How Sustainability Efforts Help Achieve Economic Development Goals

By Farrell Tiller, Economic Development Manager 

Climate change is an urgent issue and one of the most significant global challenges facing the world today. It is also a critical matter for cities. Now home to over half the world’s population, urban areas are key sources of greenhouse-gas emissions and are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

In April, also known as the official “Earth Month,” Bloomberg Philanthropies released the results of its 2018 American Mayors Survey, which cited a number of national and regional themes discussing topics of utmost importance to mayors and city managers; within that survey, climate change emerged as one of the most highlighted themes. (1)

With the realization that adaptation to climate change will be required over the next few decades, the term “sustainability” has become increasingly important. But what is sustainability?

Sustainability is defined as the ability to maintain at a particular rate or level or avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to keep an ecological balance. Incorporating smart sustainability into economic development efforts improves the health of the community by not only making it a cleaner, prettier and safer place to live, but also by enhancing the city’s reputation or image. By becoming eco-friendlier, communities send a message that their city is aware of global environmental issues. This, in turn, becomes a selling point to businesses and residents, especially those of the millennial generation (those born in the 1980-1990’s).

When it comes to sustainability, no generation is more knowledgeable on the subject than millennials. According to a study done by waste today magazine, 80 percent of millennials surveyed indicated having at least a fair amount of sustainability knowledge. Millennials are also more committed to increasing sustainability. Survey results showed nearly 60 percent of millennials are committed to adding sustainable activities in their businesses, compared to only 49 percent of baby boomers surveyed.

Why should cities concern themselves with the preferences of millennials? Millennials recently surpassed Generation Xers as the most significant generation in the U.S. labor force, and their high earning potential, and financial savviness make them excellent contributors to local economies.  Millennials also tend to have a strong sense of place, take pride in their community, and are willing to apply efforts to improve them. As their influence continues to grow, aligning development and policy with the desires of this generation becomes even more important in order for cities to remain competitive.

Now that we’ve discussed what sustainability is and why it’s important, let’s address what efforts cities can make to increase their sustainability. Preserving green space, improving recycling programs, educating residents on benefits of sustainability, and issuing ordinances to reduce the use of harmful materials are examples of sustainability efforts. Here in Florida, the City of Gainesville is a model for sustainability. In partnership with the University of Florida, Gainesville developed a sustainability plan with the goal of making the city a “zero waste community” by 2020. The plan calls for the banning of environmentally harmful plastic bags and styrofoam containers, requiring businesses to collect food waste to be used for composting, creating an office of sustainability, offering larger residential recycling bins and requiring residential recycling, among other efforts.

For cities looking to take sustainability one step further, Smart Cities Dive offers the following ten tips:

  1. Create goals that are ambitious and well – defined with regular progress reports
  2. Generating electricity using sustainable resources
  3. Strict building codes that favor green technology
  4. Investment in greener public transportation
  5. Policies and efforts to drastically cut water consumption and waste
  6. An increase in density
  7. Encouraging creative, knowledge-based economies
  8. Access to healthy and affordable food
  9. A city government that leads by example
  10. Encouragement of grassroots efforts that will engage the citizens

By asking yourself what you can do to increase sustainability within your community, you play a crucial part in ensuring your city will thrive.