Report, Article or Plan

Breaking New Ground: Promoting Environmental and Energy Programs in Local Government

ICMA Recommended

by James H. Svara, Arizona State University; Anna Read, ICMA; Evelina Moulder, ICMA

This report, based on the results of a survey developed by ICMA’s Center for Sustainable Communities, the Center for Urban Innovation at Arizona State University, Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability, and the Alliance for Innovation, presents findings from the largest study of local government sustainability practices ever conducted. The survey asked questions regarding sustainability initiatives that have been undertaken by local governments. More than 2,000 local governments responded to the survey, and this final report was published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

In brief, the survey found that a large majority of the localities responding to the survey were at an “early stage” of adopting sustainability initiatives. While over 80% of localities reported initiatives in the area of recycling, transportation, and building energy use, adoption rates were much lower for other sustainability initiatives such as alternative energy generation and workplace alternatives.

In addition to the survey results, the report presents case studies of eight local governments across the nation that are considered leaders in sustainability initiatives. The case studies go beyond the survey results to discuss how each community linked their sustainability initiatives to broader community goals. The report concludes with seven action steps that local governments can take in developing a long-term, integrated approach to environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

This report serves as an excellent companion study to a recent IBM report, A Guide for Local Government Executives on Energy Efficiency and Sustainability, by Nathan Francis and Richard C. Feiock. That report set forth six strategies that local government decision-makers and administrators can take to develop new sustainability programs or refine existing programs.

Both the Francis-Feiock and the Svara-Read-Moulder reports come to similar conclusions: local government is still at the very earliest stages of adopting comprehensive sustainability programs in the areas of environment and energy. In this report, Svara, Read, and Moulder conclude, “Sustainability may be the ‘issue of our age’ but most local governments are still at a relatively early stage of addressing it. Most communities are taking some action, but the number and range of activities remain limited … Based on past experience with the spread of other local government innovations, most cities and counties will significantly increase sustainability activity in the future.”

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Breaking New Ground

What's Happening in Local Government

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