Guide: 81 sustainability goals for local governments

Organization for sustainability communities publishes planning guide to aid smart city planning, programs.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA, a 20-year-old association of local governments dedicated to climate protection and sustainable development, has published a new guide that it is calling the STAR Community Index Sustainability Goals and Building Principles. The intention of this framework is to offer advice to communities that are shaping their sustainability business and smart cities programs AND to offer a benchmark for communities already walking down the path to sustainability.

STAR actually will be a formal performance management system for local governments. The caveat is that it won't be released until early 2012. It is being developed by ICLEI along with the U.S. Green Building Council, National League of Cities and Center for American Progress. There were something like 160 different sustainability experts involved in helping shape the content in the index. ICLEI has more than 1,110 cities and communities on its membership roster.

Meanwhile, the new 28-page report offers a common vocabulary to help city and community governments get a grip on what can often be a moving target. Truth be told: your definition of sustainability might be slightly different from a town in the next county. While your priorities might understandably be different, the language you use to explain those priorities really shouldn't be different. That's the intention of this guide.

I'm not going to regurgitate all 81 goals here because you can download the report itself, but I will recap the high-level sets of milestones and guiding principles to consider with your sustainability team or committee, which you can explore more deeply in the report. ICLEI has identified what it calls Five Milestones for Climate Protection. They are:

  1. Conduct sustainability assessment
  2. Establish sustainability goals
  3. Develop sustainability plan
  4. Implement policies and measures
  5. Evaluate progress and report results

Pretty straightforward, huh?

ICLEI suggests the following guiding principles be used to define details for above (the overriding principles are theirs, the extra comments after the colon are mine):

  • Think and act systemically: Look for the ripple effect that might be caused by short-term projects.
  • Instill resiliency: Put in place plans that won't be easily derailed.
  • Foster innovation: Look for solutions that involve future-looking risk.
  • Redefine progress: Don't just look at the economic impact of programs, consider other factors.
  • Live within means: Think about future generations in resource planning.
  • Cultivate collaboration: Get everyone involved, not just the usual suspects.
  • Ensure equity: Look for full participation.
  • Embrace diversity: Ethnic, culture, economic and biological.
  • Inspire leadership: Do as you say.
  • Continuously improve: Don't be afraid to adjust on the fly.

The 81 goals listed in the report fall into three main areas (which have sub-interests). They divide into the areas that we often talk about as being part of the triple bottom line:

  1. Environment, which includes Natural Systems (such as land and water resources), Planning & Design (including housing, historic preservation and public spaces) and Energy & Climate
  2. Economy, which encompasses Economic Prosperity (sector development, food systems) and Employment & Workforce Training (including wages, labor rights and realistic employment opportunities)
  3. Society, which means Education, Arts & Community (including arts and cultural diversity, civic literacy and engagement), Health & Safety (including toxics reduction, emergency prevention & response) and Affordability & Social Equity (government transparency, civil and human rights)

If you are expecting prescriptive tips from the report, you'll be disappointed, but if you're trying to gather materials to help your community sustainability group figure out where to prioritize along the way, the framework offers a good foundation. Plus, I am sure we will hear more along these lines in 2011 as ICLEI and its sister organizations prepare the formal STAR management system.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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