Kristopher Stenger Expert View Bio

As cities work to protect and care for the environment, quality of life in their areas also improves, making sustainability efforts a powerful draw for new residents and businesses. However, local leaders like sustainable city expert Kris Stenger are finding that it takes a village to increase sustainability community-wide. This guide offers resources on how individuals and organizations can help their cities become more sustainable. See how municipal governments are developing new policies and programs and engaging their residents in innovative ways to create positive change for everyone.

25 U.S. Cities Leading the Sustainability Charge

Seattle, Washington
Top Initiatives

Seattle is a national leader in LEED and Energy Star certified buildings and has enacted policies and programs that promote energy efficiency. Since 2008, Seattle has seen a 38 percent increase in solar capacity and a 179 percent increase in LEED and 40 percent increase in Built Green buildings. The City also encourages electric vehicles through its Drive Clean Seattle initiative and has implemented bike-, pedestrian-, and transit-friendly policies. Seattle’s Food Action Plan promotes a healthy, local, sustainable food system and through the Food Bucks initiative, the value of SNAP benefits is doubled at Seattle Farmers Markets, up to $10 per day. In 2007, the City adopted a zero-waste resolution and by 2022, Seattle plans to divert 70 percent of its waste to recycling and composting.

Winter Park, Florida
Top Initiatives

According to Kris Stenger, Winter Park’s Assistant Director of Building Permitting and Sustainability, the city gained Gold level-certification as a Green Local Government by the Florida Green Building Council in 2012. In 2015, Winter Park adopted its first Sustainability Action Plan. Stenger notes that the plan helps provide timelines and direction for the city and was created with input from various community boards, local groups, and individuals. Through the plan, the city aims to improve quality of life, become more energy independent, protect and enhance air quality, water quality, and natural systems, and save money. Stenger proudly notes that under the plan, the city will soon be the first one in the nation to have the “Recycle Across America” standardized labeling on its curbside rollout single-stream bins. This effort helps educate residents on how to recycle with less confusion.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Top Initiatives

Philadelphia’s sustainability plan, known as Greenworks, ran from 2009 to 2015 and was updated in 2016 with new targets and goals. Reports released each year since its inception reveal Greenworks’ positive impact on helping Philadelphia become one of the greenest city in America. Goals for the Greenworks plan included:

Reducing the city’s vulnerability to rising energy prices

Reducing its environmental footprint

Delivering more equitable access to healthy neighborhoods

Creating a competitive advantage from sustainability

Uniting to build a sustainable future

Through the plan, 16,283 homes were retrofitted to be more energy-efficient, municipal-wide there was a 15 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, there are now 343 markets, gardens, and farms, and 53 percent of workplaces implement green technologies and practices.

Berkeley, California
Top Initiatives

In 2009, Berkeley approved the Climate Action Plan to help accomplish the City’s mandate to reduce emissions by 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050, with an interim goal of 33 percent below 2000 levels by 2020. Today, Berkeley is one of the top nine cities in the nation tracking greenhouse gas inventories and showing reductions, it is the third-highest walk-to-work rate in the nation for medium-sized cities, the second-highest cycling-to-work rate in the nation, and fourth in the nation as a Solar Leader making it easier and more economical for residents to go solar. The City has developed electric vehicle infrastructure, transit-oriented development, a Building Energy Saving Ordinance, municipal building and streetlight upgrades, and more. From 2008 to 2016, Berkeley saw a 33 percent decrease in emissions.

Boise, Idaho
Top Initiatives

Boise’s citywide sustainability efforts seek to recognize, protect, and improve the health and sustainability of the community and its natural resources. One of the major ways the city strives to protect its environment is through the expansion and enhancement of its geothermal energy systems. Boise has the largest direct-use geothermal heating district in the U.S. serving more than six million square feet of residential, business, and government space as of 2019. The city also leads or participates with other local organizations to help maintain and improve air and water quality levels. The city has implemented an Idling Reduction Campaign and operates the first Class A Struvite Production Facility that uses phosphorus harvested from the wastewater treatment process to be sold as fertilizer.

