4. Resources for Sustainability Efforts

Two important aspects of sustainable community projects are the range and source of resources. Many types of resources are provided to communities to aid in putting sustainability ideas into action. Resources include information, funding, man-hours, materials, expertise, and labor. Political, managerial, and community commitment and support are also important resources that many community efforts receive.

Where do communities obtain information, funding, and other support for their sustainability ideas? Resources are available from many different sources including federal, state, and local governments; industry; professional associations; universities; and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This chapter provides examples of how each of these sources has supported sustainability efforts. The bibliography contains more specific examples for such resources, including points of contact (POC), phone numbers, and WWW addresses. A wealth of these resources are available; this document provides only a sample.

Federal Government

The federal government has acknowledged the importance of sustainable community efforts by supporting them at various levels. At the highest level, the President of the United States established the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) by Executive Order on June 29, 1993. The PCSD's mission was to develop and recommend to the President a national sustainable development action strategy, to develop an annual Presidential Honors Program recognizing outstanding achievements in sustainable development, and to raise public awareness about sustainability. The 25-member council was a unique partnership of leaders from industry, government, environmental, labor, and civil rights organizations. The council organized eight task forces to address different issues related to sustainability:

  1. Eco-efficiency;
  2. Energy and transportation;
  3. Natural resources management and protection;
  4. Population and consumption;
  5. Principles, goals, and definitions;
  6. Public linkage, dialogue, and education;
  7. Sustainable agriculture; and
  8. Sustainable communities.

During 1996, the PCSD and task forces released their policy recommendations in a series of reports, which are useful references about sustainable community issues and activities.[1] For example, the report "Education for Sustainability: An Agenda for Action," provides useful recommendations about how every stakeholder can become involved in sustainability education. The PCSD also has been facilitating the development of other resources for sustainable community efforts, such as providing an inventory of sustainable development resources within the federal government.

In the process of developing the National Environmental Technology Strategy (NETS), the many different stakeholders (i.e., the U.S. government, industry, academia, and community groups) recognized how important sustainable community activities are for promoting and implementing environmental technologies and achieving national sustainability.[2] NETS set the following goal for sustainable communities:

Develop and implement sustainability plans in many U.S. communities and make significant progress toward achieving sustainable communities over the next 25 years, increasing the quality of urban, suburban, and rural life and reducing our use of energy and natural resources.[3]

The federal government is currently in the process of implementing this strategy. Specifically, federal agencies are assisting communities so they can more successfully integrate the development and use of environmental technologies into their sustainability plans and actions.

The federal government has extensive sustainability resources within many different agencies including

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
  • The Department of Energy (DOE);
  • The Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA);
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); and
  • The Department of the Interior (DOI).

Their aid to community sustainability efforts includes seed money, labor, expertise, and information.

EPA created the Office of Sustainable Ecosystems and Communities (OSEC) within EPA's Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation, to assist local community sustainability efforts. Through OSEC and other parts of the agency, EPA has increased emphasis on place-based management for local communities. EPA is helping enable community-based environmental protection (CBEP) projects that build on sustainability principles. EPA's Urban and Economic Development Division is also assisting communities with growth and development issues related to sustainability.

DOE has helped sponsor many sustainability efforts with extensive energy and technology expertise. Many DOE labs have worked with communities in their region as well as across the country to help develop sustainability projects. For instance, DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has been active in helping natural disaster victims in sustainable redevelopment by providing design assistance teams in collaboration with state agencies such as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, NGOs, and other organizations. One such project was helping Valmeyer, Illinois, relocate and rebuild after it was devastated by a flood. DOE has also created a Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development to help assist community efforts.

The Department of Commerce (DOC) also supports sustainable community activities, such as some of its NOAA programs. For example, NOAA's Coastal Zone Management Program has helped fund and provided technical support to coastal sustainable community activities, such as the Northampton County, Virginia, initiative. Curry County, Oregon, a rural community whose economy has been based on logging and fishing, has a Sustainable Nature-Based Tourism Project to design, build, and implement a sustainable economic sector. One of its pilot projects involves tourists helping to restore stream habitat for salmon. This sustainable community effort received some initial funding from the federal government through a NOAA coastal program.

