"Think globally and act locally" remains the perfect creed for communities seeking a sustainable future. With the federal government in denial, most of the innovative work for sustainability in the United States today is occurring on a state and local level.
Local action has great benefits. Citizens can best identify local problems and opportunities given their political, economic and social make-up. Local programs -- arising organically from the community -- can engage, educate and empower citizens more forcefully than directives from Washington or Albany. And local communities can serve as laboratories for small-scale experiments that, if successful, can be exported for widespread use.
Here are some of the best policy and legislative initiatives to consider for your community:
1. Create a Sustainability Task Force
For far-reaching effects, municipalities can form a Sustainability Task Force to identify local problems, set goals and act to save energy, use less resources, and reduce pollution. It's best if a task force works with a municipality, but one can be started simply with a group of concerned citizens. A task force can limit its scope to the local government, the school district, a particular economic sector (e.g., manufacturing, food or retail), or it can reach them all. The City of Minneapolis's Sustainability Task Force is a great example. It conducts yearly roundtable discussions and utilizes expert testimony, and then publishes annual reports with sustainability goals, targets, strategies and progress. It utilizes measuring tools, or "indicators," in important areas such as air and water quality, asthma, bike lanes, sewer overflow, permeable surfaces, tree canopy, and renewable energy. (Non-environmental "indicators" include affordable housing, wages, graduation rate, and students in the arts.)
In the Hudson Valley, New York, the City of Hudson just created a "Cool Cities Citizen Advisory Panel." The panel will focus on energy, infrastructure, municipal policy, community and intergovernmental partnerships, and "buy local first" economic development. In Westchester, a group of citizens recently formed a Sustainable Westchester Task Force and drafted a proposal (MS Word Doc) for community-wide sustainability planning to engage the county, local governments, schools, and the private sector.
(To be continued)