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The Emergence of the Citizen Scientist

January 27, 2022
By Charlotte King, SALP Ambassador 2021

Across the globe, there is recognition that harnessing the collective power and engagement of citizens is a critical strategy to support meaningful advocacy for climate change and consistent with supporting the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Researchers assert, “data produced through ‘citizen science,’ which is the involvement of citizens in scientific research and/or knowledge production, can complement and ultimately improve the SDG reporting process (Fritz, 2019) Stockholm Environmental Institute. In 2018, the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Resilience launched the Sustainability Ambassadors Leadership Program (SALP) that has gained momentum across age, race, gender, industry, and experience. Consider that for 8 weeks a group of 30 -45 citizens show up for a range of “firsthand” experiences to learn the foundations of sustainability priorities for the Greater Metropolitan Atlanta area.

The SALP goes beyond Sustainability 101 in a mission that is at the intersection of cross-disciplinary exploration and experiential learning of Atlanta’s sustainability priorities – from public policy to urban agriculture to transportation to energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The elite Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) brings together the most credentialed and experienced practitioners, where the SALP is a “citizen laboratory” to increase knowledge for a cohort including a data analytics manager, a female electrician, a business consultant, a sustainability practitioner. The Georgia Conservancy and the Southface Institute, bring industry rigor and smart planning. In contrast, the SALP broadens the sustainability discourse to include neophytes, academics and small business owners with policy makers, corporate managers, and healthcare professionals. The Ambassadors aspire to be early adopters for strategic initiatives like Drawdown Georgia, funded by The Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

The SALP has impressive key performance indicators (KPIs) similar to other community and leadership programs. The national average value of a volunteer’s time based on data from the U.S. Bureau of labor statistics is $28.54 per hour” Source: Independent Sector, or an estimated $13,699 for each 8-week SALP class of 30 participants. The long-term leadership KPIs include gaining an enhanced understanding of sustainability pillars – environmental, social, and economic. Similar to other leadership KPIs, the SALP encourages sustainability skills building in better decision making, collaborative leadership, knowledge of process consequences, awareness of climate-related policy.

United Nations SDGs 10 Reduced Inequalities and SDGs 13 Climate Action’ inspired the on-site kick-off of the first Ambassadors discourse, “How do we make sure our efforts are equitable and not compromising the health or wealth of any community” – sparking rigorous insights and individual introspection. Promoting a circular economy, SDGs 12 Responsible Consumption & Production, included a field trip to the Lifecycle Building Center and the practical process of “closing the loop” – where deconstructed building materials are diverted from landfills.

High Performance building and energy efficiency are essential concepts, - U.S. buildings are responsible for more CO2 emissions than any other country! Reflective of SDGs 7 Clean & Affordable Energy, included a visit to The Kendeda (living) Building at Georgia Tech. Understanding Watershed Management – SDGs 6 “the water goal”, Ambassadors explored impacts for biodiversity, threats of polluted waters and systems protecting water quality and utilizing open spaces through green infrastructure. Talk about food and composting, SDGs 2 “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” – the program offered an exploration in urban agriculture, managing a food forest, the benefits of robust composting, at the first of the City’s new solarized aerated static composting systems.

As part of the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), transportation is considered the leading cause of climate change. For Atlanta, approximately 40% of GHG emissions come from the transportation sector. Ambassadors explored how Advance Atlanta’s collaborative thinking of public, private, and community stakeholders to pursue regional transportation solutions. The Atlanta Ambassadors learn through practical access for real-world challenges in becoming stronger citizen scientist leaders.

In three years, there are already more than two hundred Ambassadors throughout Atlanta – in every county, in Fortune 500’s and small businesses, senior leaders and recent graduates. Ambassadors bring a bi-partisan passion for Atlanta’s sustainability – to a supply chain, a management meeting, and a community near you. Join us.

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