Spotlight: Phillip Williams, Town of Ashland, MA
What inspired you to take on on your role as Energy Manager in Ashland? What do you like most about it?
I was completing my Master’s degree in Environmental Management and was looking for a role where I could see a tangible result. This position opened up shortly after I graduated. I couldn’t think of a better fit than to be driving sustainability in the community that I live in with my family.
Tell us about Ashland? What do you love about it? What is one thing everyone should know about it?
Ashland is a suburban town in MetroWest Massachusetts about 25 miles from Boston. One thing everyone should know is that Ashland was the original starting point of the Boston Marathon.
If you have a free afternoon in Ashland what do you like to do?
My wife and I have two young children so “free” is a subjective word. We really enjoy the Ashland Farmer’s Market the town hosts on Saturdays from June through October. There are no shortage of community activities happening at any given time. I guess what we like to do is just "participate".
Why did you choose Soofa? What does it mean for you and for Ashland?
I am always looking for innovative things that might be a good for fit to promote sustainability in Ashland. I had remembered seeing a news article where the bench was being demonstrated in the Rose Garden for President Obama. Then I happened to see some of the benches that had been installed in Boston. It just seemed like a fresh way to modernize the concept of public seating with an additional component of usefulness for today’s device equipped citizens. What it means for Ashland is reinforcing our commitment to sustainability. We are engaged in a number of projects from solar farms, solar carports, electric vehicles in our fleet to our Farmer’s Market and community garden that are materially changing the aesthetic OF the town. Every one of these initiatives, including the Soofa Bench, is a visual signal to residents and visitors alike of that commitment.
I’ve also seen it open up a dialogue between children and their parents about solar electricity and science. Kids just gravitate toward the bench because, for almost all of them, they have never been close enough to a solar panel to touch it. It seems like kids find learning exponentially “cooler’ and more interesting when they can physically interact with what they are learning about.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome to launch your Soofa Bench? How did you progress past this?
Honestly, the biggest challenge was determining what location would extract the most value from the Soofa Bench. We wanted to maximize the benefit. Again, this also gets back to educational value to the children at the playground. It wasn’t simply a matter of factoring which location would produce the most kWh of charging per day. It was about impact. If children see sustainable measures incorporated in their realm it’s going to promote them asking questions and learning and, hopefully, making positive behavior changes they carry with them for the rest of their lives.
What was the experience like when you told community members about their new bench?
Luckily, we had a great local business, Needham Bank, sponsor the purchase of the Soofa Bench for Ashland. I think people were really grateful for the generosity. It allowed the conversation to focus on the merit of the idea. They were curious in the beginning because it’s a new concept but they quickly were receptive when you start illustrating [how our Soofa Bench works].
What do the residents in Ashland like the most about Soofa?
Our Soofa Bench is located at the children’s playground, Kidspot, in town. The feedback I have received so far has mostly been from parents who find it really convenient to be able to charge a device if they are at the park for a couple of hours. The additional seating has been great too as it can get pretty crowded there when the weather is nice. And the kids like to [explore how the Soofa Bench works].
If you had one wish to improve Ashland, what would it be?
I mentioned before I’m all about impact and maximizing benefits. If I had just one wish at my disposal it would be for all of the residents to make an effort to give back to the community in whatever capacity they are capable. I’d turn my one wish into 16,985 actions.