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St. Louis looks to shift some focus from carbon footprint to climate handprint

Catherine Werner is the director of sustainability in the mayor’s office.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Catherine Werner is the director of sustainability in the mayor’s office.";

Within a global context of climate change, individual attention to butterfly gardens, light bulbs, recycling and other efforts can sometimes seem rather futile. Catherine Werner is familiar with that notion – and with persuading people that such relatively small things do in fact matter.

“You think, ‘Oh, well, what can I do, and what’s one little light bulb going to do to make a difference?’” Werner said during Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air. “But if you do your whole apartment or your whole home, and then you tell it to your neighbor and they do it next door, it really does add up and can make quite a difference.”

Werner is the director of sustainability in St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office, and she joined host Don Marsh for a conversation focused on the city’s latest initiatives related to climate action and urban ecology leading up to Earth Day (April 22).

One of the efforts Werner said she will be rolling out in the coming days is the St. Louis Climate Handprint.

“You may have heard of this concept of assessing your global footprint, your carbon footprint, and measuring what kind of impact you’re having on this earth, and I think it’s very, very important to be aware of that,” Werner explained. “But it’s also something that is sort of negative – you’re having this bad impact. A complement to that is this new emphasis on a climate handprint. These are things that everybody can do … actions that individuals can take.”

She’s found that people frequently feel overwhelmed when it comes to thinking more consciously about the environment and struggle to know where to start.

“The first thing to ask is, ‘What are you interested in?’” Werner suggested. “There are lots of different opportunities. And in pulling these recommendations together, we’re trying to help guide and support people who want to make some of these decisions.”

Greenhouse gas inventories that the city has conducted over the past decade suggest that about 77 percent of emissions come from existing buildings in the area, Werner added, estimating that about a quarter of that stems from homes.

She spoke of the power company Ameren as “a good partner” but acknowledged there is more work to do.

 “The source of a lot of their energy comes from fossil fuels,” Werner said, “and so we need to find some ways to complement or supplement some of that.”

Werner also emphasized the “triple bottom line” approach the city aims to take when it comes to the wide-ranging topic of sustainability.

“It’s balancing not just the environmental issues but the economic and social issues of the people of the city of St. Louis,” she said. “It’s about people, their well-being, their prosperity, their happiness, their quality of life within their environment.”

During the discussion, Werner responded to a question about the local impact of recent goings-on at the national level, such as the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

“We have some challenges with our federal government right now, and the leadership, which actually makes it all the more important to take these local efforts,” she said. “I think sometimes it’s a little bit of a mistake to think that people don’t care about the environment when you get these messages; it’s just that as compared to some of the other competing priorities, the environment falls way down, and I think that’s what we’re seeing right now.”

The city’s sustainability plan and other resources related to everything from energy efficiency and urban ecology to upcoming events are available on the City of St. Louis website.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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