NEW: A Green Team's Guide to Best Practice 24: Benchmarks & Community Engagement

Check out the NEW 2021 Green Team Guide

What’s a Green Team Guide?

Great question! A Green Team Guide takes a deeper dive into best practices from the Minnesota GreenStep Program. It highlights communities that have implemented the best practice in a unique way and gives Green Teams some implementation ideas. The 2020 edition focused on BP action 1.1 (B3 Benchmarking) and BP 6 (Comprehensive Plans). This 2021 Guide tackles BP 24: Benchmarks and Community Engagement.

Why Benchmarks and Community Engagement?

If we want sustainability to be sustainable, then BP 24 is the place to start. When you think BP 24, think PEOPLE!

“People” are one of the three Ps of sustainability: people, planet, and prosperity. (It’s in a graphic, so you know it’s true. It’s also in the American Planning Association’s report, Assessing Sustainability: A Guide for Local Governments.)

When people participate in decision-making, they bring information about on-the-ground conditions. That can mean the difference between success and failure of a policy or program. It can also lead to more holistic and innovative solutions to thorny and interwoven challenges.

Community members also bring to the table another important component of decision making: their values. If those values are included, the resulting decisions enjoy greater legitimacy. Finding shared values can help bridge social divisions, and framing sustainability conversations around those shared values helps increase acceptance.

Making sure that community members can engage in a productive way requires that we bring thoughtfulness and intention to designing our processes. This is essential for all to benefit equitably from improvements to community quality of life. Using an equity lens can be helpful for this. (For more information on using an equity lens, see the publications by the International City and County Managers Association listed in the BP 24.1 Resources section.)

Designing for equity can make the outcomes for all residents better. Everyone is not affected equally by a community crisis, but improving the conditions of those most affected by structural inequity will make our communities better for all, an effect sometimes called the “curb-cut effect.”

In “The Curb-Cut Effect,” Angela Glover Blackwell describes what happened when curb cuts--the ramps designed to make sidewalks more accessible to people in wheelchairs-- became the norm in US cities: “a magnificent and unexpected thing happened. When the wall of exclusion came down, everybody benefited—not only people in wheelchairs. Parents pushing strollers headed straight for curb cuts. So did workers pushing heavy carts, business travelers wheeling luggage, even runners and skateboarders.”

In other words, when we design spaces to make sure that they are accessible to our most vulnerable populations, we all benefit. And it’s not just the physical accessibility of spaces that see this effect; this principle applies to policies, programs, and processes too. In other words, “laws and programs designed to benefit vulnerable groups, such as the disabled or people of color, often end up benefiting all of society.”

So, what kinds of “curb-cuts” could benefit your community?


A big THANK YOU to authors Melissa Birch (central regional coordinator) and Chris Meyer (SE regional coordinator) with Clean Energy Resource Teams for researching, collaborating, writing, and reviewing this content.