Sustainability is a defining issue of our time, based on the need to make informed and responsible decisions to meet today’s challenges while also considering future implications. NLC promotes the "triple bottom line" definition of sustainability, encompassing the intersections of environmental stewardship, economic prosperity, and social responsibility. For local governments, sustainability can be used as an organizing framework to comprehensively plan and evaluate their activities. NLC supports these efforts by serving as a catalyst to action and source of information for local officials, while serving as a national resource on the efforts of America’s local governments.
NLC Officially Welcomes the Sustainable Cities Institute
Developed by the Home Depot Foundation, an NLC Capstone Corporate Partner, the Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) provides a one-stop shop for cities and sustainability professionals to find vetted best practices from across the country to help them identify and implement local sustainable practices and policies as well as communicate with other cities about sustainability related issues and topics.
SCI will be coupled with NLC's current Sustainability Program within the Center for Research and Innovation. The Sustainability Program seeks to catalyze action at the local level by providing resources, research, and recognition for and about locally-led sustainability efforts. NLC takes a comprehensive approach to sustainability which includes environmental stewardships, economic prosperity, and social responsibility.
Read the Full Press Release
Read the SCI Brochure
Multiple Strategies, One Goal: Cities Continue to Lead on Sustainability
Green Cities Conference and the Congress of Cities
NLCs Sustainability Program's Call for Photos!
A picture can say a thousand words - it can also inspire, instruct, celebrate and visually demonstrate the impact sustainability efforts are having in cities across the county. That's why NLCs Sustainability Program is asking cities to send us images from projects, events, or initiatives happening in your community that capture what your city is doing on sustainability. Select pictures may be used in ongoing outreach strategies such as our website or future publications. Please submit images (high resolution if possible but not necessary), along with the following information to firstname.lastname@example.org:
Sustainability can appear to be an overwhelming topic, encompassing the intersections of many issues. A number of guides and tools are available to help cities, whether they're new to sustainability and looking to get started, or more experienced and looking for the latest information.
While cities contribute a sizeable amount of the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, local governments are increasingly leading the way in finding innovative solutions for a prosperous, sustainable, low-carbon society.
Sustainability initiatives can catalyze economic growth and yield important benefits for cities over the short and long-term, such as direct financial savings, increased quality of life, job creation, and attraction of private investment.
Local governments have become important and innovative partners in efforts to reduce overall energy use, increase efficiency, and transition to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.
One of the most visible and important ways cities are demonstrating leadership in sustainability is through the incorporation of green practices across the built environment, encouraging upgrades to existing facilities and more efficient design of new construction.
Through policies and programs that give preference to locally-sourced and/or environmentally preferable products and equipment cities have unique and important opportunities to promote sustainability from across internal operations
Healthy communities enable residents to enjoy a high quality of life and economic productivity, with connections to a wide range of issues from air and water pollution, to food systems, to active living
Planning, Land Use, and Community Design
Local governments can play an active, responsible role in fostering the design of the built environment in ways that further each community's priorities and vision.
A sustainable transportation system enables the convenient mobility of people and the efficient movement of goods while limiting environmental impacts.
A sustainable urban water system provides clean water to residents, protects the natural environment from contamination, and prevents future water shortages.
Reports and Publications
Sustainable Connections: Linking Sustainability and Economic Development Strategies (2011)
Sustainability is a fundamental component of building a strong community, not only in terms of the physical environment, but also for economic prosperity. In recent years many cities across the country have begun providing leadership and advancing economic strategies by incorporating environmental stewardship and sustainability principles throughout programs to promote economic development. This City Practice Brief, made possible through The Home Depot Foundation, NLC's Sustainability Partner, highlights the strategies and experiences of four cities, Denver, Colo., Boston, Mass., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Grand Rapids, Mich., using sustainability to spur economic growth.
Sustainable Connections: Strategies to Support Local Economies (2011)
Economic health and prosperity is a defining component of sustainability. Yet until recently the conversation surrounding sustainability efforts has focused largely on issues of environmental protection and too often presumed to be in competition with, or otherwise tangential to, economic growth. This guide presents five components often associated with sustainability - green space, community design, complete streets, food access and green buildings - that also benefit the local economy and in so doing, may enhance regional resiliency and the ability of cities to compete in the global marketplace. This publication has been made possible through a grant from Wells Fargo.
Case Study: Combining Urban Forestry with Youth Employment Opportunities (2011)
A healthy urban tree canopy has been associated with environmental and economic benefits such as reduced heating and cooling costs, low-cost stormwater management and aesthetic value and comfort. This case study highlights how an urban forestry initiative in New Haven, Conn. has brought together multiple city departments, a community based non-profit and an area university to also generate social value by creating workforce development opportunities for youth and the formerly incarcerated.
Healthy People, Healthy Places - Building Sustainable Communities Through Active Living (2011)
The ways in which we shape our built environment-including the range of transportation options, provision of open space, and accessibility to places of work, education, or basic services-contributes to the physical health of our communities by either restricting or facilitating opportunities for physical activity, recreation and community interaction. Local leaders play an important role in promoting public health through creating the conditions for individuals to incorporate healthy options into their daily lives. This guide explores several ways that cities are incorporating options to promote active living and emphasize the multiple connections to sustainability principles.
