By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — Recent Catawba College graduate Madison Kluge became the city’s first sustainability coordinator earlier this year, and she’s hit the ground running to help turn the goals for a more sustainable living into a reality.
Kluge, 21, graduated from Catawba College earlier this year with a degree in environment and sustainability. She began interning with the Salisbury Public Works Department in February before assuming a full-time role as the sustainability coordinator in May. In 2020, she also interned with Bread Riot, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting local farmers and providing access to foods produced locally. Kluge said she still volunteers with Bread Riot.
Also during her time at Catawba, Kluge interned with the school’s Center for the Environment for more than two years. She said her professors helped refer her to the position she holds now, which is a good fit since she enjoys coordinating and collaborating with multiple groups.
Kluge, originally from Maryland, said she was living in Mocksville when her sister decided to attend Catawba College, which resulted in multiple trips to Salisbury with the opportunity to explore while her sister was in class.
“I fell in love with the city, the culture it has here, the room for growth and the good people,” Kluge said.
Much of her job now requires her to strengthen relationships with city, county and nonprofit organizations in addition to strengthening environmental education and outreach about sustainable living.
Kluge is working with city staff to help draft the Forward 2040 plan, which intends to frame the priorities and decisions in the next 20 years as Salisbury. In addition to that, Kluge is tasked with working to implement the Salisbury City Council’s sustainability-related goals.
“I’m helping direct the city into a sustainable mindset,” Kluge said. “And putting the goals they have in mind into perspective and making them become a reality.”
In March, council members adopted a set of goals for 2021 following a goal-setting retreat in February. Among the priorities for the city’s infrastructure and human capital was a focus on reducing waste and promoting efficiency along with improving infrastructure to promote pedestrian and bicycle transportation. Additionally, council members indicated they wanted to support transit for neighboring communities and explore alternative transportation types.
Also this year, the city used a $818,000 Volkswagen Settlement Transit/Shuttle Bus Program grant from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to purchase two electric-powered buses for Salisbury Transit. Kluge said finding and applying for such grants is another part of her job. She’s currently working to obtain a community waste reduction grant from NCDEQ.
Kluge said in Salisbury, much of the “sustainability-forward” thinking is already in place among residents and staff, which is part of what attracts her to the role. She said she’s often pushed by older residents and her coworkers who want to see Salisbury flourish with things such as increased use of electric vehicles and improved air quality.
“It’s really my coworkers and community members that push me to help Salisbury follow that green vision,” she said.
Though her role falls under the purview of the Public Works Department, Kluge said she often works with communications and planning staff members.
Projects in the works include a new Sustainability Salisbury newsletter, with the first edition launching in January. That newsletter will provide more insight and education for sustainable living in Salisbury. She’s also working to roll out more education about sustainability via social media apps such as TikTok and Instagram.
Other initiatives Kluge is working on include increased outreach about litter, recycling, compost and waste prevention during the holiday season, promoting city and county parks and working with nearby schools to implement more sustainability-focused programs. In 2022, the city will launch a city nature challenge in the spring in celebration Earth Day. City Nature Challenge is an event that takes place across the nation, where local residents take pictures and make observations of nature within their region and support city naturalists.
Among her long-term goals include establishing a more robust internship program where students at Catawba, for example, can intern with the city to conduct sustainability research, which is beneficial both to the city and students interested in careers related to sustainability.
Eventually, Kluge said she’d like to see the city’s compost program expanded to accept more types of waste. Creating a carbon inventory to gauge how much carbon the city is seeing is another long-term goal that requires a lot of training she’s currently undergoing.
Additionally, another goal is to work with businesses to create a business alliance and a neighborhood alliance with established sustainability goals, including increased recycling and waste reduction initiatives.
Kluge suggests city residents take advantage of free compost available at the Grants Creek Compost Facility, located at 1955 Grubb Ferry Road. Residents can pick up compost generated from the prior year’s curbside yard waste on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-638-5260.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.