Bicyclists and a walker use a trail along the Clinton River Trail in Sterling Heights. The Sterling Heights Sustainability Commission’s sustainability plan encourages the use of trails and bikes in the city.

Bicyclists and a walker use a trail along the Clinton River Trail in Sterling Heights. The Sterling Heights Sustainability Commission’s sustainability plan encourages the use of trails and bikes in the city.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Sustainability Commission presents eco-friendly plans

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 6, 2021


STERLING HEIGHTS — After months of brainstorming, Sterling Heights’ recently formed Sustainability Commission presented its report of plans and suggestions during a Sept. 7 Sterling Heights City Council meeting.

The Sustainability Commission got its start after the City Council passed an ordinance establishing it in March 2020. After that, the council appointed members that summer.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the members convened via Zoom and worked on the sustainability plan drafting process. They ended up wrapping up a plan by June, shared it with city officials the next month and then followed up with a September presentation.

During the meeting, Sustainability Commission Chair Nathan Inks said a former city intern, Alexander Bahorski, wrote a draft proposal of the plan, and then the commission collaboratively built upon it.

“There was no one single person who wrote the entire document,” Inks said. “It was contributions from all the commissioners, as well as contributions from the office of planning.”

Inks said the commission also leaned on ideas from city plans and documents, as well as from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and the United Nations.

The UN’s sustainable development goals were particularly pertinent, as the commission took 11 of them to heart in its plan, including things like health, clean water, sustainable communities, equality, economic growth, clean energy, climate action and infrastructure.

The Sustainability Commission plan’s executive summary begins by defining sustainability.

“Sustainability means balancing environmental, economic and social demands to adopt strategies and activities for the use of resources that meet the needs of the city and its stakeholders today while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future,” the report says, later adding: “Toward that end, it reduces its use of nonrenewable natural resources and its production of wastes, while at the same time improving livability.”

The commission’s 78-page plan then delves into the categories of natural assets, mobility, development and land use, and environmental stewardship.

Among the report’s dozens of suggested actions, it recommends:

• Looking into preserving trees and the tree canopy, reforesting parks and residential areas, increasing new tree planting during development, and establishing a wetland ordinance.

• Increasing trail and sidewalk connectivity, as well as adding bike lanes, and a park bike-sharing program.

• Encouraging brownfield redevelopment in addition to mixed-use or higher-density residential developments, as well as putting sustainability guidelines in city zoning and planning codes.

• Expanding the hazardous waste collection day program and establishing universal curbside recycling in the city.

• Measuring the city’s carbon footprint, energy use, the city fleet’s fuel consumption and more.

• Making a full-time city staff position out of managing sustainability plans across city departments.

• Having the city pass a resolution recognizing and affirming the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The recommendations are linked to responsible city departments that could carry them out. The plan concludes by saying it should be reviewed yearly and reevaluated when necessary.

“The many recommendations in this plan will require a substantial and dedicated commitment from the administration and government of Sterling Heights to create meaningful and measurable actions,” the report added.

After Inks’ presentation, City Manager Mark Vanderpool said “a lot of the plan is already coming to life in different ways, shapes and forms.” He added that the city could potentially use federal American Rescue Plan Act money on building the tree canopy.

Councilman Henry Yanez called the Sustainability Commission plan an “excellent document” and one of the best technical and policy-related ones he has read in a long time.

“They can be sometimes a little heavy-weighted, a little hard to slog through,” Yanez said. “I really enjoyed actually reading the document myself.”

Inks said the commission looks forward to having further discussions with the City Council at the city’s early-2022 strategic planning session.

Find the Sterling Heights Sustainability Commission’s plan by visiting and searching for “Sustainability Commission Sustainability Plan Final” in the search bar.