Six months flies by quickly. It was only January that I became the Director of the County’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Much of those first few weeks were spent listening — to residents, businesses, community partners, the County Council and County Executive and DEP’s own staff. I wanted to understand how the department functioned, how the public saw our work and where there was room for growth.
Throughout my learning curve period (which depending on the moment is still in effect!), everyone was thoughtful and willing to share their ideas and suggestions. You can tell that Montgomery County truly cares for its environment.
Those meetings and conversations also made clear a few overall strategic themes that are important to the success of the department. I plan on using them to guide our work and how we interact with the public.
Lisa talking at the Certified Green Business Program expansion event
What I Learned (from You!)
Four main themes came to light in the past 6 months:
Continue to lead and innovate. Try to find new ways to raise the bar and recognize that all of DEP’s programs play an important role in greenhouse gas reductions.
Never lose sight of the intersection of the economy and the environment. Without both thriving, the County will not be able to sustain a high quality of life for all residents.
Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships. DEP cannot do it on its own, nor should it. Leverage active residents, non-profit organizations, businesses and state and federal government to provide new services and great programs.
Internal values are just as important as external results. The structure of the department must be strong and provide clear and measurable goals. We must continue to work in collaboration as an integrated team and strive for additional efficiencies. Work/life balance and dedication to the success and growth of each employee is a key to overall departmental success. When we function at our peak, the results will come through in the programs and projects we provide to the public.
Even in this short time frame, these themes have already played a role in our work. Below are some (certainly not all!) of the recent successes of DEP to integrate these themes into our work and improve our department.
The newly-sprouted Tree Montgomery program launched with an inaugural tree planting at a multi-family property in Chevy Chase. (See picture at the top of the blog). Residential property owners, multi-family properties and parking lot managers are invited to request free shade trees to be planted on their property. Already more than 500 trees have been requested and the program has successfully taken root!
The Green Business Certification Program has partnered with the Green Restaurant Association, Green Seal, Green America and B Corp to expand the number of certified green businesses in the County. At a press event held with the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce (MCCC), the 26 newly certified green businesses were recognized for their efforts.
The Green Business Certification Program expansion event
DEP launched the Early Bird Benchmarking program to increase communication and “lessons learned” between businesses, as well as, improve the efficiency and potential cost savings of benchmarking. Montgomery County is the first county in the nation to have commercial building energy benchmarking, and the early program successes are thanks to partnerships with Apartment and Office Building Association, the U.S. Green Building Council and the MCCC.
DEP participated in the 2nd annual Energy Summit
Solid Waste Services
Recycling Awareness Week (May 18-22) featured a weeklong series of events including recycling assemblies at 12 local schools and recognition of the school recycling poster contest. At the Recycling Achievement Recognition Program, a total of 50 businesses and employees, 20 multi-family properties, property staff and residents, and 10 County residents and community partners were recognized for their contributions to minimizing waste and increasing recycling or composting efforts.
Recycling Awareness Week 2015
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) recognized DEP with the Gold Excellence Award in Integrated Solid Waste Management Systems for outstanding programs and facilities that demonstrate environmentally and economically sound solid waste management practices.
We continue to work toward our ambitious goal of a 70% recycling rate for the County. Recently, we started exploring how food waste composting could play a role in achieving this goal.
The Donnybrook Stream restoration project is complete and the project was celebrated with a public event where residents were given a tour of the stream. They learned how the restoration work will improve the stream’s health and mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff. Along with planting trees and other stream restoration techniques, this project required coordination with local residents and the Department of Transportation to replace a pedestrian bridge widely used by the community.
Before and after images of the Donnybrook Stream restoration
DEP and the Chesapeake Bay Trust provided $370,756 in grant funding to 13 non-profit organizations to improve water quality and help manage stormwater runoff. The highest number of grants was awarded for projects on faith-based organization properties.
After finding the presence of cooking grease being dumped in a stormwater facility, inspectors across DEP collaborated with outreach staff on an innovative program to educate businesses and restaurant staff on illegal dumping. Using storm drain art, community volunteers from the Bullis School painted messages about not dumping pollutants into storm drains in both English and Spanish.
Students from the Bullis School painting storm drain art
DEP is overseeing a large stormwater maintenance facility dredging project at two lakes: Gunners Lake and Lake Whetsone. We are using a new hydraulic dredging process that will cut project time dramatically. By partnering with stakeholders in the community as well as state agencies, DEP was able to make these dredging projects as environmentally sound as possible.
DEP has made significant progress in meeting the requirements of our MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) permit. Moving forward we are evaluating a variety of business models (e.g. public-private partnerships) and developing a series of project management tools. We will continue with a comprehensive outreach strategy and look for opportunities to increase our work in green infrastructure.
The first annual Montgomery County GreenFest was held March 28th at Montgomery College Takoma Park/ Silver Spring. This successful event was organized by 13 public and nonprofit partners (including DEP) and had more than 700 attendees.
DEP has kicked off an internal workgroup to integrate our outreach efforts and find new events, opportunities and duplications of efforts so that we can maximize our reach to the public and impact.
Crowd at the Montgomery County GreenFest
I look forward to writing more blogs in the future and sharing more stories as we work to make Montgomery County a cleaner, greener and more economically strong place to live and work.
My Green Montgomery is a project of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection. It is a service to help Montgomery County residents think and live in a way that safeguards and sustains the health of our people, our county, and the planet.