Sustainability initiatives take center stage in Florida County

Palm Beach County, Florida. (2022 estimated population: 1,538,450), is Florida’s second-largest county by area and third-largest by population. County leaders have been implementing resilience and sustainability initiatives for more than a decade, says Melissa McKinlay, Commissioner of District 6 of Palm Beach County. “However, a few years ago the County Board of Commissioners concluded that having a dedicated resilience office was essential to coordinate sustainability initiatives on behalf of the county.” McKinlay says it’s important to have a central hub of experts dedicated to helping county departments and community stakeholders. She believes this expert group can help ensure county departments include environmental sustainability in their policies, programs and day-to-day actions.

Yes, sustainability and resilience initiatives are important in this Florida community, especially as the effects of global warming continue to dominate the headlines. Here’s how McKinlay sees it: “The Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners is committed to ensuring a sustainable and thriving community while addressing climate change. As county government, we address this goal through climate adaptation, climate change mitigation and sustainable development policies, programs and initiatives.

There are, however, limits to what the county’s understaffed office of resilience can accomplish, McKinlay said. Cooperative Solutions. “Yet a three-person team can’t do much. Palm Beach County relies on county administration, department managers, and all staff to carry out the county’s mission to ensure that we are a sustainable and thriving community. She offers the following examples: “From our parks and recreation department working to eliminate the use of polystyrene in its facilities at Palm Tran evaluating when it can convert its fleet of buses to electric buses, sustainability environment is a shared responsibility. palm slice is the public transit system serving Palm Beach County.

County commissioners continue to position sustainability advocates within its workforce. The commissioners have created a cross-departmental environmental protection team (CDT) which has more than a dozen different departments represented on the team. The objectives of the CDT are as follows:

  • Maintaining Healthy, Vibrant Beaches – Palm Beach County stretches from the Atlantic coast of Florida and includes the northern edge of Everglades National Park. The county’s coastline has many golf courses and sandy beaches.
  • Maintain diverse and resilient ecosystems
  • Protect human health, safety, water quality and quality of life
  • Ensure positive environmental experiences for county residents and visitors
  • Promote sustainable and resilient practices and principles
  • Preserve and enhance the county’s thriving agricultural industries and offerings

Palm Beach County incorporates sustainable practices into county operations in several ways. It works to reduce polystyrene and other single-use plastic waste at county facilities. Staff members conducted a county survey of single-use plastic consumption. They also analyzed purchasing trends and compiled examples of local ordinances covering sustainability. County workers recently presented their findings to the County Board of Commissioners at a council workshop.

In April 2021, the county launched a Policy and Procedures Manual on Resilience and Sustainability in County Capital Construction Projects. The volume formalizes planning for resilience and sustainability in county capital projects. “Through this manual, county departments with the building authority assess ways to minimize a project’s carbon footprint wherever possible,” McKinlay explains.

Palm Beach County has integrated sustainability into procurement operations in several ways. It developed a Sustainable Paper Sourcing Ordinance in 2015 to promote the use of sustainable paper products. His purchasing department provides sustainable options to the county’s buying warehouse using compostable materials and paper. The county encourages departments to purchase these sustainable options and reduce polystyrene use when financially possible. In addition, several county departments have created their own “Green Teams” to coordinate departmental sustainability initiatives.

McKinlay says recruiting and hiring exceptional staff has helped Palm Beach County achieve its sustainability successes. She says the county’s strong internship programs have helped find, develop and retain talent. “For example, our Environmental Resources Management department has a Green Futures summer internship program. This paid internship targets disadvantaged youth and youth of color and aims to expose these interns to different pathways to careers and connections to nature and our natural resources.

McKinlay, who was first elected to the Board of County Commissioners in 2014, offers this advice to public sector leaders in the United States as they consider programs to improve the environment: “I recommend that governments locals create a dedicated sustainability and resilience team or hire a staff member if they can manage it.

It is McKinlay’s belief that local governments can use cooperative contracts to advance their sustainable sourcing policy or sustainability initiatives. Palm Beach County, however, tends not to use cooperative contracts due to county preferences set forth in its Local Preferences Ordinance and Equal Business Opportunity Ordinance. “The county may use a co-operative contract if there are no county-certified minority women’s small business enterprises that can provide the necessary goods and/or services,” McKinlay said. Cooperative Solutions. She notes these additional requirements:

  • The co-op/piggyback contract shall be awarded based on a competitive procurement process similar to that of the county, and
  • The contract must meet the needs and pricing requirements of the county.

The Palm Beach County Commissioner says there are several advantages to using cooperative contracts and piggyback agreements. These include economies of scale that are available in cooperative agreements. “In cooperative contracts and piggyback rides, the price is usually better than the price the supplier can offer the county through its own solicitation.” Also, the procurement process can be faster.

The OMNIA Partners website for the public sector lists many cooperative contracts that offer sustainable products and services and resilient solutions. Grainger, Ricoh, Herman Miller, Trane, HD Supply, Steelcase, Office Depot, Cintas, Toro and dozens of other vendors and suppliers participate in these cooperative agreements. Search under the keywords “resilience” and “sustainability” for information on cooperation agreements.

Michael Keating is editor for US city and county. Contact him at [email protected].