart initiatives. The purpose of this workshop was to hear how they are currently approaching sustainability and what their barriers are in developing their initiatives further.

The workshop included an exercise led by the DSL Climate Smart Communities team in which the attendees wrote out what issues in particular they would like to improve on and how equipped they are to handle them. The most prevalent concerns fit into seven main categories: policy, funding, waste, housing, electric vehicles, infrastructure, and miscellaneous.

Many of the issues are related to the community’s general capacity; if there's only one person within an agency designated to five counties, how successful can that person be? Additionally, some mentioned concerns that their constituents don’t necessarily believe in climate change and therefore, community leaders struggle to find the necessary support needed from community members.

After reflecting on the community workshop and looking forward to this year’s research, LaRosa noted how the team plans to grow and continue its research through the Dynamic Sustainability Lab’s opportunity for collaboration with local communities as well as other on campus organizations.

“Creating spaces on campus where students can come together across disciplines and unite their different skill sets all have an important role to play in pushing sustainability forward,” Puccella said.

Overall, the workshop was a successful first step to creating new connections between the University, students, and local communities. The team is looking forward to the upcoming projects and opportunities for collaboration that will come out of these new relationships.

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