Boulder, Colorado
Top Initiatives

Boulder has committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable electricity and to achieving an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. To achieve this goal, the city aims to expand rooftop, community and utility-scale solar energy; boost percentage of wind-produced energy in the energy supply; encourage the use of residential and utility-scale battery storage; and phase out fossil fuel use for electricity generation. The city is also committed to local food efforts. In 2012, the City Council amended the land-use code to allow community gardens in all zone districts around Boulder. Other accomplishments in this area include dedicating 4.6 acres of city Parks and Recreation land to producing local foods, 116 acres farmed exclusively for locally-grown and marketed dairy, eggs, meat, and vegetables. With a comprehensive eye toward sustainability, the City has also created numerous other programs and policies in the areas of energy, waste, ecosystems, water, and climate, such as implementing a $0.10 cent fee on plastic and paper grocery bags.

Burlington, Vermont
Top Initiatives

According to Burlington’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan, the city aims to reduce emissions by 20 percent for municipal operations and 10 percent community-wide by 2025. The plan, developed in conjunction with community volunteers and city staff, includes a list of 39 mitigation strategies to reduce emissions, whittled down from a list of 200 recommendations that were shared and vetted with the public. These strategies span the full list of sustainability practices from local food production, to energy efficiency in buildings, to urban forestry and carbon sequestration. In 2015, City of Burlington completed the STAR (Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities) Community Rating System, the country’s first framework and certification program for local governments to assess sustainability, set targets, and measure progress. Burlington came out as a 4-star certified community, making it a city recognized for national excellence.

Chicago, Illinois
Top Initiatives

Chicago is modernizing its electric infrastructure by building a Smart Grid. By the end of 2019, nearly all Chicago residents have digital smart meters that send electricity usage information to the electricity company. Smart meters allow residents to participate in pricing programs that provide financial incentives to customers who decrease their electricity usage and increases the opportunity for renewable energy systems and electric vehicles to be integrated with the grid. Chicago has also implemented the Retrofit Chicago program to help homes and businesses achieve 20 percent energy efficiency, saving money and reducing emissions. Among the city’s many other sustainability strategies, these two initiatives are helping Chicago to achieve its Climate Action Plan goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels, with an interim goal of 25 percent reduction by 2020. 

Cleveland, Ohio
Top Initiatives

Through Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan, the City aims to reduce emissions 80 percent below 2010 emissions by 2050, with an interim goal of 40 percent by 2030. The largest reductions will be seen through advanced and renewable energy, making up 17 percent of the reductions goal by 2030. Energy efficiency and green buildings will make up another 14 percent of reductions. Other measures like waste reduction, land use, and clean water will make up the remaining reductions. According to the 2015 progress report, Cleveland is on track to meet the 25 percent renewables goal by 2025 and the City’s Energy$aver pilot program for residential buildings has led to 150 retrofits. The Office of Sustainability has also developed a Cleveland Neighborhood Climate Action Toolkit for residents and offers funding for people seeking to implement climate action ideas.

Columbia, Missouri
Top Initiatives

The City of Columbia began its sustainability efforts in 2010 to support the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The City works cooperatively with downtown businesses and building owners to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Columbia’s Public Works Solid Waste Division recently began to accept plastics labeled one through seven through its curbside pick program. The goal is to increase the current diversion rate from 17 percent to the national average of 34 percent. People can also sign up for composting workshops and can purchase compost in bulk from the city. Columbia also has a Mayor’s Climate Protection awards program that recognizes the efforts of local businesses and organizations that actively reduce global warming pollution in the community.

