Ferndale’s environmental sustainability planner position is ‘dream job’ for Erin Quetell

There's a new role in the city of Ferndale, and it's all about being green.

Erin Quetell is Ferndale’s environmental sustainability planner, a new role for the city of Ferndale. The position came out of the master plan update released in January 2017, and sustainability was one of the core principles of the update. Quetell says that's not so common when it comes to city master plans.

Ferndale, at 4 square miles with a population of 20,000 people, is limited in space, especially green, open space, Quetell says. And with the city's proximity to other communities, it’s important for it to do everything it can to better manage stormwater, conserve energy, and reduce waste.

But it's also about more than the environment.

“Although the environmental part of the triple bottom line is really important, sustainability also covers the social and economic sides of society," Quetell says. "A healthy environment creates a healthy society where a healthy economy can thrive. Improving processes in our businesses that are more efficient and sustainable lessen the impacts on the environment, creating a healthier environment for people to live. A healthy society makes better decisions and choices that relate to a healthier environment and economy. They are all interconnected.”

The environmental sustainability planner position is a “dream job,” for Quetell. “I have always wanted to work in government," she says. "I specifically went to Columbia to obtain my Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy to be able to work in government sustainability. When I saw this opening, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to apply. It is so important to have science-minded folks in government.”

Prior to taking on the position, she worked in the nonprofit sector with Greening of Detroit and OHM Advisors, an architecture, engineering, and planning firm.

Quetell answered a few questions about the role, Ferndale’s sustainability plans, and tips on how residents can play their part. This interview has been edited for length.

Erin QuetellHow does Ferndale stack up in terms of environmental sustainability initiatives compared to other Michigan cities and other cities nationwide?

Although sustainability is relatively new in Ferndale, I think that the community is certainly ahead of other communities in Michigan by simply having a dedicated sustainability staff member. So, for Michigan, Ferndale is a big deal. Throughout the nation, and certainly in other countries, sustainability is very much part of city management. The Midwest is always a little behind of the coasts, but we are getting there.

What are some of the environmental sustainability initiatives Ferndale is currently implementing?

Some of the items I have been working on in my short time with Ferndale include improving our Planned Natural Landscape program, where residents and community members can install native plants in their yards, compared to typical turfgrass, to help mitigate stormwater runoff and promote healthy pollinator populations. I have been working with University of Michigan Information Technology students to help create better citizen interaction with the program (i.e. better website, improved signage and communication etc.). I have also been working on Ferndale’s waste—thinking about how we can improve our recycling rates, reduce what we send off to the landfill, and how to better manage our organic waste.

There is a lot that is still under development, but I am excited about the progress we have made thus far.

Additionally, I have been looking at our energy use throughout city-owned buildings and facilities. I have been working with EcoWorks to develop a community energy management plan. I am also in the process of improving our community forestry program, which includes updating our ordinances, improving our tree purchasing program for community members, and aligning with our Urban Tree Canopy study currently underway by our consultants from Davey Tree.  

Just prior to my employment at Ferndale, the city signed on to Climate Mayors following the pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Therefore, Ferndale is committed to continue to improve energy efficiency throughout the city and mitigate deleterious emissions where ever possible.

Finally, as part of a larger effort, the new Development on Troy—the mixed-use parking development slotted for the parking lot behind Rosie O’Grady’s—will go through a certification program called Parksmart. The certification is similar to LEED, but since parking lots are a little anti-LEED, this certification allows for the development and management to occur in the most sustainable way possible. Some of the items we are looking into include high-efficiency lighting solutions, stormwater management, and improved waste management services.

What are your long-term goals for environmental sustainability efforts in the city?

I would say Ferndale looks to improve their urban canopy to meet a healthy canopy cover (generally about 40 percent), improve our recycling efforts to meet statewide goals of 30 percent municipal recycling, improve our organic waste management (i.e. kitchen waste), and work towards a separated sewer system.

Ferndale is currently a combined sewer system, which means that in heavy rain/snow events, stormwater mixes with partially or fully untreated waste water and can enter our waterways. By better managing our stormwater on site (cue those “pesky” stormwater standards we have on new development), we can alleviate the stress on our systems and improve water quality.

You have been focusing on improving waste management and recycling rates in the city. What is the current status of each and what is the goal?

Our recycling rates aren’t the greatest at the moment. We have had a range between 7-17 percent, typically hovering somewhere between 12-15 percent. Ideally, we would have a recycling rate closer to 30-35 percent. It’s a long way to go, but worth the effort. The more recycling we do as a city, the better our waste management rates.

How can residents play their part in Ferndale's environmental sustainability?

My advice to Ferndale community members is this: Think about your energy, waste, and water. Install energy efficient products, such as those with the EPA Energy Star rating, or purchase a smart thermostat. Simply installing a smart thermostat can save $145 per year in heating and cooling costs. Add efficient windows to the mix, and you could save up to an additional $400 per year. Consider composting your kitchen scraps; SOCRRA will accept kitchen waste in your weekly yard waste pickup if you don’t have your own compost pile.

If every household composted in Ferndale, collectively we could reduce overall waste and divert 150 tons or more of organic waste from the landfill. Install water efficient fixtures (think low flow toilets or aerated faucets), such as those with the EPA Water Sense rating. By switching one household toilet to a low-flow comparison (<2 gallons per flush) you can save 8,200 gallons of water per year. That’s equivalent to 200 loads of laundry. Even if it is simple upgrades like turning off the lights, taking shorter showers, or recycling just a bit more, anything and everything helps Ferndale become a more sustainable community.

Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez lives, eats and writes in Detroit. Her areas of interest and expertise include food, community, and entrepreneurship.