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Survey: Municipalities support sustainability strategy in principle, not practice

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Energy conservation is a key priority for 70 percent of respondents, but only 29 percent of local communities have any sort of sustainability plan.

Thinking sustainably? Sure. Acting sustainably? Not so fast.

That's the general tone of the Sustainability Survey 2010 just published by the International City/County Management Association, which is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that espouses the idea of sharing best practices in local or municipal government. The survey, which includes responses from more than 2,176 local governments across the United States, showed that only 29 percent actually have any kind of plan or resolutions detailing steps to conserve energy or address other environmental issues. What's more, only 27 percent of the respondents have actually appointed someone to spearhead their efforts, while only 19 percent have set any sort of sustainability benchmarks.

On a brighter note: Almost half the communities (45 percent) have a program for tree preservation and planning, although I'll bet that's mainly for aesthetics and not for the potential greenhouse gas emissions benefit. More than half of them also have taken action on recycling of household electronic waste (e-waste).

The other good news: Almost two-thirds of the local government representatives reported that energy conservation or establishing some sort of environmental policy is a smart idea. Many of them have conducted energy audits of government buildings as an initial gauge. About 10 percent of them are also requiring either Energy Star or LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications for new government construction; some have even applied this policy to retrofits.

I happen to know that there are some really forward-thinking communities around the country who are working on projects that would fall under the economic and environmental sustainability umbrella. The ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability just recognized 20 U.S. cities and counties for managing their greenhouse gas emissions. Need to do some more research with some of the municipalities mentioned to cull and share their best practices.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure