case study: Municipality Sustainability Planning

Sustainability Planning for Local Government

The Design Challenge

How might one frame sustainability to ensure its embraced by a moderate city council and community?

I was hired by the City of Gresham to provide sustainability planning and secure adoption of a sustainability plan for internal operations.

The City also wanted to launch a energy efficiency and bulk purchasing solar program for homeowners.  

My Role


Sustainability Plan

I  led a cross-departmental team to analyze appropriate objectives for a sustainability plan for internal operations. I incorporated these considerations into the plan for internal operations. The plan was presented to the city council and adopted on its first review. This project was recognized both for the success in adoption on the first draft of the plan and for demonstrating a successful collaboration in a highly siloed organization.

Following this success I created action based plans for Energy Management Green Fleets &  Zero Waste.

Clean Energy Works Gresham
I 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.

Solar Gresham
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.

Methods/User Insights

Competitive Analysis: I conducted extensive research on best sustainability practices for municipalities. I contacted sustainability planners across the country, working in similar sized cities, to better understand their approach. I compiled insights on strategies and goals and shared the information with the visioning team.

Qualitative Research: I conducted 1:1 interviews with upper management and representatives of each of the City’s departments, capturing insight on the culture and values of the departments and the organization overall. These insights informed the core components of the sustainability plan.

Qualitative Research: I created and administered a survey for the community on sustainability. The results provided insight on opportunities for community based programs centered on sustainability.

Team Management
Over the course of a year, I led a cross-departmental team through a visioning process. I applied a human centered design approach, providing clear objectives for each phase of the planning process but also ample opportunity to listen and allow for dialogue on each topic and goal considered for incorporation in the plan. Based on the team’s recommendations, I authored the plan and secured adoption by the City Council. This successful unified effort was recognized as unique in this highly siloed organization.

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.