The USDA is working with university researchers, communities, and NGOs to help develop and implement more sustainable agriculture practices, which help increase farmer income and minimize agricultural effects. For example, in the Chesapeake Bay area, USDA helps to develop and implement practices that reduce nutrient runoff, which helps protect the bay.

The Department of Interior also assists sustainable community activities. For example, the National Park Service's Presidio National Park is trying to educate the public about sustainability in its effort to become a Center for Sustainability. The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), an interagency committee chaired by the Secretary of the Interior with staff support from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is leading the development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). The NSDI vision facilitates the availability of geospatial data locally, nationally, and globally to aid in economic growth, environmental stability, and social progress. The FGDC coordinates federal geographic data activities and provides leadership for the NSDI in partnership with state and local governments, academia, the private sector, and others. Activities to establish the NSDI include developing standards for geographic data, building an electronic clearinghouse to help find and access spatial data, and developing a framework of basic spatial data to aid in integrating geographic data. The implementation of the NSDI will help provide data to meet the decisionmaking and scientific needs of sustainability, by improving data sharing, reducing redundant data collection, and facilitating and building community-based partnerships to address problems and issues across common pieces of geography.

State Governments

State governments also provide leadership and resources for sustainability activities. For instance, Minnesota has developed a strategic plan for sustainable development and is actively supporting and promoting sustainability activities. The main goals of the state's sustainability effort, called the Minnesota Sustainable Development Initiative, are "sustaining Minnesota's economy, ecosystems, and communities, educating its citizens and organizing its institutions for sustainable development." This initiative includes six strategic directions for achieving these goals:

  1. Aligning Minnesota's economic incentives and goals;
  2. Understanding what is environmentally sustainable;
  3. Integrating natural resources management;
  4. Advancing sustainable land use and community development policies;
  5. Asking government to take the first steps; and
  6. Focusing research on sustainable development issues.[4]

Minnesota's state environmental agencies' staff members assist local governments and communities in developing and implementing sustainable community projects. For instance, the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (OEA) has a sustainable communities team that helps public-private coalitions promote sustainable development in their communities by offering educational and training materials, seed money, conferences, and other resources. OEA and other state agencies also sponsored a state sustainable development conference in October 1996, which was attended by over 600 people.

Florida has developed an Ecosystem Management Plan, which builds on sustainability, and has created a Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida. The 42-person commission consists of state and regional agencies and legislative, business, local government, tribal, public interest, and nonvoting federal members. This commission is developing strategies and actions for making South Florida more sustainable. Its efforts include improving intergovernmental coordination and more sustainable allocation of natural resources in urban and rural areas, including promoting sustainability within the Everglades ecosystem.

Many states are exploring the concepts of sustainable development and starting to provide statewide leadership and develop statewide initiatives. The PCSD's Sustainable Communities Task Force Report provides a list of statewide contacts for over a dozen states.[5]

Local Governments

Many local governments also provide leadership and resources. Individual community governments, such as Northampton County, Virginia, the City of Seattle, and the City of Chattanooga, discussed throughout this report, actively support sustainable community projects. Another local government example is Metro-Dade County, Florida. This county has a range of sustainable programs, including helping to develop and build a more resource-efficient community, called Jordan Commons.

Steele County, Minnesota, has a "Green Source 2020" project focused on "sustaining our community through environmental awareness and actions."[6] This project, funded by the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance and Steele County Environmental Services, is helping to educate farmers and other community citizens about why sustainability is important and what they can do to help.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) and the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) has a new Joint Center for Sustainable Communities. The Joint Center "will foster sustainable communities by providing local officials with advice, information, and financial support" through a range of programs. These programs include

  • Sustainable community grants;
  • Development of metropolitan compacts to create multi-jurisdictional partnerships for addressing regional issues;
  • Sustainable community awards;
  • Leadership training;
  • A peer exchange program to match experienced officials with other jurisdictions that need assistance;
  • Development of a catalogue of needed tools;
  • Information clearinghouse;
  • Public policy forums; and
  • National education.[7]

This Joint Center should be a useful resource for local communities in their sustainability activities.

