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Down to Earth — Help to craft sustainability plan

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By Piper Fernwey

Yellow Springs has an impressive history of supporting the environment, including climate action studies, Council resolutions, feasibility studies paid for by Village government and conservation efforts by local organizations and passionate residents. Whether it’s residents removing invasive species from their yards, nonprofits preserving our native habitat or Village government expanding our renewable energy portfolio, the community as a whole continues to take steps forward in sustainability. But all of these efforts — while plentiful — have been discrete and uncoordinated.

The last cohesive climate action planning efforts — the Environmental Commission’s Quarterly Report on Climate Change and the activities of the Yellow Springs Resilience Network — occurred in 2015.

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Given this history and the wealth of expertise in our community, we’re long overdue for a comprehensive Climate Action and Sustainability Plan, or CASP. We are a decade behind peers like Oberlin, which adopted its first plan in 2011. Nevertheless, Yellow Springs has the opportunity to build on the foundation of its past efforts. A comprehensive, community-based plan will enable Yellow Springs to share its successes with the outside world and assume its place as a leader in addressing climate change on a community level. As the new CASP coordinator, I’m honored and excited to build on the rich history of this work in Yellow Springs.

Before I share details, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Piper Fernwey, I use either she/her or they/them pronouns, and I live in Clifton. I worked as a regional community programs and sustainability support manager, spending almost the last decade managing sustainability planning and programming at 20 universities and companies across five states. I have presented at regional conferences and consulted on various local projects. Some years ago, I helped Denison University achieve 41% local food, a project that received regional recognition.

My previous position was eliminated due to the pandemic shortly before I closed on my property in Clifton, which I had chosen, in part, for its central location to that work. My time at Denison, and work in similar communities like Northfield, Minn., and Oberlin had me yearning to once again live in a small, liberal town surrounded by nature. I wanted to be able to walk out my door to recalibrate in a forest — a need developed during the six months I lived in a tent doing trail maintenance in a wilderness area.

I decided to trust the feeling in my gut that was telling me I was right where I belonged, and immersed myself in the community: volunteering with the Yellow Springs Environmental Commission, joining a regional nonprofit board, organizing a fundraiser and helping write a grant for yet another nonprofit. I am ecstatic to be the CASP coordinator, allowing me to dive deeper into the work that I love in a community I now call home.

As a trained engineer-turned-community organizer, I’ll use my skill for creating systems to establish the structure that’s been missing from past climate action planning efforts. With a comprehensive CASP that pulls together many disparate initiatives and stakeholders, we can launch a coordinated community response to the climate crisis.

My hope is to start by forming a Climate Action and Sustainability Plan steering committee made up of leaders from past efforts as well as key stakeholders. This committee will ensure that this iteration of planning is in line with past efforts, and that planning is done with equity and with the economy in mind. These community members will prioritize strategies that build resilience, protect the vitality of our community and align the CASP with national and international benchmarks.

Community members can also join subcommittees for each of the seven identified domains: energy, transportation, buildings, native habitat, water, local food, and waste reduction. The subcommittees will help gather information, including mapping out existing initiatives and benchmarks, and assess stakeholder needs and resources. This information will then be synthesized, coalitions will be built and specific goals will be determined along with prioritized strategies for reaching these goals.

Given the sheer quantity of stakeholders and past work that needs to be organized, it would be both unrealistic and detrimental to the CASP and community to rush a comprehensive final plan to completion within the five-month timeline of this current project. My goal is to build a strong foundational structure of stakeholders, including a database of their efforts; begin developing coalitions; and demonstrate actions that can result from robust ongoing coordinated planning. I look forward to working with you. Please contact me with your questions, ideas and how you might like to be engaged.

For more details and to get involved in the CASP, visit, and/or email

*Piper Fernwey is a sustainability expert who has worked across the Midwest developing farm-to-table programs and climate change responses.

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