Local Government Action to Promote Sustainability

By James H. Svara
Washington, DC (February 1, 2011)- The 2010 survey, the first of its kind, undertaken by ICMA in cooperation with the Alliance for Innovation and supported by the Global Institute on Sustainability at Arizona State University (ASU), measures how and to what extent local governments are acting to promote sustainability. Classic definitions of sustainability have focused on the three E’s: environment, economy and social equity. This view of sustainability is based on the goal of promoting community economic change that enhances environmental quality and benefits all segments of society.


Over 2100 local governments indicated whether they had adopted each of 109 specific actions. These can be grouped into twelve major activity areas. These areas and the percent of actions being implemented by local governments in each are the following: greenhouse gas reduction & air quality, water quality, recycling, energy use in transportation & exterior lighting, reducing building energy use, alternative energy generation, workplace alternatives to reduce commuting, transportation improvements, building & land use regulations, land conservation and development rights, social inclusion, local production & green purchasing.
Eight local governments in ten are utilizing less than 30 percent of the possible action. Most local governments are becoming active in sustainability, but most governments are involved at a relatively low level and most of the possible sustainability actions are not being widely utilized. Recycling and protecting water quality are the two most common areas of action. Only 15% of the cities that responded have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and only 10% of all local governments have joined the Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) campaign of ICLEI.
It appears that American local governments are still in the early stage of adopting sustainability actions with most local governments closer to the lower end of the spectrum rather than in the middle. This pattern is puzzling in the sense that sustainability is not a new idea, but it may be understandable because of the relative newness of sustainability as a challenge that local governments are taking on beyond the traditional and mandated activities they have been doing for some time.
Related Resource:
Local Government Action to Promote Sustainability
Policy Action Document