By Christina Cilento
Evanston has been recognized as the World Wildlife Fund’s 2015 U.S. Earth Hour Capital, beating out 41 other competing cities for the title. The decision was made by an international jury that rated cities based on “development plans for building, transport, energy and food systems,” according to the WWF website.
The Earth Hour Challenge, run by the WWF and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, is a year-long competition to recognize cities making significant effort in sustainable urban development. This year’s challenge included 163 cities from 17 countries, all competing for the title of Global Earth Hour Capital. After being named the Capital for the U.S., Evanston will now move on to compete in the international competition.
“When they called me it took my breath away,” said Catherine Hurley, the sustainable programs coordinator for the City of Evanston. “It was a combination of so humbled and honored to be selected, and so excited to have our city’s and community’s accomplishments recognized.”
To enter, cities filled out a profile about their sustainability efforts and updated their platform throughout the year, reporting relevant data, plans and actions. The competition is geared toward continued improvement, and Hurley said that’s what set Evanston apart this year.
“I think our recognition in large part was because we continued to show progress,” Hurley said. “It wasn’t like we did one cool thing two years ago and that’s why were being recognized. Every year, every month, we’re doing more and more.”
Evanston’s sustainability goals have gotten increasingly ambitious over the years, starting with reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 13 percent by 2012, and then increasing to 20 percent reductions by 2016. The city continues to look for ways to meet these goals through initiatives like providing residents with renewable electricity and increasing bike infrastructure.
For Mallory Bell, a Northwestern senior and community engagement intern with Evanston’s Office of Sustainability, the recognition is a way to spread awareness for those programs.
“A lot of people here recycle and do all that, but they don’t understand how great our infrastructure is,” Bell said. “So this is a great campaign to make people understand.”
Bell is working with Evanston to promote the We Love Cities campaign, which is the public engagement element of the Earth Hour City Challenge and celebrates the “most lovable sustainable cities,” according to the WWF website. Competitors in the We Love Cities contest are chosen from finalists of the Earth Hour City Challenge. For the U.S., the competitors are Evanston, Seattle and Cleveland. Unlike the Earth Hour competition, which was judged by experts, We Love Cities lets the public decide their favorite cities in an online vote. Community members can vote once per day at weloveevanston.org through March 27th.
The next step for Evanston is the Earth Hour Challenge World Conference, which Hurley and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl will be attending in Seoul, South Korea, on April 9-12. All capitals from the 17 competing countries will be present, and the Global Earth Hour Capital will be announced at the conference.