Denver, Colorado
Top Initiatives

Denver’s Office of Sustainability, in collaboration with area residents, businesses, non-profits, and city agencies, developed a set of 2020 Sustainability Goals. This document outlines 12 targets for the city and county of Denver that address the full range of sustainability issues from climate change, to food production, to land use. Denver aims to purchase at least 25 percent of its food from sources that are entirely local to the state. The city also aims to reduce the use of potable water for irrigation of parks and courses by 22 percent and reduce potable water use in city buildings by 20 percent over 2012 levels. In the area of transportation, the city aims to provide workforce training and incentives to city employees so that at least 45 percent are commuting using transit, carpooling, biking, and walking.

Fargo, North Dakota
Top Initiatives

As part of Fargo’s Comprehensive Plan, the city has established a set of guiding principles and key initiatives that aim to make the city sustainable by 2030. While the list of initiatives features energy, health, transportation, and city planning, including design standards to promote dense, walkable communities, much of the focus for Fargo is on its water. With both the Red River and the Sheyenne River, the city is concerned with flood protection along with preserving and celebrating the health and quality of its water. Fargo strives to green its storm water infrastructure by creating on-street rain gardens that soak in clean storm water runoff before entering storm drains. Proposed water conservation and protection actions are to landscape using native/xeric plants and to expand Fargo’s wastewater reclamation and reuse system for more users.

Fremont, California
Top Initiatives

The City of Fremont has had a Climate Action Plan since 2012. The plan is helping the city achieve its ambitions community-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal of 25 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. To accomplish this goal, the city has started the Fremont Green Challenge to engage community members in being part of the solution. Residents are encouraged to be more energy efficient, use renewable energy, and implement actions that reduce their carbon footprint. The city offers education and incentive programs to help people take steps toward reducing carbon emissions. Fremont also has an innovative Green Organics Cart program whereby participants can convert their food scraps into a valuable resource, not a waste, by placing food scraps, leaves, grass, or food-soiled paper in the green organics cart for pickup by the city.

Grand Rapids, Michigan
Top Initiatives

Under Grand Rapids’ 2020-2030 Strategic Plan, sustainability is one of the city’s six core values. Under the old Sustainability Plan, the city is now celebrating one of the most significant accomplishments made under this plan with Grand Rapids currently operating on about 30 percent renewable energy sources. A few of the targets highlighted in the new plan include increasing the urban tree canopy to 40 percent by 2021, achieving 100 percent of energy use for City-owned buildings from renewable resources by 2025; increasing the percent of annual trips to work where people use transit, walking, biking and ride sharing to 55 percent by 2035, reducing the City’s greenhouse gas emissions; identify and implement water conservation strategies within City operations and for customers; increase the waste diversion rate.

Louisville, Kentucky
Top Initiatives

Louisville residents are impacted by a phenomenon known as urban heat. Urban heat is created by a variety of factors including the abundance of dark-colored asphalt and other surfaces. In Louisville, this means that residents living in the downtown area are often experiencing temperatures that are 10 degrees higher than in other parts of the city. Louisville’s Office of Sustainability commissioned an Urban Heat Management Study to learn how urban heat impacts residents, what is causing the temperature increase, and steps to take to help manage the heat risk. These steps, which are also part of Sustain Louisville, the City’s first ever sustainability plan, include increasing tree canopy coverage to 45 percent, expanding energy efficiency and green building programs, and incorporating sustainability into the Land Development Code. The City’s 2018 progress report shows the City is on track to meet many of its sustainability goals. In fact, between 2017 and 2018, Louisville planted 24,000 trees. 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Top Initiatives

ReFresh Milwaukee is the city’s sustainability plan, which offers targets and goals over the next 10 years that focus on energy, climate, food production, and more. The 2018 Progress Report reveals significant improvements made since the plan’s adoption in 2013. In 2017, the city developed a Climate Action page on its website and made a legislative move to support the Paris Climate Accord. The city’s innovative Milwaukee Shines program is group-buy effort that has helped 170 homeowners install a total of 616 kW of solar through 2018. The Solar Foundation has also designated Milwaukee as a SolSmart Gold city thanks to its streamlining of solar permitting processes and reduction of permitting fees. These efforts are helping the city achieve its goal of using 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. The city’s Better Buildings Challenge has a goal to target energy efficiency in 200 commercial buildings and currently has 133 participating buildings participating.

