Local Governments Pursue Sustainability Course

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Posted on December 14, 2011

While much attention is focused on how businesses are getting serious about their sustainability programs, city governments are also rethinking how they deliver services more efficiently; reduce their environmental impact; and, better align their human capital with tomorrow’s job opportunities.

Across America, cities such as Boston, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Seattle, are taking a chapter out of business’ playbook to develop their own sustainability strategies. These activities include: 

  1. Surveying other local government efforts to identify best practices
  2. Involving all aspects of a city’s administration in the development and planning
  3. Identifying the most significant risks and opportunities to better align limited resources
  4. Establishing a set of programs and initiatives that play to a city’s unique strengths and characteristics
  5. Creating opportunities to engage key stakeholders from the local business, civic and NGO communities
  6. Developing a framework to measure progress and success

Recently, I was invited to bring our experience working with corporate sustainability planning to the city of St. Louis, MO as they begin developing a local sustainability strategy.  On December 6, the Mayor’s Sustainability Officer convened the first of three summits–a two-day citywide meeting that brought in about 100 sustainability practitioners to review the initial steps the city has taken to develop its sustainability strategy. The Mayor’s entire Cabinet and all department heads also attended.

In preparation for the summit, the city benchmarked the approach of several other local governments ranging from “triple bottom line” to “advanced land use” to determine which framework would work best for St. Louis. 

City department heads had also conducted an internal review of all individual initiatives underway and analyzed the city’s first ever greenhouse gas inventory. These efforts provided a baseline from which to start and they used this information to identify seven broad focus areas that would provide the framework to develop the overall sustainability strategy for the city. 

This is an ambitious effort and the City of St. Louis will need to address some significant challenges—particularly being able to promote the region as a magnet for innovation and a green collar job base, when its public school system graduates less than half of its students.  But the initiative represents a bold step by a city to better position itself for the future. 

Who knows? If St. Louis succeeds in transforming its economy, its traditional nickname of “Gateway to the West” might be replaced with “Greenway to the West.” Their efforts could provide a roadmap for other Rust Belt cities to explore the possibilities of a new frontier.



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