Celebrating New Heights in the Queen City: SSDN’s 2024 Annual Meeting

In the spring, SSDN celebrated another impactful Annual Meeting in the midst of new heights and growth experienced by our network. The 2024 SSDN Annual Meeting was held April 30th to May 3rd in Charlotte, North Carolina.

This year's festivities welcomed 130 staff from 80 local governments, with representatives from all 10 states in our Southeast region. Over the past year, we have been delighted to welcome a host of new participants in the network as our local government members have increased staff support for their diversity of climate and sustainability initiatives. SSDN’s membership came together in Charlotte to share work being accomplished in local government and community clean energy systems, transportation electrification, green stormwater infrastructure, heat mitigation, coastal resilience, and more.

Federal funding is a high-priority for local governments in the Southeast, and many staff are navigating the process of applying for Federal grants for the very first time. The Annual Meeting kicked off on Tuesday, April 30th, with a pre-meeting Federal Funding Workshop hosted at the Foundation for the Carolinas in Uptown Charlotte. One hundred attendees joined on this first day to engage federal granting agency (U.S. Departments of Energy, U.S. Department of Transportation; Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency) representatives in person, and to better understand the landscape of current and upcoming grant opportunities being offered to local governments. This conversation around federal funding updates and resources continued into the next morning, where members participated in a spirited session about IRA Elective Pay alongside partners World Resources Institute (WRI), Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, and Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN). Local governments learned how to take advantage of the important and game changing opportunity that Elective Pay provides for local government returns on investment in clean energy.

The formal program of the Annual Meeting began midday on Wednesday, May 1st, with a welcome to all attendees (members, partners, and sponsors) to our host city. Members from the City of Charlotte’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience shared a profile of the City’s recent work and accomplishments. The City of Charlotte team also engaged the audience with some trivia gameplay to prepare them with some fun local facts ahead of further opportunities to explore our host city during the meeting. Following this opening session, we continued to highlight the progressive work and partnerships being cultivated in North Carolina alongside partner and sponsor, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the NC Cities Initiative program. The presentation showcased  SSDN’s ongoing partnership with EDF, and the experiences of Asheville, Greensboro, and Forsyth County. The partnership has demonstrated benefits of creating a more localized state network to provide mutual support in their work, and the trusted environment to engage collaboratively on energy and climate policies and regulations at the state level.

We said goodbye (or rather, “see you later!”) to partners and sponsors in the room while our members connected over networking activities and a final, member-led session dedicated to the successes and challenges they have experienced in the pursuit of Federal funding. Members from the cities of Birmingham, AL; Charleston, SC; Durham, NC; and Chapel Hill, NC led a discussion that addressed overcoming barriers to internal buy-in, finding opportunities to incorporate equity and the Justice40 framework, and collaborating with community-based organizations (CBOs) and other local partners in the pursuit of federal funding opportunities such as the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant, IRA Elective Pay, the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grant, and the Energy Futures grant.

In the evening, SSDN members reunited with partners and sponsors as all attendees took advantage of one of Charlotte's biggest public infrastructure investments – the LYNX light rail – and rode en masse to our sponsor recognition and member networking reception in Charlotte's trendy South End neighborhood. We are immensely grateful to our local partners at the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) who generously gifted free transit passes to our meeting’s attendees and supporting a highly sustainable transportation option during our event. Following the reception and some exploration of South End, attendees ended the evening with our favorite SSDN tradition, karaoke.

The rest of our meeting remained dedicated to SSDN members’ learning, peer connection, and community activities. This year’s program of member-led, in-person peer learning sessions revolved around:

  • Transportation electrification;
  • Community-based energy efficiency work;
  • Urban heat as a public health crisis;
  •  “Greening” communities (climate smart agriculture, stewardship of natural landscapes, and more);
  • Developing plans for sustainability and resilience;
  • Innovations for accessing renewable energy;
  • Centering equity in resilience planning and shifting the power to one’s community;
  • Partnerships and engagement strategies for waste and plastic reduction; and
  • Navigating climate risk and insurance (and mitigation tools for local governments)

Representing work being accomplished by the following communities:

  • Albemarle County, VA
  • Asheville, NC
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Blacksburg, VA
  • Boca Raton, FL
  • Broward County, FL
  • Buncombe County, NC
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Durham County, NC
  • Durham, NC
  • Little Rock, AR
  • Mobile, AL
  • Orange County, FL
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Richmond, VA
  • Tampa, FL
  • Tybee Island, GA
  • Wake Forest, NC

Energized by the intensive knowledge and connections they have developed during the meeting so far, members gathered into groups and embarked on a series of sustainability- and equity-centered tours and activities around Uptown Charlotte:

  • In partnership with the City of Charlotte, members participated in a presentation around electrification and public charging infrastructure – as well as an exciting showcase of several electric city vehicles (including heavy duty and bus);
  • At Envision Charlotte's Innovation Barn, members toured the barn's facilities that boast a diversity of circular economic initiatives that tackle recyclable/reusable waste, textile and plastic waste, food waste, and regenerative material and food systems. (The Innovation Barn later hosted our all-member dinner)
  • Members joined the Catawba Riverkeeper in one of Uptown Charlotte's urban waterways, Stewart Creek, for a cleanup -- hauling a literal tonnage of waste from the area currently undergoing restoration;
  • Guided by staff from the Levine Museum of the New South, members took a guided tour of the historically Black, disappeared Brooklyn neighborhood – bringing it back to life via the museum’s augmented reality app that visualized previously standing buildings and structures within what currently stands in Uptown Charlotte;
  • In collaboration with TreesCharlotte and the City’s Urban Forestry staff, members had the opportunity to understand Charlotte's strong policies and practices to protect and strengthen their tree canopy;
  • In partnership with SSDN alumnus Jeff Benavides (U.S. Green Building Council), members utilized the LYNX light rail and embarked upon a green building-themed “scavenger hunt”, engaging with local green building and sustainability leaders in the private sector and residential real estate (thank you, Jeff!)

After three days of high-impact learning and peer connection, members enjoyed a thoughtful and reflective closing session titled, “Building Personal Resilience in an Uncertain Future” with Ruthie Deffley of Healthy Mind | Mente Sana (based in Savannah, GA). Navigating the personal and professional challenges and stressors that are a natural part of their practice, members left this year’s Annual Meeting with tools to encourage mindfulness and meditation, self-advocacy, and building meaningful relationships with those around them as a way to strengthen both their inner selves, as well as the network of fellow humans that surround them every day.

We are incredibly grateful to everyone who helped make our 2024 Annual Meeting our biggest and best event to date, and everyone who makes our SSDN network strong, trusted, and connected. From our members (including our member-run Steering Committee) and our growing staff, to our 2024 sponsors, and to our partners both region-wide and local to Charlotte: thank you!

We cannot wait for our 2025 Annual Meeting in Richmond, VA (May 6-9, 2025)!