Green Infrastructure: Using Nature to Solve Stormwater Challenges (2011)
In order to counter pressures on the municipal sewer system, and inspired by nature's ability to absorb and filter water, cities are turning to ecosystem-based stormwater management projects that are cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing, and beneficial to public health. Short of rebuilding entire conventional pipe and tank systems, many cities are adopting these alternative strategies - referred to as "green infrastructure" - that reduce the amount of water needing treatment while conserving precious water resources for the future. Cities such as Tucson, Arizona; Kansas City, Missouri; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Edmonston, Maryland are finding innovative water infrastructure solutions.
Developing a Sustainable Food System (2011)
Municipal governments are implementing policies and programs that allow residents to grow, sell, buy and eat more sustainably produced and locally grown foods, while strengthening the community and region. Comprehensive sustainability plans for food systems can include strategies to attract grocery stores in food deserts, improve support for urban agriculture and farmers' markets through zoning codes, and reduce food related waste by composting. This City Practice Brief covers a range of solutions from cities that seek to ease the environmental burden of their food system and cultivate economically strong local food sources.
Waste Reduction: Strategies for Cities (2011)
The collection, transportation, and disposal of municipal solid waste (MSW) presents considerable costs to local government, poses threats to public and environmental health, and when landfilled or incinerated results in a permanent loss of valuable materials. Across the country local governments are addressing these challenges through innovative, cost-effective, and responsible strategies to divert waste from landfills, recover and repurpose valuable and/or toxic materials, and even generate revenue and support local businesses. This guide presents four options that cities may consider to reduce MSW and benefit their communities.
Integrating Bike Share Programs Into a Sustainable Transportation System (2011)
As cities of all sizes face challenges in maintaining effective, agile transportation systems, bike share programs are emerging as a cost effective and sustainable way to expand the portfolio of transit options. By providing an automated, public, bicycle rental program with a pricing structure that incentives short trips, cities are realizing economic, environmental and public health benefits. Denver, CO, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, MN and Buffalo, NY are highlighted in this City Practice Brief.
State of America's Cities: Sustainability (2010)
This executive summary offers preliminary results of the first national survey on sustainability performed by the National League of Cities. The survey generated responses from 442 cities, with significant representation from all regions of the country and all population sizes. The results confirm that sustainability has become a priority of the nation's local governments.
Measuring Emissions and Creating a Greenhouse Gas Inventory (2010)
Many cities are conducting inventories of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gas emissions to serve as the foundation for informed and effective climate action plans. Cities are finding that these projects also save money, reduce air pollution, improve public health and boost a city's reputation for livability. This guide provides guidance for municipal leaders seeking to take this first step toward mitigating climate change.
Achieving Energy Efficiency Through Weatherization (2010)
Local governments are taking steps to bolster the energy efficiency of residential, commercial and public buildings through weatherization projects and policies. This guide examines the multiple benefits of weatherization and the action steps cities can take, while highlighting several examples of innovative city initiatives.
Sustainable Cities: 10 Steps Forward (2010)
An introductory resource, this guide presents action items to strengthen existing sustainability programs or to use in the development of new initiatives. The presented items are widely applicable across cities regardless of population size, geography, or level of experience with sustainability initiatives.
Creating Green Affordable Housing (2009)
By capitalizing on funding for green affordable housing practices, city officials can incorporate sustainable building design into public housing developments, resulting in lower energy bills for residents, a reduction in pollution and landfill waste, and improved occupant health, comfort and productivity. This guide provides strategies and action steps for planning, financing and building affordable, sustainable housing, and highlights the experiences of nine cities.
Additional Center for Research and Innovation Reports and Publications
Events and Webinars
Webinar: "Workforce Development for a Green Economy"
Many communities are grappling with how the potential of green jobs can translate into their local economies. To help cities better understand this topic, NLC, in partnership with U.S. Department of Labor, hosted a webinar to explore strategies local leaders can use to assess opportunities and prepare local workers.
"Let's Move!" Campaign
As a major component of her signature initiative to reverse the nation's childhood obesity epidemic within a generation, First Lady Michelle Obama has called on cities and towns across the country to join her Let's Move! campaign. NLC is proud to be a partner of this initiative and encourages members to consider having your city sign up.
The National League of Cities along with the National Association of Counties, the Association of School Business Officials International, the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing, and the United States Conference of Mayors are sponsors of the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance. U.S. Communities Going Green Program is the one-stop source for public agency access to a broad line of responsible purchasing products, services and resources. In addition to a comprehensive contracts that offer eco-friendly products, agencies will find a wealth of valuable information and resources that will help lower environmental impact within the community.
Star Community Index
The Star Community Index, currently under development, will create a national, consensus-based framework for defining sustainability and gauging the progress of U.S. communities. The index is intended to transform the way local governments set priorities, implement policies and practices, and measure and certify their achievements. NLC is a founding partner in this national effort, along with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the Center for American Progress.