Target: Sustainable Operations and Net Zero GHG Emissions
Angela Fox took on the role of sustainability manager for the city of Royal Oak in October and hit the ground running. She is tasked with implementing the city’s comprehensive Sustainability and Climate Action Plan and will bring her knowledge and experience from her varied background to do so.
SBN Detroit talked to Fox to find out more about her approach and priorities.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background and how you came into this role.
A: In 2010, I opened a store in Holland, Mich., called Tree Huggers. It was very ahead of its time, but my mission was to make sustainability easier and less overwhelming for people. Shortly after, I started a nonprofit called Green Michigan with two partners, and we were doing consulting work to simplify sustainability for people and organizations. This involved education and community projects.
During the COVID pandemic, I attended Arizona State University to obtain a master’s degree in sustainability. That ultimately led me here.
Q: Why did you choose sustainability as a career?
A: There was a pivotal moment. On a very cold Michigan day years back I received a note in my door saying that my recycling bin had dryer lint in it. It had inadvertently landed there without my knowledge, but that note changed my life. I started composting and then opened my store a few months later. At that time, I found recycling and sustainability overwhelming and decided I wanted to start doing what I could for the planet and helping others do the same.
Q: What excites you most about this new role?
A: The people. The residents and the Environmental Advisory Board came together to make this position a full-time role and it’s my dream job.
I can’t imagine not assisting in this way. This is not a job you punch out of. I’m driven to do all that I can to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. I’m passionate about making the world a better place, and this is the way I’ve chosen to do it.
Q: How is it structured internally?
A: I am the only full-time city employee leading sustainability for the city of Royal Oak, but I have passionate people in every city department working collaboratively with me. The city also hired a full-time grant writer, so we’ve been working together to identify grants that will fund the various projects. The Advisory Board helps guide and prioritize my efforts.
Again, the people in Royal Oak are invested. I hosted a happy hour to meet the community recently, and over sixty people came, from business owners to residents to commissioners. I’ll be championing the efforts, but the community wants to be very involved.
Q: The new Sustainability and Climate Action Plan for the city cites two main goals: First to achieve a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2018 levels by 2030, and achieve net zero by 2050, and second to operate the City of Royal Oak in a sustainable way supporting the community, economy, and environment. How will you approach these goals?
A: Yes, this is my guiding document. The plan includes objectives and a series of action plans. I’m working to prioritize the action plans and projects associated with reaching these goals and take them to the Advisory Board as a first step.
Q: How will your work impact businesses in Royal Oak and Southeast Michigan?
A: I am here to help them be more sustainable. Some businesses in Royal Oak don’t have recycling efforts in place, and that’s not because they don’t want to, it’s because they have not had access to options or resources to put it into place. I am here to make it easier for them and help find solutions that benefit everyone.
In terms of recycling, I plan to increase this city-wide. I’m looking into composting and food reduction. This summer I plan to launch energy efficiency guidelines for businesses to focus on to reduce energy and water usage and waste.
I’m looking to focus on residents and businesses simultaneously. I think there is strength in talking to both audiences at once.
Q: How can businesses get involved?
A: I’m working on developing a task force and volunteer opportunities. I’m new to the region and working on creating a network here, and I welcome any businesses or partners who want to help us get further along in our sustainability goals.
Q: What will be your biggest challenges in executing the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan?
A: Prioritizing it. There are some big initiatives, and there is a lot to accomplish.
Funding is another challenge. There are some amazing grants available, but even with a grant writer, prioritizing the grants and getting funding to do everything we want to do is a potential challenge.
Q: What are the biggest opportunities?
A: Collaboration. Collaboration with other communities and counties. I can’t speak to how it’s been done here in the past, but typically, when it comes to sustainability, people tend to work in silos. But I think there is a shift happening. I think with grants opening up and everyone working toward common goals, people are inviting collaboration. I’m encouraged by that.
Also, our youth. I teach students at Arizona State University now, and they are excited and motivated. In a way, we’ve put an unfair burden on them by creating these environmental issues and looking to them to help figure it out. But I am so impressed by our young people and the way they mobilize and innovate to create change.
Q: What does the future look like?
A: There are so many opportunities in sustainability, but I want to see this Climate Action Plan through and celebrate the wins. For me, now, the future is about bringing people together and figuring out ways to make Southeast Michigan greener and a better place to call home.
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