Sustainability Planning for Local Government
SUSTAINABILITY PLANNING • CROSS SILO ENGAGEMENT • STRATEGIC PLAN DEVELOPMENT • MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS • QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
How might one frame sustainability to ensure its embraced by a moderate city council and community?
• Frame planning efforts within the cultural values of the organization and surrounding community
• Highlight fiscal responsibility and resiliency
ACADEMIC AND FIELD RESEARCH, ETHNOGRAPHY
In 2006, I was hired by the fourth largest city in Oregon, Gresham, to be the sustainability planner. The City desired to develop a strategy to increase sustainability measures for city operations but provided little specificity. As my first foray into sustainability planning, I embarked on extensive research into best practices pursued by other municipalities. As a newcomer to the region, I also gathered insight on the cultural values and attitudes of the organization and surrounding community. It became apparent that a standardized approach, adopted by other cities, would not be well received by Gresham’s political leadership. They desired to distinguish Gresham in sharp contrast to neighboring Portland, a city that was quickly gaining national recognition as a leader in sustainability.
This resistance provided an excellent opportunity to more fully consider the underlying intention of sustainability planning. I developed framing on the topic that put forward sustainability as a “pathway” (instead of a destination) to a healthy community and emphasized fiscal responsibility and resiliency as key objectives.
Over the course of a year, I led a team through a visioning process. In order to secure adoption of any planning efforts, I recognized the need for participation from all City departments, especially the police and fire departments. In this traditionally siloed organization, our cross departmental team was recognized as a unique in terms of taking a holistic approach. The diversity of the participants ensured a visionary but realistic set of goals that increased the likelihood for adoption and implementation.
I authored the final plan and it was successfully adopted by the City Council in its first version.
Following the plan’s adoption, I developed an Energy Management Plan, a Green Fleets & Fuels Plan, and a Zero Waste Strategic Plan.
While the City and community of Gresham define themselves as conservative, there was increasing recognition of the financial benefits of solar for homeowners. I led the Solarize Gresham program, a preferential pricing opportunity based on bulk purchase rates of solar panels. Building on the success of a similar program initiated in Portland, I customized the Solarize Gresham to frame marketing in relation to the culture and values of the community. Promotion highlighted the reduced price and protection from inevitable increases in energy costs. Over 250 homeowners enrolled in the program and 25 residential solar arrays were installed.
CLEAN ENERGY WORKS GRESHAM
I also led the Clean Energy Works Gresham program, a regional effort to increase energy efficiency retrofits in the residential sector. I developed a full marketing campaign, including producing a series of promotional videos and presentation materials. Additionally, I created an educational presentation on energy efficiency, and presented it to several community groups, and organized an energy efficiency information fair. The marketing package won first place in the 2009 Savvy Awards Competition that recognizes outstanding local government achievements in communications, public-sector marketing and citizen-government relationships.