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Top Initiatives

The city has a host of operations policies that encourage and promote energy efficiency, green vehicles, vegetation management and more. One of these sustainable policies is focused on pollination. Through the Minneapolis Pollinator Resolution, all city-owned and controlled property must not use pesticides or pesticide-treated plants and increase planting of pollinator-friendly plants. Minneapolis has also adopted a Low Environmental Impact Cleaning Policy whereby the City can only purchase cleaning products that follow the minimum standards of the Green Seal, an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment from harmful cleaning products. Minneapolis has also created a Green Zones Workgroup that is aimed at analyzing data and creating data-backed recommendations for helping low-income communities that are disproportionately impacted by substandard environmental conditions.

Portland, Oregon
Top Initiatives

In 2015, Portland adopted a Climate Action Plan to guide the city toward an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, with a 40 percent reduction by 2030. To achieve this goal, the city has a policy that requires commercial buildings 20,000 square feet and over to track energy use with ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager and report energy performance information annually to the city. The city also encourages biking, transit, and carpooling and offers numerous resources for people looking for alternative modes of transportation. According to the 2017 progress report, the city has cut carbon emissions by more than 40 percent per person since 1990. Community members approved by Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability can even grow food on city property. To help achieve its goal of reducing waste and raising the recovery rate to 90 percent by 2030, the city also boasts a comprehensive garbage, recycling, and composting program.

Richmond, Virginia
Top Initiatives

Richmond has set sustainability goals that range across 13 indicators, from open space to climate action to water and air quality. There are a few areas in particular where the city is making great progress toward its goals, according to its RVAgreen Sustainability Dashboard. The city is striving to increase access to open space. As of 2013, 80 percent of residents live within one quarter mile of a city park or open space. And while Richmond has only seen a two percent decrease in energy use within the community between 2008 and 2015, the city has installed more than 1.7 MWs of alternative energy. Another goal for Richmond was to ensure that all residents live within one-quarter mile of healthy food options. By 2015, 87 percent of residents were enjoying local, healthy, sustainable food through the prevalence of farmers markets, community gardens, healthy corner stores, and neighborhood markets.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Top Initiatives

Salt Lake City’s Sustainability Department addresses issues from air quality, to energy, to waste management and everything in between. Some of its achievements include converting city fleet vehicles to clean fuels and low/no emission vehicles, providing electric car charging stations, improving building development standards to support solar energy and urban agriculture, and promoting the development of walkable and bikeable streets. In 2008, the City adopted a resolution to reduce its municipal carbon footprint 20 percent below the 2005 level by 2020 and 80 percent below the 2005 level by 2050. Salt Lake City also created the Clean Air Challenge encouraging citizens to reduce miles traveled. Between 2009 and 2019, this challenge eliminated more than 15 million single-occupant vehicle miles traveled and reduced more than 5,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Austin, Texas
Top Initiatives

The City of Austin is focused on the ambitious goal of net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and carbon-neutrality for City operations by 2020. The Austin Community Climate Plan is leading this effort with more than 130 actions that impact transportation, waste, energy, and materials. The Office of Sustainability is also piloting a program to create a sustainable neighborhood-scale food system plan. Austin also uses an EcoDistrict framework to help guide neighborhoods or redevelopment areas to advancing sustainability through green building, smart infrastructure and individual behavior. In EcoDistricts, property owners, tenants, residents, utilities and government each play a role in achieving sustainability performance goals.

