What's measured matters. Or put another way: if it matters, measure and report it. Adoption of a comprehensive set of sustainability indicators (that may have been developed as part of a sustainability plan) provides one vehicle for a city to report on accomplishment of multiple (and often interlinked) city goals, programs and projects, including GreenStep best practices and comprehensive plan goals. This transparency and accountability to community members about city sustainability work fits well with educating and engaging community members as partners in envisioning and building a more sustainable city. The point of public participation in city affairs is that by adding the value-rich perspectives of citizens to the information-rich perspectives of city staff, we can create wiser public policy.* In total, actions to implement this best practice result in:
A commitment to achieve specific outcome measures based upon a vision for the city, developed through community engagement.
Educating community members about the city vision and desired outcomes so that these become a shared vision and outcomes.
Engaging residents, businesses and institutions to change their practices to help meet city goals.
Reporting on accomplishments each year.
* from Daniel Yankelovich: The Magic of Dialogue (2001)
Sean Gosiewski, Alliance for Sustainability, for work with citizen & student groups and faith organizations: 612/331-1099, sean@AforS.org, www.AforS.org
Connection to State Policy
The state of Minnesota requires various specific reports from cities, which typically contain data of interest/use to community members. Extracting the most relevant data from these submittals and presenting it in a useful way is a service to community members.
In themselves, none of these planning, measuring and reporting actions produce direct sustainability benefits. However, the experience of cities that engage community members and publicly report on progress is very powerful: this accountability drives more action faster than if city plans and activities are mostly developed and discussed by only city staff and elected officials.
For those conducting education and action campaigns to effect specific behavior changes, don't miss the annual Eco Experience at the MN State Fair where staff typically share expertise on:
Reusing consumer products.
Preventing junk mail, recycling, composting.
Decreasing use of fossil fuels and using more renewably generated energy.
Using less natural gas, electricity and water.
Decreasing car use and increasing car efficiency.
Buying durable goods and maintaining them.
Planting trees and native vegetation.
The Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan produces two-page data- and graphic-rich fact sheets showing patterns of use and life cycle impacts covering topics including energy, water, food, waste, buildings, materials, and transportation systems. For 2-3 page summaries of 100 global solutions for reversing global warming, each modeled with the climate impact, and financial costs and benefit out to 2050, see Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed for this compendium of the global sustainability actions. For data and approaches to global population growth, see World Population Balance based in Minneapolis.