Earth Day, Arbor Day Take Root in Needham

April 22, 2024
• As communities recognize Earth Day on April 22, Needham continues its efforts to create a greener and more viable place to live.

In pursuit of its climate-oriented goals and sustainability initiatives, Needham will celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day through ongoing town-wide policies and upcoming community-based events.

One such effort is the town’s fuel efficient vehicle policy, which aims “to govern the replacement of all of our municipal vehicles [in favor of] the most fuel-efficient models,” Sustainability Manager Gabby Queenan said. When purchasing replacement products, town departments also look to buy recycled products first before new ones, she said.

The town also looked to lower its carbon footprint through the municipal opt-in specialized energy code, passed at Town Meeting last fall. Under the code, new homes and municipal buildings must be all-electric or pre-wired for it, starting July 1. For buildings that rely on fossil fuels, the code dictates that solar panels be installed. About 33 communities in Massachusetts have adopted the code, as of last month.

“Those codes will have a big impact on our residential and commercial sectors, in terms of when we think about energy usage in town,” Queenan said.

Queenan’s own position signals the town’s recent environmental pledges — Queenan, who began in December, is Needham’s first sustainability manager. She suggested residents can go green by composting food waste at the Recycling and Transfer Station, and students at Needham Public Schools also have the option of composting. Queenan said she hopes Needham expands its electric vehicle charging stations, as well as upgrade to more LED lighting across town.

Town residents have taken action, banning single-use plastic bags at the Annual Town Meeting last spring. Green Needham, the organization behind that successful effort, is now championing a citizens’ petition this spring that would restricting use of additional plastic items, including polystyrene containers, straws, stirrers and water bottles.

Reducing plastics in town is currently one of the group’s main initiatives, member Eleanor Rosellini said. The Climate Action Plan, as well as their collaboration with the town to spark further policy ideas, have been a success, she said. Over the last 10 years, Rosellini said she’s noticed a significant change in how town leaders address sustainability concerns.

“I think there’s much more of an awareness and a commitment by elected officials and staff members and members of different boards,” Rosellini said. “I think environmental issues are much more important to them, and they’re much more willing to take action.”

For Arbor Day — recognized April 26 — it’s all about the trees. As is an annual tradition, Superintendent of Parks and Forestry Olsen commemorated Arbor Day with a proclamation at the Select Board last week.

The Walker-Gordon Field received a 16-foot golden larch tree from an anonymous resident, and the Parks and Forestry crew will hand out hundreds of seedlings at Rosemary Recreation Complex on Friday and Saturday, Olsen said to the Select Board last week.

Olsen encourages residents, including young Needhamites, to get their hands dirty. Second graders at Eliot Elementary School will learn about the holiday by planting five trees, Olsen said, and first graders will help to plant a 9/11 memorial cherry tree on Thursday. The town also hosted a community cleanup and tree planting at Riverside Park last Friday, where high schoolers helped create a new flower bed and plant shrubbery, Olsen said.

Needham began planting trees in front yards in 1918, resulting in thousands of trees on residential plots, Olsen shared with the board. That overarching mission of sustainability remains important to him, more than 100 years later, especially as tree loss has increased due to residential development.

“[Sustainability] takes a grassroots effort,” Olsen said in an interview. “My advice is it’s time that we all have to take the means and really be invested in our future. It’s not one person’s responsibility, it’s all of our responsibilities… We all have to do our part.”

Gavin Lin is a junior at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham. He loves journalism and science. He hopes to help people in need through advocacy and hands-on experience.

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