Little Rock, Arkansas
Top Initiatives

In 2008, the Mayor’s Sustainability Commission was established to direct the city on sustainable practices. Since then, the city has created new projects working under the Commission’s eight key eco-friendly recommendations. In 2010, the city developed a Green Building Incentive Program to offer financial incentives for residential buildings built to ecologically friendly standards. The Commission also developed a sustainable purchasing policy for the city. The Commission drafted guidelines to encourage Farmers’ Markets throughout Little Rock, so that fresh produce can be made available to all residents. The city’s Bike Friendly Community Committee was designated by the League of American Bicyclists as a “Bike Friendly Community” in 2016. This Committee has worked to implement a Master Bike Plan, held community bike fairs, implemented street/trail improvements and successfully created a Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator for the city.

Reno, Nevada
Top Initiatives

Reno is working to take advantage of its vast geothermal, solar, and wind resources. In 2019, the city presented its Sustainability and Climate Action Plan. In 2009, the city approved solar systems, a wind turbine demonstration program, solar thermal heating systems, lighting retrofits, control systems, and a variety of HVAC upgrades. The city, working under a power purchase agreement with Enfinity, installed and operated 10 solar arrays totaling 1.027 MW. Today, solar power provides the city with more than 20 percent of its electricity needs. Working under an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant provided by the Nevada State Office of Energy, the city has also installed 730 LED streetlights and 781 pedestrian signals.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
Top Initiatives

Albuquerque is focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. In 2019, the city opened the Sustainability Office to help support green initiatives. That same year, Albuquerque won the American Cities Climate Challenge. For years, the city has been one of the top 10 cities in the country for solar installed per capita. Through the city’s energy-efficiency devices, the city avoids more than four million kWh in electrical use, reducing more than 368 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year. Another focus for the city is its public-private recycling program. Albuquerque’s Integrated Waste Management Plan aims to increase the city’s 5 percent diversion rate up to 40 percent by 2015. To help achieve this goal, the city partners with Friedman Recycling that allows residents to recycle a larger variety of materials while enjoying cart-based curbside recycling. On average, 2,305 tons of recycled materials are collected each month. A new law in 2020 will also place a ban on single-use plastic bags.

Manchester, New Hampshire
Top Initiatives

Manchester’s Sustainability Action Center is focused on energy efficiency projects. Beginning in 1999, the city implemented a major energy efficiency program that upgraded most of the lighting in school and municipal buildings. Five years later Manchester invested more than $100 million in school building improvements. Schools received high-efficiency heat recovery ventilation systems, insulation upgrades, new windows, and expanded building automation systems to increase control and efficiency. In 2011, the city developed an Energy Management Program that establishes an energy awareness initiative along with more capital and operational improvements to produce $400,000 in annual energy savings. The city and the Manchester School District are also proud to be an official Energy Star Partners, meaning they are committed to protecting the environment by improving energy performance and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What Is a Sustainable City?

Sustainable communities are hallmarked by common practices and priorities, which include:  

Local food production

Local and regional food production helps to eliminate dependence on conventional global industrial food systems that use significant resources for production and transportation.

Green LEED building design

LEED-certified buildings use less water and energy and produce less greenhouse gas emissions. Stenger notes that for the City of Winter Park, the Florida Green Building Coalition’s certification program really spurred the city to achieve green certification and to hire Winter Park’s first sustainability coordinator. Firms that specialize in LEED building and other sustainability initiatives, such as Sustainable Investment Group, can insure energy efficiency and healthier buildings.

Renewable energy production

Replacing electricity generated by fossil fuels with renewable energy made by solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and other sources of clean energy help curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Public transportation

Reducing the use of single-occupant vehicles as people make their daily commutes means less carbon emissions.

City design for ride/walkability

Cities that are designed to promote walking and bicycling not only produce less emissions, they also encourage healthy living.

EV charging stations

Cities wanting to see more electric vehicles replacing traditional gasoline-powered cars need to develop the infrastructure to support those changes.

Water conservation

Water conservation helps residents save money, prevents water pollution in local lakes, rivers, and watersheds, and helps ensure availability of water for future generations.

