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Thread: Measuring environmental sustainability in local governments

  1. #1
    BANNED
    Registered
    May 2008
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    Buffalo, NY
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    Measuring environmental sustainability in local governments

    greetings...

    long time lurker, first time poster.

    I am brainstorming for a proposal on how to best measure environmental sustainable processes for a local government. Essentially, I'm beginning to look at how new policies drawn-up with green intentions can be effectively measure in both dollars and cents and impact on the environment. Carbon emmissions are an obvious area, but I'm not sure if sufficient baseline data exists to measure the change.
    While I have done some research on the subject, I'd greatly appreciate any advice on how to best do this.

    Cheers

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Colchester, IL and Ft. Wayne, IN
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    Develop and study a prototype, model city

    Hello. I see that you're from Buffalo, NY. I have read in the New York State Hydrogen Energy Roadmap that Buffalo could be designated a "Hydrogen City." Perhaps your question and your research is related to this other objective in sustainability? I do not know if much base data exists regarding the best method of measuring both the economic and environmental impacts of proposed green initiatives. But perhaps preliminary data could be gathered from an experimental control, of sorts - a model city. This data could be especially helpful if such a model city also has the potential to become a model or prototype "hydrogen city."

    I believe that I have identified Macomb, IL as a geographical location where there could be developed a model sustainable and/or hydrogen or ammonia city, a prototype, locally-functioning hydrogen economy. Might collaborative efforts among potential "hydrogen cities" be helpful? I certainly think so.

    For more information, see my "Model Sustainable/Hydrogen City" post in the "Post-carbon cities" thread in this Environmental planning forum.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Jul 2007
    Location
    Tullinge Sweden
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    190
    CityBR, there are at least two levels to look at:

    1. the local government's own internal operations: what is it doing to reduce resource use, recycle, reuse, etc. It can be very simple things, like setting printer defaults to printing on both sides of the paper; turning off computer terminals and screens when not in use; sorting office rubbish, using low energy lighting, and so on. Most of these simple steps also save considerable money, so there's a good economic incentive. And in most cases, the only cost involved is related to letting staff know what is expected. Other slightly more complicated aspects include green procurement - setting up conditionalities for purchases of goods and services that favour more environmentally friendly alternatives. Sometimes these can be tricky because lawyers might say that you are fiddling with competition rules - this happens in Europe.

    2. what the local government does in terms of the goods and services it provides to it's public. Here there is more a policy aspect in decision making that imposes conditions or offers incentives to the public and the commercial sector to behave in certain ways. For planners, it would also include planning with the environment's best long term condition in mind. In some areas we now talk about the natural environment as part of infrastructure - many functions that eco-systems provide are in fact part of, or closely linked to, our man-made infrastructure. Therefore maintaining it properly should be viewed in the same way as maintaining the roads and sewers. Other local authority sustainability aspects that can be measured, concern waste management, and policies (as well as instruments) for reducing the total waste load on the environment - through composting organics, recycling, reusing materials, etc etc. The amount of different types of waste (or total waste) per capita dumped in the city dump is usually not a difficult statistic to get. If you're looking at measurable indicators, try water use per capita (or household) in residential areas; electricity or other energy consumption per household in residential, commercial and industrial areas. What you want to see is trends over time that are moving towards more efficient and effective resource use, with less total damage to the environment. I think some of these types of indicators will be easier to get, and less difficult to defend than carbon dioxide emissions. Yet several of them have impacts on carbon dioxide emissions.

    Did you know, for example, that global computer use produces more CO2 emission equivalents than global air travel? That caught my eye a little while ago. Also turning off all your standby equipment, including computers and screens, TVs and videos, does a lot more than you think both for the environment and your pocket book. So measuring electrical energy use is also an indicator of CO2 production (unless you know that ALL of your energy is coming from renewable sources).

    Here also, designing policy and strategy, is usually not an expensive operation (unless you hire consultants to do the thinking for you, then decide what they say isn't acceptable and look for more consultants to tell you what you want to hear). There may be some costs in implementation of some programs, but many are extremely cheap, but bring both financial and environmental savings. A lot of them do not even impose serious costs on businesses or the public. Start on these first. It depends on how far your local authority has already gone in sustainability measures. The more sophisticated your demands, expectations, and legal/economic instruments, the lower the marginal benefits tend to be.

    Sorry about the long post.

    Good luck on your proposal!

  4. #4
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    monamogolo...

    much thanks for the extensive response; really, both responses were helpful.

    cheers

  5. #5
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Our policy is still being developed. My city, quite shockingly, decided to develop a plan of action and policy before they sign the US Mayors Agreement. Everything I'm listing is part of our draft policy at this point and will probably be refined. We are using a carbon footprint analysis for our city government functions to measure our overall performance. However, a lot of stuff is very difficult/onerous to calculate the footprint, so we are have a laundry list of other performance measures we are considering by policy topic.

