New Haven earned the highest distinction in state sustainability last week by taking home the Silver certification from Sustainable Connecticut.
On Wednesday night, New Haven’s Environmental Advisory Committee met to discuss sustainability efforts that qualified the Elm City for the Silver certification. Sustainable CT — created by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities — is a statewide initiative that focuses on building communities’ environmental growth.
The Silver certification requires achievement in nine sustainability categories ranging from community building, local educational projects, clean transportation and diverse housing. All awarded communities must also address issues of diversity, inclusion and equality within their environmental initiatives. In assessing applications, communities are awarded points based off their achievement within each category. This year, New Haven placed first of all certified communities, with 925 points. Last year, the Elm City fell short of Silver certification, settling for Bronze.
“The thing that held us back the first time was not our number of points, but rather the ninth action which was equity.” said Dawn Henning, New Haven’s Engineering Department project manager. “You need to complete three tool kits within the equity action to be awarded Silver, but we only had two that were approved. This year we submitted five, and we got all five approved. We worked really hard on them and feel like they were great examples of how equity played out in New Haven.”
Despite the achievement, the committee has no plans to slow down. The certification lasts three years, but members plan on updating their application every year in order to reflect the constant environmental work the city does. Additional initiatives include building environmental education programs in schools, as well as reducing material waste and chemicals in artificial turf.
The EAC also hopes to develop community-wide environmentally sustainable habits early by advocating for classroom educational programs. EAC chairwoman Laura Cahn announced that Sustainable CT gave the city a grant to fund one such program: a “Sustainability Bee” in local elementary schools. The bee aims to teach students how to be environmentally conscious in not only their own lives, but in the context of the communities to which they belong.
“If it starts at home, it starts at school,” Pierre Barbour, executive director at New Haven Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, said at the meeting. “Conversations need to be had, and will be had, as long as people are open.”
Attendees also brought up other potential environmental efforts. As one of several discussions, Ward 21 Alder Steve Winter ’11 discussed following the lead of cities such as Norwalk by establishing a styrofoam ban. In New Haven, styrofoam is particularly depended on by the takeout food industry and food trucks.
According to Winter, polystyrene is nearly impossible to break down and thus persists in the environment after styrofoam is incinerated. The product of such actions releases gases into the atmosphere that are potential neurotoxins, Winter said.
With precedent from the 12 municipalities as well as an impending state wide ban slated for 2021, Winter, alongside the EAC, plans to institute a styrofoam ban through immediate state legislation.
The Environmental Advisory Committee will celebrate New Haven’s Sustainable Connecticut Silver certification on Dec. 4.

Noel Rockwell | noel.rockwell@yale.edu