Waste reduction

Prevention and reduction efforts help to prevent waste from ending up in the landfill where it contributes to climate change, leads to pollution, and uses natural resources and energy to manage.

City policies that encourage sustainability

(ban plastic grocery bags, provide space for community gardens, etc.). From purchasing procedures, to city planning and permitting, to energy efficiency and recycling programs, city policies can significantly impact the way local governments and their residents act when it comes to environmental issues.

Descriptions of sustainable cities and urban development vary depending upon where you look, so it helps to approach the field more in terms of key descriptors and operating principles than precise, catchall definitions.  First off, the term “city” can be broadened to “community,” ranging anywhere from a smaller township to a larger metropolitan area. But regardless of size, there is within a sustainable community a strong sense of intentionality and two core purposes:

Meeting present needs while ensuring sustainable resources and conditions for future generations, and

Improving the quality of life and health in both the ecological and social environment

Renewable Energy: Cities Leading the Charge

Columbia, Maryland

In 2015, Columbia, Maryland signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with SunEdison. Residents of the city are now getting 100 percent of their electricity from clean, renewable energy. Solar provides 25 percent of Columbia’s energy, with the remainder coming from wind.

Greensburg, Kansas

In 2007, the town of Greensburg, Kansas, was demolished by a tornado. The process of rebuilding the city focused on a brighter, cleaner future. That same year, the city passed a resolution that all municipally owned buildings 4,000 square feet or greater be certified LEED Platinum. Then in 2009, the city signed a PPA with Exelon Corp. to install a 12.5 MW wind farm that now supplies the electricity needs for the entire town.

Aspen, Colorado

In 2015, Aspen, Colorado transitioned 100 percent to renewable energy. The city had been using approximately 75 percent renewable energy prior to signing a contract with wholesale electric energy provider Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska. The new deal replaced the 25 percent of non-renewable energy with wind power.

Georgetown, Texas

To help save its residents money, Georgetown, Texas, signed a 20-year agreement with EDF for 144 MWs of wind power. Then in 2016 the city signed a 150 MW power agreement with SunEdison, taking the city to 100 percent renewable energy.

San Diego, California

While San Diego is not yet at the 100 percent renewable energy mark, the city is committed to achieving this goal by 2035. This is a bold goal because, unlike smaller towns like Georgetown and Greensburg, San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the nation. According to the Shining Cities 2019 report, San Diego is second in the nation for solar installed per capita and total solar PV installed.

Public Transportation: Cities Driving Change

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee’s Eco Tour offers residents a walking and biking tour of sustainable sites throughout the city. The Milwaukee County Transit System also offers different cost-saving commuter programs including the Commuter Value Pass, a cost-saving program that employers can purchase for their employees.

Reno, Nevada

In 2014, the Reno Transportation Commission has 21 electric buses and aims to have an all electric fleet by 2035. . Most of the other buses run on biodiesel fuel. The new buses help eliminate noise and pollution.

Albany, NY

More than 20 percent of the Albany’s Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) operates hybrid-electric buses and as part of its fleet maintenance plan, at least 20 percent of new bus purchases will be hybrids. CDTA will operate these hybrid vehicles over the next 12 to 15 years.

Phoenix, AZ

Valley Metro’s 50 light rail vehicles are powered by electricity. To keep the train cool, windows are treated with a special spectrally selective coating that reflects heat causing infrared rays without impairing visibility. This coating reduces heat gain an average of 35 percent more effectively than tinted glass.

Arlington Heights, IL

Transit provider Pace installed 108 bus shelters that have solar-powered lighting. Solar shelters are located throughout Pace’s service area and more are slated to be built.

Water: Cities Making a Splash with Conservation

New York City, New York

The Department of Environmental Protection began a New York City Water Challenge to encourage participants to match the five percent citywide water consumption reduction goal. Some of the city’s largest and most prestigious hotels participate in the challenge.

