The National League of Cities has the tools and resources to help cities meet their sustainability goals

A local government’s sustainability team needs to be carefully assembled, says Nick Kasza, sustainability program manager at the National League of Cities (NLC). “A sustainability team can be one person or five people, but it should have a relationship with different city departments that can help the community implement its sustainability strategies and meet its goals.”

Kasza adds that it’s important for cities to first appoint a key person for sustainability – sustainability coordinator, sustainability manager, etc. He explains that depending on the size of the community, the sustainability team could then have people focused on specific areas – waste and Recycling, Energy, Water, etc. OR focus on a specific role – Analyst, Budget, Communications, etc.

“However, the strategies and goals of sustainability should be integrated into the whole local government,” explains Kasza. He says this means having lines of communication and a connection to various city departments, including leadership, finance, procurement, public works, the construction department and the planning department.

Kasza says setting goals for the sustainability team and empowering them to achieve those goals is critical for city and county officials. He offers the following checklist:

  • Make sure they have direct contact with and support from local elected officials and city staff in different departments.
  • Give the team an annual budget and the opportunity to grow and advance their mission.
  • Top managers need to send a signal that sustainability is important to the city and its elected officials, and will be part of the culture and decision-making of local government. “It’s really important,” adds Kasza.
  • Ensure the sustainability team has an audience with the general public and can understand the challenges and ideas of community residents. You can help the community achieve its sustainability goals.

Kasza says there are a variety of ways to incorporate sustainability into a city’s procurement operations. “A local government can really support sustainability efforts with every purchase they make – be it vehicles for building inspectors or paper for local government. Cities can mandate the purchase of electric vehicles for each department if a suitable model is available. They could ask for tailpipe emissions to be taken into account when deciding which vehicles to buy.”

Profits can be made on other commodity purchases, Kasza believes. “Municipalities can start procuring renewable energy. For some, that means installing solar panels on various city buildings; others could purchase solar energy from a large-scale facility through a virtual power purchase agreement.” Kasza points out that in both cases, the local government supports the development and deployment of renewable energy and contracts for the electricity. Kasza adds that it’s another commodity worth checking out: “Purchasing office supplies should focus on items that are made from recycled materials, such as plastic. B. buying recycled paper.”

Cities work with a variety of entities on sustainability initiatives, says Kasza co-op solutions. This may include other local governments, universities and the private sector. “Cities know that working with other institutions and universities can help them implement sustainable strategies and achieve their sustainability goals. Cities can work with these organizations to conduct public engagement, research, or community planning. Cities often work with the private sector to design and fund sustainable strategies to achieve specific goals.” Some of those goals, he says, may include using more renewable energy, installing EV charging infrastructure, or maintaining a recycling program.

NLC has several sustainability resources. It has an Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee that meets several times a year to set the organization’s policy priorities, learn and share best practices, and build capacity on sustainability issues.

NLC has corporate partner programs, including Enterprise Partner and Executive Partner offerings. Several of NLC’s corporate partners focus on sustainable products and/or services, Kasza says co-op solutions. “These corporate partners will be able to exhibit at NLC’s annual City Summit and have the opportunity to connect with NLC members at other NLC events throughout the year.”

Kasza says the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted workforce levels and workloads in cities across the United States. “I noticed two different trends. Some cities have experienced downsizing during the pandemic for various direct and indirect reasons – staff were laid off, staff retired, staff moved to a new position. This has increased the workload for the remaining staff, which can strain and delay city services.”

He says other cities have been more fortunate and have maintained staffing levels, but they too face capacity issues because of so much work to be done. “For example, permitting agencies were busier than ever as stay-at-home residents decided to start home improvement projects that required building permits. This also increases staff workloads, which strains and delays city services.”

Michael Keating is Senior Editor for American City & County. Contact him at [email protected].

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