SSDN has made a commitment to support the City of Little Rock's recovery efforts in light of the devastating tornado that hit the city on March 31, 2023. Please consider donating here to the Little Rock Cares tornado relief fund.
"So many contacts, so many ideas, so many good vibes."
"SSDN is the best organization I am a member of."
"Seeing everyone ... makes a huge difference!"
A sunny and breezy Sunday welcomed our first wave of arrivals to Little Rock - a new travel destination for the majority of our members. After taking some time to explore downtown and its Riverfront Park, people enjoyed a casual networking evening at a local hot spot. On the itinerary was bowling with SSDN staff and other familiar faces in person ahead of the meeting's official start on Monday, May 1.
Monday brought with it the arrival of the rest of our attendees and the official start of our SSDN 2023 Annual Meeting. Settled down from hugs and handshakes, SSDNers launched into opening remarks, exciting network updates, and activity-based networking time to get to know their Zoom contacts in person. The afternoon's favorite activity was our "pea pod" game, sending groups of unfamiliar friends to introduce each other to other peas in pods around the room.
Members spent the rest of the afternoon getting acquainted with our Little Rock hosts and the internal partnerships that keep sustainability at the forefront of the the City's work. We learned about the City of Little Rock's Sustainability Office (LRSO), Sustainability Commission, Office of DEI, and more work being done at the policy and community level to make bolster municipal leadership in sustainability and equity initiatives. The group also received a visit from Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., who shared with us an update on the recent natural disaster and the commitments of our host city to support its diversity of residents.
Dinner time! Our group dinner on the first night of our Annual Meeting was held at Bernice Garden in Little Rock's SoMa (South Main St.) district. Members enjoyed a delectable dinner service of locally-sourced foods from restaurants in the neighborhood - participants of the LRSO's Green Restaurant program. Connecting with all sorts of new and familiar faces during dinner, members also has the opportunity to break out into state groups for photos and further in-person networking before taking our traditional group photo.
Rested from the previous day's activities and chatter, members started Tuesday off with some learning via our Peer Learning Circles (PLCs) - member-led presentations and workshops based on a range of topics voted upon by our members ahead of the Annual Meeting. The presented topics came from nearly every state in our network and touched on the following:
- City benchmarking strategies for public facilities
- Low- to moderate-income (LMI) multifamily residential solar sharing
- Municipal energy action planning and wastewater treatment center solar project partnership
- EV implementation and best practices
- Strategies for strenghtening internal buy-in and organizational capacity
- Internal staff buy-in programs and behavior change
- Building and implementing an Adaptation & Resilience Plan from scratch
- Reporting on an inherited Climate Action Plan
- Food waste reduction and community composting program
- Grant funding for waste reduction
Following our PLC sessions, attendees embarked upon a variety of afternoon activities that highlighted the sustainability and equity work being done in Little Rock and Central Arkansas. One group took a bike tour around the city and stopped to view significant local and historical landmarks along the way. Another enjoyed an impactful, National Parks Ranger-led program detailing Little Rock's history of racial segregation and the story of the Little Rock Nine. A third group canoed along Fourche Creek and picked up trash as they floated through the water, led by local experts of the creek and urban waterway initiatives. An additional group spent the afternoon gardening at Dunbar Gardens, a multi-generational community garden in the heart of Little Rock's historically Black neighborhoods. A final group attended a green buildings-focused tour between the LEED Platinum Certified Clinton Presidential Library & Museum and the headquarters of sponsor Entegrity Energy Partners.
The group came together at the end of the day as we acknowledged and celebrated our event's supporters at our sponsor and networking reception, hosted at a local Biergarten. After some time spent identifying and recognizing our sponsors' role in making our Annual Meeting possible, everyone enjoyed a casual networking space alongside outdoor games. Thank you to our 2023 Annual Meeting sponsors for supporting our strong and connected network, and helping make sure as many members as possible were able to join us! The evening ended with several rounds of our new "official" tradition: karaoke.
Wednesday's program was dedicated to all things federal funding. With communities in the Southeast becoming stronger contenders for funding for sustainable infrastructure, building performance, waste reduction, transportation, and many other initiatives, our members were able to better grasp the landscape of opportunities offered at the federal level. With agents from the EPA, DOE, and sponsor IMT (Institute for Market Transformation) present to share insights about grants and funding processes, members had the opportunity to voice their questions, thoughts, and concerns from the perspective of local government applicants. Following a subsequent session about the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program, the meeting ended with final remarks to our members and the reveal of our location for 2024: Charlotte, NC!
What is the impact of in-person connections at the Annual Meeting? Little better can be said than what one member had to share: "The people - all of them are so incredible. The hard days are made easier knowing you are with people who are going through similar challenges or already made it through."