Industry and Professional Associations

Industry and professional associations are also active in helping to develop and implement sustainable community projects. For example, industries are partnering in eco-industrial park activities. Another interesting industry example is Integrated Building and Construction Solutions, Inc. (IBACOS). In Pittsburgh, IBACOS serves as a successful model where private entities in partnership with the federal government are developing, testing, and commercializing innovative housing products and systems that are more environmentally friendly. For instance, IBACOS homes contain more energy efficient technologies and carpets and roof tiles made out of recycled plastics. These homes, which are quick to build, top quality, affordable, and adaptable, can help communities develop more sustainable residential building practices.

During fall 1995, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) helped organize and sponsor a series of three-day intensive workshops, called Environmental Design Charrettes, focused on developing and implementing community sustainability projects. These AIA communities included Bridgeport, Connecticut; Fort Collins, Colorado; Greensboro, North Carolina; Independence, Missouri; Kane'ohe, Hawaii; Kansas City, Missouri; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New Bedford, Massachusetts; Newton/Waltham, Massachusetts; San Antonio, Texas; San Francisco, California; Santa Barbara, California; Santa Monica, California; and Waterloo, Iowa.

The American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) is another example of a professional society helping to promote sustainability activities. AAES facilitates integrating sustainability principles and practices into engineering education, training, and activities. For example, it has published "The Role of Engineering in Sustainable Development" as a basic primer on sustainability for engineering professionals. The Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF) also supports sustainability activities, such as addressing the linkage of infrastructure design and future sustainability.


Universities provide technical assistance, education, and research and development needed for sustainability. For instance, the Center for Sustainability at the University of Washington has assisted Seattle and other communities. The Center for Sustainability also has an extensive web site that includes tutorials on sustainability issues such as "The three E's: Ecology, Economy, Equity."[8] The Center for Sustainable Development at Georgia Institute of Technology has developed and tested a curriculum on sustainable development for engineering undergraduate students. Cornell University's Center for the Environment has been working with the Baltimore Development Corporation in the planning and implementation of the Fairfield Ecological Industrial Park in Baltimore, Maryland. The Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida is undertaking the State Transportation Policy Initiative, which is reevaluating the way transportation infrastructure and services are planned and developed in Florida. This study includes research related to transportation, land use, and sustainability. The National Pollution Prevention Center for Higher Education at the University of Michigan provides education and conducts research in industrial ecology[9] and other areas that are important for developing and implementing more sustainable practices. Industrial ecology research is especially important for eco-industrial park activities.

Universities themselves are also trying to become more sustainable. George Washington University, for instance, has a Green University Initiative, in which it is trying to implement sustainable practices in all aspects of George Washington University operations and community life.

Non-Governmental Organizations

NGOs have also been active in sustainable community projects. These organizations may work directly with communities on sustainability projects, publish information about success stories, and even develop educational curriculum for the schools. Examples of such organizations include Renew America, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, The Izaak Walton League of America, The Green Institute, CONCERN, Inc., and Public Technology, Inc.

Each year Renew America identifies, verifies, and promotes examples of successful environmental programs. Its annual "Environmental Success Index" includes sustainable development examples.

