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Sustainability Survey Results Show Local Governments' Progress

Most local governments consider the environment and energy conservation key priorities. While governments are conscious of the need for sustainability, specific plans are slower to take hold.

Results of a national survey on sustainability developed with input from ICMA’s Center for Sustainable Communities, the Center for Urban Innovation, Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability (ASU GIOS), the Alliance for Innovation, and others show that:

  • Most local governments consider the environment and energy conservation key priorities.  A full 70% of respondents called “energy conservation” a “priority” (46%) or a “high priority” (24%).  Similarly, nearly two-thirds of local government respondents (62%), consider the “environment” a priority, including 21% of respondents calling it a “high priority.”
  • While governments are conscious of the need for sustainability, specific plans are slower to take hold. When asked what specific planning actions related to sustainability and energy conservation they had taken, only 29% had adopted a resolution outlining specific policy goals – and that was the most popular response. Additionally, most localities had yet to assign dedicated staff to sustainability efforts (27% had), establish specific benchmarks related to sustainability (19%), establish or appoint a task force (28%), or provide a budget specifically for their efforts (16%).
  • Actions to limit greenhouse gases are not widespread, except for tree planting.  While a full 45% of localities have a plan for tree preservation and planting, only 14% had established greenhouse gas limits for the local government, less than 10% for the community-at-large, and only about 3% for local businesses.
  • Localities show progress embracing energy conservation actions in and out of government. A strong majority (63%) of localities had conducted energy audits of government buildings, 56% had upgraded or retrofitted office lighting, and 44% had increased the purchase of fuel-efficient government vehicles. Meanwhile, few localities reported the establishment of public/private partnerships to establish energy reduction measures in local small businesses – only 6% reported doing so.
  • Actions to improve and protect water are more advanced, but still not widespread. Thirty-four percent of localities had taken actions to conserve the quantity of water from aquifers, 33% had adopted a water price structure to encourage conservation, 30% had set limits on impervious surfaces on private property, and 28% had provided other incentives to encourage local water conservation behavior.
  • Approximately one-in-ten localities require LEED or Energy Star certification for all new government construction. Close to 8% require LEED or Energy Star certification for all retrofit government projects. 

Survey distribution was conducted through a collaboration of ICMA, ASU GIOS, and the Sustainable Cities Network, a multijurisdictional partnership. The survey was provided in print format because the local government response rate is both higher and more scientifically representative than with an electronic survey.

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