Just 23.4 percent of the more than 2,100 local governments surveyed for Breaking New Ground: Promoting Environmental and Energy Programs in Local Government reported using any kind of renewable or alternative energy production.
It argues that while many communities recognize the importance of environmental awareness and energy efficiency, most local governments were still at the early stages of adopting a full range of measured sustainability activities. The report offers five major findings:
1. There is considerable variation in the extent to which sustainability actions have been implemented by local governments. More than 80 percent of local governments report recycling (90 percent), improving transportation (81.7 percent), and reducing building energy use (80.6 percent). In contrast, efforts to reduce energy use by altering work schedules or processes have been adopted by fewer than two governments in five (36.2 percent).
2. There is no fix-all panacea for sustainability. No single approach to sustainability is right for every community, even when the government is actively committed. Framing the issues requires sensitivity to the concerns and motivators of a specific locality, according to the survey.
3. Goal setting and progress measurement are important for all communities. Whether a large city or a small town, communities need to establish goals and targets and measure progress in a quantitative manner through baseline studies, the analysis says.
4. A few local governments are leading sustainability initiatives. Many governments have at least begun to get involved in sustainability. Meanwhile, the number of pioneers and early adopters is about what the researchers expected to find, according to the report.
5. Policy priorities matter to sustainability initiatives. Communities that assigned a high priority to green jobs or climate change, for example, reported the strongest association with action in that area.
“Building a sustainable community requires contributions from all levels of government, all sectors of the economy, and all of the citizenry,” Svara says. “This report demonstrates that there’s work to do and offers a blueprint for how to begin doing it.”