A Look Back: SSDN 2022 Annual Meeting

“Best. Meeting. Ever!”

“Incredible people! Love to meet my new colleagues.”

“I’m happy to know that I’m not alone.”

These words and more were shared in the aftermath of our phenomenal 2022 Annual Meeting in sunny Savannah, Georgia at the beginning of May. After three years of pent-up desire to once again enjoy what makes our network great, we were finally able to come together! Having last seen each other in Florida in 2019, or never having met in person at all, old friends and new ones were able to relish in a variety of inspiring conversations, learning opportunities, and the general camaraderie and support in which our organization is rooted.

Following the many embraces that marked the joyful reunion and meeting of our team and our members, the Annual Meeting kicked off with presentations from SSDN alumni who have continued to support our network by facilitating topic-based learning. Kris Stenger, from the International Code Council (ICC) (previously with the City of Winter Park, FL), and Erika Ruane, now with Arrival (previously with the City of Charlotte, NC), shared informative and engaging experiences with their work that our members received with great interest and relevance to their work related to building performance and management, transportation and vehicle electrification, and building sustainable workforces in our communities. 

An evening under the fading blue sky was savored alongside a delicious, local Lowcountry boil by Erica Davis Lowcountry, hosted by Re:Purpose Savannah, a lumber yard at the edge of hundreds of acres of natural lands where local materials reclaimed after demolitions are processed and repurposed for other building projects in Savannah. We are delighted to have enjoyed our zero-waste event with the support of Maria and Michael at COR Compost, also based locally in Savannah. Despite the growth of our network since our last in-person Annual Meeting, the spirit among our members reflects the intimacy and friendship that demonstrates the value our network holds for our membership. What a lovely evening!

The Annual Meeting continued with peer learning, and sessions were designed to emphasize conversation and deep connection by foregoing typical presentation technology and taking the most advantage of our in-person event as possible. Our twelve peer learning sessions held throughout the meeting:

  1. Strategies to Reduce Single Use Plastics
  2. Community Engagement to Guide Programs 
  3. Building the Sustainable Workforce in Your Community 
  4. Transportation Networks
  5. Flood Mitigation Strategies
  6. Working with Urban Planners to Achieve Your Goals 
  7. Addressing Urban Heat Islands and Heat Mitigation Strategies
  8. State Policy “201”
  9. High Impact Practices to Mitigate GHGs
  10. Building Local Climate Programs Centered in Equity 
  11. Open Space and Natural Resource Protection 
  12. Vulnerability Assessments and Adaptation

Post-session activities on the second day were held at neighboring Tybee Island. After an enlightening and enlivening presentation about Tybee’s coastal resilience work with Tybee’s Mayor Shirley Sessions, and member Alan Robertson, members grouped together for outdoor activities at the beach, playing disc golf, and touring the historic Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum. At the end of the day, members continued to connect after an inspiring speech from Savannah’s Assistant City Manager, Heath Lloyd.

The bittersweet last day of the Annual Meeting featured sessions from our beloved colleagues and friends from the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. An energetic and engaging presentation was under the shady trees of Washington Square in downtown Savannah, where members had the opportunity to learn about Resilience Hub Development with USDN’s Kristin Baja. Georgia members were highlighted via a subsequent update from Blair Beasley, of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, about the Drawdown Georgia initiative dedicated to reaching zero-emissions goals within the state.

Our thanks goes to every single person who helped make this wonderful event possible. The SSDN team is so grateful for the love and support we receive from our amazing community of members, of alumni, and of partners within our network who share our missions and values for a more sustainable Southeast. With so much that can be said about the joy, the encouragement, and the revitalization the 2022 Annual Meeting brought to our members, we offer the following comment from one member, who had this to say:

“This meeting proved that you can have a large group of SSDN members, many meeting each other for the first time, and still maintain that warm and welcoming feeling I felt at my very first meeting.”