Redland, California

Redland has enacted mandatory watering restrictions for the city and offers rebates on water-efficient products such as high-efficiency toilets and washing machines, synthetic turf, and weather based smart irrigation timers. The city also offers residents free water use analysis to help customers save money and conserve water.

Dallas, Texas

Dallas has permanently implemented a two-day watering schedule. This mandate went into effect in 2012 and focuses on outdoor water conservation because outdoor watering is considered a non-essential use and accounts for about 30 percent of the city’s total annual water use.

Las Vegas, Nevada

The Water Conservation Coalition (WCC) partners with the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA) Conservation Division to help conserve water. Since 1995, the WCC has been working with local businesses and the community’s overall conservation goal through a speaker’s bureau, business-to-business challenge, and conservation projects.

Palo Alto, California

Palo Alto offers rebates on high-efficiency clothes washers and toilets. The city also provides a $200 rebate for residents who properly connect a clothes washer to a graywater irrigation system. Workshops on sustainable landscaping, composting, home graywater are also made available by the city.

San Diego, California

San Diego provides rebates to residents who purchase rain barrels. These barrels capture rainwater from hard surfaces and are a quick way to conserve and reuse water for irrigation purposes and to help prevent pollution runoff.

10 Tips to Boost Your City’s Sustainability


Get your city to stop watering parks during the heat of midday, when half of the water is just evaporating.


Organize an Arbor Day tree planting with a local nonprofit. The Arbor Day Foundation offers guidance and resources for people looking to make the world a cleaner and greener place.


Get an EV charging station at the library or other central location. Costs range depending on the type of charging station you want to install. Some State’s offer EV infrastructure rebate programs.


Start a bicycle coalition. Bicycle lovers from cities across the U.S. have started coalitions to help make their hometowns better for cycling.


Start a community garden. Take it a step further and begin a community garden coalition to help promote policies and programs that encourage local food production.


Lead a watershed clean-up day with a local non-profit to help reduce and prevent the pollution of local water sources.


Advocate for “No Idling Zones” for municipal buildings. Get schools engaged to encourage parents waiting for their kids to turn off their cars and improve air quality.


Participate in the sustainable planning efforts taking place in your city. City officials want and need input from local residents. Sustainable cities expert, Kris Stanger notes that during the development of Winter Park’s Sustainability Plan, the City worked to engage individuals through raffles, surveys, and outreach events.


Promote resolutions or programs that mandate green building practices. Energy efficient buildings and residences can significantly reduce carbon emissions.


Volunteer for or start a recycling ambassador program to help your neighbors gain a better understanding of recycling methods and sustainable waste reduction techniques.


Sustainable Cities Dive

This online resource offers the latest news about green building and design, planning, economic sustainability, future technologies, green businesses, biking, public transportation and more sustainability related topics. The site was created for leaders of major cities, urban planning and sustainability professionals.

The National League of Cities Sustainable Cities Institute

The Sustainable Cities Institute provides local governments with guidance and information to pursue sustainability in their own operations and communities. The site offers events, funding opportunities, webinars and educational trainings for city sustainability, geared toward city sustainability staff and elected officials.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Find charts and graphs, data visualizations, data sets, maps, presentations, videos and research publications at the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. WRI is a global research organization with 450 experts and staff to work with leaders on issues of sustainability.

Urban Sustainability Directors Network

Stenger highly recommends other sustainability directors and staff from cities across the U.S. and Canada to join the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. This network allows local government professionals to share best practices with their peers and to encourage and support the use of good ideas across North America. Stenger notes that this group can be an excellent resource in crafting action plans from the sustainability stand-point.

Penn State’s Sustainable Communities Collaborative

Learn more about the innovative collaborative projects explored by the Pennsylvania State University’s Sustainable Communities Collaborative. Through this cutting-edge program University Park faculty, students, and staff are connected with local communities to help address sustainability challenges.