An Inside Look at the Resilience SWATeam: Q&A with Scott Tess

An Inside Look at the Resilience SWATeam: Q&A with Scott Tess

In Fall 2020, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign published the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP), the university’s strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and pursue a culture of sustainability on campus and in the community. 

The iCAP includes 10 themes, one of which is Resilience. Objectives managed by the Resilience Sustainability Working Advisory Team (SWATeam) include encouraging open conversations about climate topics and building resilience in local communities.

iSEE Communications Intern Grace Izzo (GI) recently spoke with Scott Tess (ST), City of Urbana Sustainability Manager & Resilience Officer. The community member of the Resilience SWATeam reminisces on his introduction to environmentalism and looks ahead to the future of climate resilience at Illinois.


GI: What is your involvement with iCAP 2020?

ST: I am on the campus and community Resilience SWATeam. This is a special team in that it’s not specifically about our campus, but rather is trying to loop in the communities around us. There are people from Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy on this team trying to help with our resilience goals. 

GI: What specifically does the Resilience SWATeam do? What are the team’s biggest goals? Did any of those, in particular, inspire you to join the Resilience SWATeam? 

ST: I’m particularly interested in the nature and urban biodiversity objective (#8.1: “Develop a coordinated urban biodiversity master plan by FY24 to make the Champaign, Urbana, Savoy, and campus metro area a model for biodiversity.”) and in working toward a regional plan of action for both of these. For example, our team did a couple of years’ worth of work with the Integrated Pest Management Institutes Program called Midwest Grows Green, which is working to cultivate natural lawn care approaches as a replacement for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that expose us to higher levels of chemicals. We do other things along those lines, too. However, they are just not integrated into an umbrella. For example, we have a very active urban forestry program. 

The Resilience SWATeam is also working to use native plant species in landscapes. We have been converting turf grass areas into planting beds that don’t require as much maintenance, especially lawn mowing maintenance that is typically going to be gas-powered. 

The City of Champaign and the Urbana campus have both been implementing these nature and urban biodiversity activities, which gives an opportunity to tie everything together and advance that work even further.

GI: For those just starting out with very little sustainability knowledge, how would you advise them to start thinking sustainably? 

ST: I might suggest thinking about what you are currently interested in. Whether it’s sports, cooking, or whatever it might be, what are the long-term implications of keeping that interest you care about going in a way that doesn’t create negative feedback loops on you, the community, and the world? Once you start to think about your own personal interests in that sense, you start thinking sustainably. 

GI: What do you wish more people knew about the iCAP? 

ST: I wish I knew more about the iCAP! It’s an enormous endeavor and very aggressive. It’s wonderful the university has incorporated ways to involve non-campus folks and really tie in and integrate the broader community. 


Read on to learn more about Scott!

A photo of Scott Tess delivering a presentation from behind a podium. Text on a banner hanging from the podium reads "Sierra Club."Scott Tess attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for his undergraduate degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES). The NRES program is where his passion for the environment began. 

“I had an environmental science class my freshman year, and the professor spoke very passionately about this growing problem called global warming. At that time, no one really cared — but it really captivated me. It’s on a global scale and is an existential threat that has solutions. ‘So,’ I thought, ‘this will be really great to work on for a couple of years, and then move on to something else.’

“Now it’s been more than a couple of years, and we are still working on it,” he said. 

After attending the University of Illinois, he moved to Florida. Working first with the Fund For the Public Interest, a nonprofit organization, he later moved on to the role of Environmental Specialist with the Florida Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health to regulate new development in the state. Next, he took a job with the Orange County, Florida, Environmental Protection Division, working to prevent pollution and conserve energy and wastewater. 

During his time in Florida, he earned his master’s degree in urban planning at Rollins College and began looking for opportunities with more responsibility. While searching for the right position, he found a great opportunity in Urbana — right where he had started.

“I was used to the area,” he said. “I expected this to be a place that was open to pushing the envelope in terms of sustainability and environmental protection, and that is the kind of place you want to work.”

He has been at the City of Urbana for eight years, working with the community and university alike to create a more sustainable future, working first as an Environmental Sustainability Manager and now as a Sustainability & Resilience Officer. And he now serves as a community member of the Resilience SWATeam, helping to come up with innovative resilience measures. 

“The boundary between campus and community is institutional. It’s not a physical boundary, so really we are all in this together, and we will go farther faster if we work together and combine our resources,” he said.

When not focusing on improving the world around him, he turns his attention to his own athletic skills — training for a triathlon for a fun new change of pace. He hopes to participate in a race next year.