The Nature Conservancy has started working with local communities in "ecologically compatible development" based on sustainability. In 1995, its national office created the Center for Compatible Economic Development to explore the use of market forces and economic development as tools for biodiversity conservation. The Virginia Chapter has helped to create strategic visions for ecologically compatible development for eleven counties in Southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee.[10]

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a nonprofit environmental research and advocacy group, has also been developing resources for sustainability projects. EDF has created a tool kit on sustainability for communities based on the work of its Pollution Prevention Alliance. Its Environmental Sustainability Kit emphasizes P2 and is a guide to help communities start sustainability initiatives.[11]

The Izaak Walton League of America, a national nonprofit conservation organization, provides educational materials related to sustainability. This organizations has developed a supplementary environmental education mini-curriculum for grades nine through twelve called Community Sustainability.[12]

The Green Institute is a nonprofit organization that grew out of a grassroots neighborhood effort to stop construction of a major garbage transfer station in the inner-city Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. This organization is "dedicated to creating new models of sustainable environmental and community revitalization." The Green Institute has helped sponsor a study about eco-industrial parks and publishes a quarterly newsletter to provide a forum for community issues of environmental and economic sustainability.[13]

CONCERN, Inc., is a nonprofit environmental group dedicated to improving the quality of life in communities. This organization offers a list of resources for sustainability and other materials including case studies, workbooks, manuals, audio-visuals, and electronic sources of information. CONCERN is also trying to build a national database of sustainable community projects to foster networking and collaboration.[14]

Public Technology, Inc. (PTI) is a nonprofit technology organization of the National League of Cities (NLC), the National Association of Counties (NACo), and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). This organization helps provide sustainability information for local governments in areas such as transportation and building construction.

These examples illustrate that many types of resources from many sources are available to help support sustainable community efforts. Such sustainability resources can also be used for P2 activities, which will be discussed in Chapter Six. For more information on these and other organizations and the type of resources they have provided to sustainable community efforts, see the annotated bibliography at the end of this report.

[1] For more information about the PCSD and its reports, contact the PCSD at 202-408-5296 or see its WWW page: http://www.whitehouse.gov/PCSD. Also, see the bibliography at the end of this report.

[2] Sustainable communities were an important theme emerging from the many stakeholder events held to develop this strategy. Beth Lachman, Robert Lempert, Susan Resetar, and Thomas Anderson, Technology for a Sustainable Future, Ideas: A Summary of Workshop Discussions, RAND, RP-417, 1995.

[3] Bridge to a Sustainable Future: National Environmental Technology Strategy, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., April 1995, p. 53.

[4] Challenge for a Sustainable Minnesota: A Minnesota Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development, Minnesota Sustainable Development Initiative, Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, Public Review Draft, July 1995.

[5] The President's Council on Sustainable Development, Sustainable Communities Task Force Report, Final Draft, October 1996, Appendix D, pp. 230-233.

[6] "Green Source 2020," brochure from Steele County Environmental Services.

[7] "Joint Center for Sustainable Communities," informational flyer. For more information contact the Joint Center for Sustainable Communities through Jerry McNeil, Director, Community Services Division, NACo, 202-942-4237, and Dave Gatton, Senior Environmental Advisor, USCM, 202-293-7330.

[8] To access this site, see: http://weber.u.washington.edu/~common/epa/contents/session6.html.

[9] Industrial ecology refers to "a closed-loop system in which resources and energy flow into production processes and excess materials are put back into the loop so that little or no waste is generated. Products used by consumers flow back into production loops through recycling to recover resources. Ideally, loops are closed within a factory, among industries in a region, and within national and global economies." Technology for a Sustainable Future: A Framework for Action, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1994, p. 54.

[10] "Virginia Chapter News," The Nature Conservancy, Spring 1996.

[11] Environmental Sustainability Kit, prepared by the Pollution Prevention Alliance, Environmental Defense Fund, October 1996. For more information, contact Meena Palaniappan at 202-387-3500.

[12] Benedict J. Hren and Diane M. Hren, Community Sustainability: A Mini-Curriculum for Grades 9-12, The Izaak Walton League of America, 1996. The Izaak Walton League of America can be contacted at 301-548-0150.

[13] For more information, contact The Green Institute at 612-874-1148.

[14] CONCERN, Inc., can be contacted at 202-328-8160.