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Survey results released last week by ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, shows that while U.S. communities are increasingly conscious of sustainability issues, many localities are still at the beginning stages of turning green focused priorities into concrete actions.
As the first national survey to establish benchmarks for sustainability initiatives in local government, the Sustainability Survey 2010 features the responses of 2,176 local governments around the U.S.
“While there is near shared agreement in the desire to create more sustainable communities, putting goals into action is a larger challenge,” suggests Tad McGalliard, ICMA’s director of sustainability. “This survey helps ICMA better understand where the issues are in implementing sustainability as a strategic priority and certainly will guide us as we create new knowledge resources, partnerships, and other support for local governments.”
- 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%), established or appointed a task force (28%), or provided a budget specifically for their efforts (16%).
- Actions to limit greenhouse gases are not widespread — except for tree planting: While 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 majority (63%) of localities had conducted energy audits of government buildings, and 56% had upgraded or retrofitted office lighting, and 44% had increased the purchase of fuel efficient government vehicles. Meanwhile, few localities (6%) reported the establishment of public/private partnerships to establish energy reduction measures in local small businesses.
- Actions to improve and protect water are more advanced, but still not widespread: 34% 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 10 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.
The survey was developed with the input of 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. Survey distribution was conducted through a collaboration of ICMA, ASU GIOS and the Sustainable Cities Network, a multi-jurisdictional partnership. The survey was provided in a print format because the local government response rate is both higher and more scientifically representative than for an electronic survey.
A four-page summary, which outlines the answers to each of the 25 survey questions, is available for download from ICMA.