ICMA Survey: Local Governments Slow to Walk the Sustainability Walk

A survey released by ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, shows that while communities across the nation are increasingly conscious of sustainability issues, many localities are still at the beginning stages of turning green-focused priorities into concrete actions related to sustainability and energy conservation.

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 throughout the nation.
“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.”

A few notable survey findings are listed below.

  • A full 70 percent of respondents called “energy conservation” a “priority” (46 percent) or a “high priority” (24 percent). Similarly, nearly two-thirds of local government respondents (62 percent), consider the “environment” a priority, including 21 percent of respondents calling it a “high priority.”
  • When asked what specific planning actions related to sustainability and energy conservation they had taken, only 29 percent had adopted resolutions outlining specific policy goals – and that was the most popular response. Additionally, most localities had yet to assign dedicated staff to sustainability efforts (27 percent had), establish specific benchmarks related to sustainability(19 percent), established or appointed a task force (28 percent), or provided a budget specifically for their efforts (16 percent).
  • While a full 45 percent of localities have a plan for tree preservation and planting, only 14 percent had established greenhouse gas limits for the local government, less than 10 percent for the community-at-large, and only about 3 percent for local businesses.
  • A strong majority (63 percent) of localities had conducted energy audits of government buildings, and 56 percent had upgraded or retrofitted office lighting, and 44 percent had increased the purchase of fuel-efficient government vehicles. Meanwhile, few localities reported the establishment of public/private partnerships to establish energy reduction measures in local small businesses – only 6 percent reported doing so.
  • Thirty-four percent of localities had taken actions to conserve the quantity of water from aquifers, 33 percent had adopted a water price structure to encourage conservation, 30 percent had set limits on impervious surfaces on private property, and 28 percent had provided other incentives to encourage local water conservation behavior.
  • Approximately one-in-ten localities require LEED or Energy Star certification for all new government construction. Close to 8 percent require LEED or Energy Start 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, the Alliance for Innovation, and others. 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.

ICMA advances professional local government worldwide. Its mission is to create excellence in local governance by developing and advancing professional management of local government.

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