    We have not started looking at Return on Investment or anything. It appears we may take the Austin approach that ROI is secondary to a moral obligation to work toward sustainability.

    Land Use Management, Urban Forestry and Water Quality
    Percentage of tree cover compared to 2007 levels
    Number of trees planted participating in the program
    Value invested in designated infill areas
    Acres of open space acquired
    Acres of open space per 1,000 population compared to 2007 levels
    Water quality measurement at particular points in area rivers and creeks compared to 2007 levels
    Work versus Live survey (including commute time/distance) periodically compared to 2007 levels
    Acres placed on conservation easements/deeds resulting from conservation development subdivisions
    Acres of development participating in conservation development methods
    Acres of infill development/redevelopment
    Acres of transit oriented development/redevelopment within ˝ mile of fixed transit station
    Employers brought to xxxxxxxxx since 2007
    Total number of employees
    Number of employees to be xxxxxxxxxxx residents
    Green Employers brought to xxxxxxxxxx since 2007
    Total number of employees
    Number of employees to be xxxxxxxxxxxxx residents
    Acres of residential-commercial-office mixed use projects developed
    Acres of development rights transferred
    Linear feet of river bank restoration
    Number of Certificates of Appropriateness obtained annually since 2007
    Acres of alternative paving surfaces used
    Percent of overall paving each year using alternative surfaces compared to 2007
    Value of renovations in historic districts compared to 2007 (based on Certificates of Appropriateness)
    Acres of schoolyard habitat created
    Number of schools participating in schoolyard habitat program

    Transportation Planning and Outdoor Air Quality
    Mass transit ridership
    City fleet MPG compared to 2007 levels
    Gallons of gasoline/diesel used per vehicle compared to 2007 levels
    Number of city employees participating in flex hour program
    Number of companies participating in flex hour program
    Number of employees participating
    Number of city employees participating in carpool program
    Number of companies participating in carpool program
    Number of employees participating
    Number of city employees participating in telecommute program
    Number of companies participating in telecommute program
    Number of employees participating
    Miles of trails constructed
    Miles of sidewalks rebuilt
    Miles of new sidewalks
    Miles of bike routes identified
    Miles of bike lanes installed
    Miles of bike trails installed
    Average traffic signal idling time compared to 2007
    Percentage of vehicles in City fleet that are alternative fuel

    Green Power and Energy Efficiency
    Residential/Multifamily Kwh per capita compared to 2007 levels
    Commercial/Industrial/Institutional Kwh per connection compared to 2007 levels
    Percent of energy from renewable sources compared to 2007 levels
    Percent of energy consumers have elected to have from renewable sources in addition to baseline
    City offices kwh compared to 2007 levels
    Number of program participants in each rebate program
    Kilowatts produced from renewable sources inside city (rooftop solar, etc.) compared to 2007
    Gallons of hot water capacity reallocated to solar hot water heaters compared to 2007
    Square feet of insulation, window film/screen, cool roof, radiant barrier, etc. installed through programs

    Green Building
    Number of structures in city certified through one of the green building programs compared to prior to 2007
    Number of homes assisted through weatherization
    Reduction in utility bills resulting from weatherization (before vs. after assistance)
    Average energy consumption for each new home (per square foot) compared to 2007

    Water and Wastewater Management
    Gallons of water consumed per capital per day overall
    Residential only per capita
    C & I per connection
    Percent of unaccounted for water use compared to 2007
    Number participating in rebate programs
    Gallons of effluent reused
    Gallons of rainwater being harvested compared to 2007
    Peak storm flows at WWTP compared to 2007

    Recycling and Waste Reduction
    Pounds of waste diverted from landfills
    Pounds of paper consumed at City of xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
    Pounds of construction materials diverted from landfills and recycled/reused
    Pounds of household hazardous waste collected
    Number of program participants

    Education and Outreach
    Number participating in program
    Website hits
    Acres of park adopted
    Number participating in River Cleanup
    Pounds of litter removed from river
    Pounds of organic vegetables donated
    Acres of active community gardens
    Number exposed to educational materials

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  6. #6

    Measuring sustainabilty

    Kudos to Suburban above, Environmental Restoration will be an absolute necessity to achieving Sustainability. As Bill Reed and Bill McDonough say "Doing less bad, is NOT enough." The educational part of Sustainability is essential to maintenance and redirection of current actions and future policies. Top environmental regulators in our State have been frustrated by the realization that even the tightest regulations and laws are not enough to solve current problems or turn around future ones. The collective impact of individuals behavior exceeds all of industry's pollution in many types of pollution. There is an excellent multi-year study conducted by Roper and US EPA on Environmental Education/common sense among Americans at - http://www.peecworks.org/PEEC/PEEC_R...6A997-00C6AB11 It should provide a well recognized basis for local measurements.


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