How Green Can Wilton Be was the focus of Wilton Go Green’s inaugural sustainability symposium, held Tuesday, Nov. 29 at the Wilton Library. More than 70 thought leaders from the town’s educational, municipal, faith, business and community sectors gathered to identify priorities, brainstorm solutions, share best practices and establish the foundation for a strategic plan to move Wilton closer to becoming the most sustainable town in Connecticut.

The brainchild of Tina Duncan–Wilton resident, symposium chairperson and president of the Lumpkin Family Foundation, which helped fund the event–the symposium was, by all measures, a resounding success.

“Our goal was fourfold:  To create a clearly articulated shared vision of how green Wilton can be; identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats impacting the town’s use of land and water, recycling, energy and food; serve as a catalyst for impactful, town-wide sustainability initiatives; and spark community interest and active engagement in shaping the future sustainability of our town,” Duncan said.

Wilton Go Green president Peg Koellmer and executive director Daphne Dixon opened the event, commending the town as a leader and role model of conservation and education, and reiterating the importance of promoting sustainable living across all sectors.

“Wilton Go Green is a leader within both the community and the state in advancing a culture of conservation and education in the fields of building, energy, food, transportation and waste recycling,” Koellmer said. “The symposium was a giant step forward as we join forces with our government, schools, community organizations and citizens to succeed in meeting our common goals. We are moving from vision to action, but we need to move more quickly. So let’s roll up our sleeves and join the effort.”

Gary Cuneen, founder and executive director of Seven Generations Ahead, an Illinois-based organization focused on the development of ecologically sustainable and healthy communities, delivered an informative and empowering keynote address.

“It’s very encouraging what you all are doing here through Wilton Go Green in really trying to make sustainability happen and have it ripple out and impact other communities,” Cuneen said. “You have to bring people together, you have to provide learning, networking, sharing and collaboration.”

Attendees then got to work, joining one of two morning breakout sessions focused on land/water and recycling. Through lively discussion, shared knowledge, debate and discernment, the groups identified a range of issues affecting their focus area, prioritizing three.

Sheryl Baldwin, environmental analyst, CT Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) and Joe Cea of Bay State Textiles facilitated the recycling brainstorming session while Trout Unlimited director of volunteer operations, Jeff Yates, and WGG Board member and Wilton Energy Commission member, Patrice Gillespie, led the land/water session.

The morning sessions concluded with lunch, featuring locally sourced, seasonal fare. Produce from Ambler Farm was transformed into satisfying butternut squash soup, fresh green salad and tempting carrot cake. Delicious quinoa and chicken salads provided by The Well fueled participants for the afternoon session. Healthy baked goods made using Millstone Farm eggs, freshly brewed coffee and tea were on hand throughout the day, courtesy of Tusk & Cup.

In an effort to minimize waste, flatware rented from Taylor Rental was used in lieu of plastic utensils, and food scraps and recycled-content paper goods were composted by Curbside Compost.

Following lunch, attendees reconvened for afternoon breakout sessions to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats presented in the energy and food arenas. Richard Creeth, co-chair of the Wilton Energy Commission and WGG co-founder Jana Bertkau led the energy discussion while Millstone Farm’s master farmer, Annie Farrell, and Baldwin of DEEP facilitated the session on food.

Participants once again reconvened in the Brubeck Room where a representative from each breakout team presented the three most pressing issues in their focus area (land/water, recycling, energy or food). These issues will form the foundation of a strategic plan and corresponding initiatives to be implemented throughout the Wilton community in the year ahead.

Wilton resident and president of the Norwalk River Watershed Association, Louise Washer, experienced “a renewed commitment to keep working to protect our local water quality and open space” at the day’s end.

“I came out of the symposium armed with literally dozens of new ideas for sustainability projects for the Norwalk River Watershed Association and for my own family. Especially now with so many questions about the changing role of the federal government in protecting natural resources under the Trump administration, it is more important than ever to work together as a community at the local level to protect our water, open space, natural habitats, fish and wildlife. The energy at the symposium was inspiring and the ideas creative and endless. I felt very proud to be part of this community, and I feel quite confident that Wilton will emerge as a leader in sustainability and as a model ‘green town’ in Connecticut.”

Several Wilton Public School teachers and superintendent Kevin Smith attended the symposium, hoping to bring back new learning and opportunities for students to contribute to the ongoing greening of both their schools and the town. WHS AP environmental science and forensics teacher and creator of the high school’s organic garden, Jim Hunter, identified “…chances for students to be able to work with professionals, in their fields of interest, and further their education in the community and help with their future education and training. There are some great networking opportunities and real tangible chances of moving forward,” he said.

“The WGG symposium packed an incredible amount of information, some of it very new, into a well-organized schedule,” said Wilton Land Conservation Trust trustee and past president, Bruce Beebe. “It was time well-spent.”

Special guests included first selectman Lynne Vanderslice, who addressed attendees in the afternoon, Brad Unger of the Wilton Economic Development Commission, and Elizabeth DiSalvo of Trillium Architects, who spoke of her recent experience at the 2016 Climate Talks in Morocco.

Wilton Go Green is grateful to it’s sponsors and supporters, including the Wilton Library, Bay State Textiles, Aquarion Water Company, Mow Green, New England Smart Energy, Curbside Compost, Taylor Rental, Ambler Farm, Millstone Farm, Tusk & Cup, and The Well.

Wilton Go Green will present symposium findings and next steps to the community in January 2017, which will be followed by four issue-focused workshops.