Person of the Week
McCarthy-Bercury’s New Role Supports a More Sustainable Branford
As Branford’s first sustainability and compliance manager, Diana McCarthy-Bercury is ready to take sustainability to the next level for the town. Her role is the next evolution of the town’s former solid waste supervisor position. Photo by (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Diana McCarthy-Bercury is a new face at Branford Town Hall and an ideal person to fill an open position that, with its new title, takes sustainability to the next level for the town. As Branford’s first sustainability and compliance manager, Diana’s role is the next evolution of the town’s former solid waste supervisor position.
Diana says residents are doing a great job with the town’s two-stream recycling program and making the most of using the Branford Transfer station for not only waste and recycling, but for sustainable programs such as the holiday gift wrapping recycling effort and Branford’s brush/tree limb chipping program that creates free mulch for residents to take away and use.
“So part of the position is understanding what is happening with the waste and the recycling and what’s the next step for the town,” says Diana. “How do we continue to implement what we’re doing, how do we educate folks, how do we connect with the public?”
With many special sustainability-focused projects, programs, task forces, commissions, and committees already in place, Branford has made a great start in that area, too, she says. Since day one on the job (July 1), Diana has been working on compiling all of Branford’s moves toward sustainability in order to earn the town’s certification from the SustainableCT program. Checking all the boxes to earn the certification will also result in the town ultimately reducing not only its carbon footprint, but costs, as well, Diane notes.
As another benefit, with Branford committed as a participating SustainableCT community, any groups, organizations, or individuals in town working on projects that promote sustainability—from pollinator pathways to redeveloping brownfields to working towards renewable energy plans or decarbonizing and much more—can apply for a SustainableCT matching grant to help fund that project. And Diana is here to help them with that process.
“That’s available for anybody and any organization in town that’s looking to do something that possibly qualifies as a sustainable project,” she says. “So if you want a community garden, pollinator gardens, rainwater collection, renewable energy on your building, some type of education on watershed or water use...whatever it may be, you can qualify for this grant, because the town is participating in this program. If someone has programs they want to start up, just give me a ring.”
Diana’s can be reached at 203-315-0637 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bringing the Right Background
Diana holds a master’s degree in sustainability management from Columbia University.
“I completed that program in 2016. During that time and for about six or seven years, I working at Eversource on municipal energy savings programs,” she says. “I worked with all the cities and towns in Connecticut to help them identify energy savings projects and to help them identify energy-hog buildings.”
During a break between that job and her new role in Branford, Diana started her own sustainability firm, Earth Forward Group, which is based in New Haven. The firm focuses on workforce development (increasing green jobs and training opportunities). She’s also a trainer for the GPRO certification course through U.S. Green Building Council. GPRO is designed to teach experienced building professionals ways to integrate green practices.
A few months back, Diana was researching details for another state’s climate resiliency office when she looked up information on Sustainable CT, which carried her to a link advising of the municipal sustainability and compliance manager job opening in Branford.
“The job title came up and I thought, ‘I’m interested in that,’” says Diana. “Having a sustainability management degree and being able to apply everything I’ve learned in that course to practical, real-life work; it’s very valuable.”
It’s one of the newer types of roles to be found in municipal government in this state, and “Branford’s leading the charge,” says Diana. “The only other Connecticut towns that have it are cities—Hartford, Bridgeport, Hamden, New Haven.”
She also notes that, other than Hartford, the role of the sustainability manager in those towns is otherwise titled, such as energy manager or town engineer.
“So Branford’s position is really one of the first towns in the state to be created and really one of the first in the country,” says Diana.
Branford joined the race to become a more sustainable community early, with programs such as its all-organic parks and playing fields, the transformation the former town landfill brownfield into Ecology Park, building Branford’s “green” Fire Headquarters (2012) which earned LEED Silver Certification (2015) and is the first fire station in Connecticut designated LEED Silver; the 2018 activation of a private 4.5-acre solar installation on town-owned Tabor property, which also delivers energy cost savings to the town; and the 2019 institution of an ordinance banning retail plastic bags (ahead of state legislation).
Creating a more sustainable town has financial benefits for the town. For example, when the town bonded a $6 million energy audit/performance contract in 2017, the resulting changes reduced overall energy consumption in town buildings and installations, driving down ongoing costs.
In her background of working with a utility company, Diana has worked with 150 cities and towns in Connecticut through the years.
“I can tell you that I am blown away by the amount of support and the amount of like-minded folks that are in town,” says Diana says of Branford. “The first selectman is incredibly supportive. Jamie [Cosgrove] has been very supportive of the [Clean] Energy Committee and the SustainableCT Task Force and groups like the [Branford] Land Trust. He’s really trying to align all of the resources together, so that we’re in it together.”
The sustainability conversation is also ongoing among all town departments, Diana says.
“To have a conversation with the first selectman and Public Works’ Gary Zielinski about pollinator gardens and reclaiming green space, and getting everybody access [by asking] ‘How can we walk through the beautiful nature preserves from one end of town to the other?’ That’s incredible,” says Diana. “And that’s top priority on the agenda: How do we help support the Energy Committee pursue these goals of getting us as close to 100 percent renewable energy in town as possible, and totally reducing our carbon footprint? It’s incredible.”
Speaking of incredible, Diana is incredibly proud to be a part of municipality that, in January 2019, based on the position that the affects of climate change are a long-term liability, set up a groundbreaking Coastal Resiliency Fund. Branford Finance Director Jim Finch and Cosgrove then took the idea to the state level, helping to bring about the Connecticut’s Municipal Climate Change and Coastal Resiliency Reserve Funds Act, which became effective July 1, 2019.
“Now you’ve got the director of finance—he’s not thinking 10 or 20 years out; he’s thinking 50, 100 years out—and comes up with this coastal resiliency plan, and almost nobody in town realizes that you have this! People all around the country are calling to find out, ‘How did you do that? How does this work?’” says Diana.
In her role, Diana is looking forward to pulling together all of the current programs and future great ideas that will take Branford closer to its goal of being the most sustainable community it can be. One exciting program currently in development with the Clean Energy Committee is to bring in an energy audit program for homeowners and businesses, she notes.
Diana’s planning on ramping up communications with residents and businesses about programs that are being developed to educate, support and encourage sustainability in Branford. She’s also currently working to update the department’s page on the Town of Branford website www.branford-ct.gov to include more information and updates and alerts to programs.
“The energy in this town is great, and if there are people in town interested in getting involved, or have an idea for their group in town, they should give me a call,” Diane says.
Diana also offers groups her expertise as a speaker in her capacity as a trained educator for Project Learning Tree and Project WET, which are environmental/energy/water conservation curriculum programs. She’s also looking forward to post-pandemic involvement with the town’s schools to help increase awareness among students with programs such as a district-wide recycling challenge.
Branford has “all the components for success” to become a highly sustainable community, Diane says. “There’s a lot of opportunity. The best thing about this town is that everybody says, ‘Yes.’”