As we turn attention to recovering from the pandemic, we need leaders to show us real-life scalable solutions for healthier, more resilient, sustainable cities, says Ben Gill. The City of Fremantle is one of these
Following in the footsteps of our wider One Planet Cities work, tourist destination New Smyrna Beach in Florida has embraced our One Planet Living® framework to create a ‘shared vision’ for a better, more sustainable future for the city.
The New Smyrna Beach area visitor bureau, a destination marketing organisation, has led the process - working with the city authority, the chamber of commerce and other key local stakeholders to create the vision.
They’re now encouraging businesses in the city to create their own ‘One Planet Living’ action plans that outline how they’ll help achieve the shared vision, with five completed and 6 in the planning process. All are using oneplanet.com, a digital platform for creating and sharing action plans using One Planet Living sustainable development goals.
We had a chat with Debbie Meihls, Executive Director of the visitor bureau, to hear more about how One Planet Living has captured the imaginations of people in this coastal city of 27,000 people – including the mayor.
Can you tell me about how you’re using One Planet Living?
Our work at New Smyrna Beach visitor bureau expanded into work on economic development and placemaking, as well as collaborating with the city of New Smyrna Beach and the mayor as well as the chamber of commerce. We realised that sustainability is essential to all of this.
So, we’ve taken a lead in getting others to think about sustainability and One Planet Living has really helped us with this. It’s the perfect model for engaging people, and the digital platform oneplanet.com makes it easier for people to get started.
Sustainability as a topic is so big, and I think a lot of people get ‘brain freeze’ about it. It can be overwhelming and often they’re concerned that it will be too expensive. They don’t realise that you can take small steps and One Planet Living provides the tools and resources you need to do this.
Since Ben Gill from Bioregional trained us in One Planet Living in 2018, we’ve been working to spread the word about it. Including our shared vision for the whole city, five organisations have now created their own plans connected to this shared vision, including a restaurant, hotel, a tourist attraction and the visitor bureau itself.
There are many other interested organisations. Covid-19 has delayed their plans, but hopefully we will end up with 20 or more organisations all contributing to the shared vision in our own little ‘ecosystem’.
What do you like about One Planet Living?
I’ve looked at other sustainability programmes and found that there tends to be a lot to read, but not many examples of what other people are doing. One Planet Living is much more accessible, and it’s rooted in Bioregional’s experience – you’ve led by example with your work on things like the BedZED eco-village and Saanich.
I’m really impressed by the materials and resources you provide online on the oneplanet.com platform, which helps you create an action plan. Seeing all this really brings it to life, especially with case studies and stories from other people.
I also like the networks that I can access – it’s so useful to join calls with other people and hear how trying to achieve One Planet Living. It is often a slow process to retrain how you think about things, which is what we need to do to achieve One Planet Living – but all these things help the process.
Have you got any inspiring stories about how your city has been using One Planet Living?
As a tourist destination, we have a lot of great local restaurants that want to get involved. I’ve been so impressed by the restaurant we’ve been working with – Third Wave Café. Kathy Lundberg, the owner, came to the One Planet Living training session in 2018. When she went home after the first day she stayed up until midnight and wrote a One Planet Living action plan. She came back the next day and shared it with everyone. She has been an amazing ambassador because she’s been sharing the initiative with other restaurants too – they see the vision and want to share their knowledge.
It’s also been fantastic to have our Mayor, Russ Owen, engaged with the process. He was very excited about being the first city in Florida to have its shared vision on the oneplanet.com platform. We have been working on continuing this process and bringing in more businesses.
What are you most proud of?
Getting the word out about sustainability. We’re a small coastal town and our roads are busy around the beaches. I know tourism gets a bad rap from residents “bringing thousands of people to one place where they destroy things.” Since I’ve been here at the NSB Visitors Bureau, we’ve had the stance of, “we’re not going to let that happen – we’re trying to protect the area and the planet by getting everyone to do there share.”
This is especially important to us because of our location. Climate change is so visible to us with increasingly hot summers, and more devastating extreme weather events.
What advice would you give someone who was thinking about using One Planet Living?
Read up on all the free literature that Bioregional provides – it’s a lot easier than you think to get started. Don’t try to be too ‘perfect’ to begin with as this can stymie you.
The beauty of One Planet Living is that you can start as small as you need to and then add to it. It’s dynamic – you don’t create a plan and then it’s ‘done’. The whole idea is that you can change it, add to it, make it more ambitious as time goes on.
What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and how has this changed with Covid-19?
Covid-19 has changed things. I was hoping originally that we’d have a lot more people onboard with completed action plans. I also thought perhaps this time might prove useful to getting things like this done but there have been so many business and life changes with Covid-19 out there, so it has been challenging.
The plan for the rest of 2020 is to keep persevering to get as many organisations on board. We really do want to be the first city in Florida to fully embrace this approach – I’d like at least 50% of our hospitality industry onboard.
We’re also talking to Visit Florida, our state Tourism Marketing Office, which is interested in the approach if we can show it works in New Smyrna Beach and that it appeals to other cities. So, by 2021, I’d like to see One Planet Living being used across the whole State of Florida.