The Power of One: Lori Braunstein, Sustainable Cherry Hill
Dec 26, 2014 12:57PM
By Lauressa Nelson
Lori Braunstein, the founder of Sustainable Cherry Hill (SCH), never considered herself an activist and certainly did not intend to start a nonprofit focused on environmental issues. As a parent, her main concern was the safety and security of her children. However, once she saw Al Gore’s documentary The Inconvenient Truth in 2006, she was awakened to the startling realization that assuring her children’s chance for a bright future would not be as simple as making sure they eat the right foods, attend good schools and embark on a trajectory toward a fulfilling career.
“I just started Googling and reading books,” recalls Braunstein. “It wasn’t that hard to get more information about what was happening in the world. I started paying attention, and I became increasingly alarmed about the future that I would leave my children. There were so many longer term, very serious issues that few people around me seemed to be thinking about.”
Braunstein wondered what she could do about the issues that were keeping her up at night. “I didn’t know much about any of it,” she relates. “However, since my husband and I grew up in Cherry Hill and were raising our children here, I took the adage, ‘Think globally; act locally,’ to heart and decided to try to do something right here.”
In 2008, Braunstein and a small group of concerned citizens approached the Cherry Hill Township Council about working on environmental initiatives together. “And the local government actually said, ‘Yes,’” she recounts. Together, they invested a year learning about the steps that a local government could take to move its community toward sustainability. The result was a unanimously passed 10 Point Green Action Plan that included goals for energy efficiency, renewable energy and the greening of the fleet of government vehicles.
One of the action steps was to create an independent, community-based nonprofit that would work not just at the level of the local government, but also in the community. “It wasn’t just about getting the municipal government to do the right thing; it was also about changing the hearts and minds of our neighbors, businesses and everyday people that needed to connect with the idea of sustainability and caring about the future,” explains Braunstein.
SCH strives to reach citizens throughout the region with education, resources and opportunities to shift toward a sustainable way of life; one that works in harmony with the planet, its resources and their limits and one that is less geared toward environmentally damaging and socially inequitable consumption patterns.
“Even though we are named Sustainable Cherry Hill, we’re very much a regional, collaborative and open organization,” notes Braunstein, adding that the group draws from at least three counties: Camden, Burlington and Gloucester. “The challenges we face require all of us to use our time and talents together.”
To address those challenges, SCH takes action through education, outreach and helping the town’s local civic structures create and implement their sustainability plans. The all-volunteer group is organized into task forces that each focus on specialized areas, such as green building and business, alternative transportation, gardening, health, art and regional partnerships. Each task force contributes uniquely to SCH’s portfolio of events and seminars and networking opportunities, as well as its role as a general clearing house of information on sustainability news.
Braunstein is comfortable with the ever-evolving nature of the SCH task forces and initiatives. “We invite community members to pursue what they care about, and we find a way to connect it to sustainability. Because we allow the group to be a grassroots network, not a top-down organization, people are able to apply their passions and talents to keep our activities fresh,” remarks Braunstein, who credits the group’s independence and open style of management, as well as its strong Board of Trustees, as the cornerstones of its success. “We provide the infrastructure; that is, e-blasts, educational resources and promotional tools; but the people are motivated by their interests to create the individual areas of action.”
Grassroots efforts are at the heart of SCH, even as they plan to expand their priorities in the new year. “Going into our seventh year, we want to look at our impact so far and perhaps consider setting more specific goals,” comments Braunstein. “We’ve been able to help to move our civic partners forward, but how can we engage the community more? There’s a need to help people sort through the facts about the environment and policy issues, as well as the constructive actions they can take. We recognize that each person making small changes results in big differences collectively. However, grassroots cannot do it alone. Large scale change requires leadership by governments and corporations. An educated and empowered populace can put pressure on these entities from the ground up.”
The local events on SCH’s calendar this year so far include its second annual Local Food for Thought Fair, which focuses on gardening and purchasing locally grown food, from 1 to 3 p.m., January 11, at the Camden County Environmental Center and its sixth annual Earth Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., April 25, at Croft Farm. Now through March 15, SCH is accepting applications for the Leadership in Sustainability scholarships that it will award in June to three graduating seniors aspiring to work in fields related to sustainability.
“The Power of One” highlights the community heroes in South Jersey that open a doorway for others to share in their vision of hope and the power of group energy in service. Nominate others to be featured by emailing [email protected].
Lauressa Nelson is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Natural Awakenings magazines.