A new report released recently assessed exactly how 40 of the country’s largest cities are trying to limit their carbon footprints and take the steps needed to raise these efforts to the next level. The report,  initiated and conducted by Living Cities, a collaboration of 21 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions is titled Green Cities: How Urban Sustainability Efforts Can and Must Drive America’s Climate Change Policies.   Included in the report is information on where cities have generally fallen short.

The report is an effort to showcase and support the innovative ways in which cities are creating an equitable green economy – one that connects low-income people and under-invested urban communities to the economic mainstream.  Living Cities’ is also serving as a resource to inform the usage of federal dollars available through stimulus funds and the workforce dollars associated with investments in the energy efficiency sector. The Green Cities report is focused on building energy retrofits, green workforce development and transit-oriented development, three areas also identified as priorities by local leaders and to which the recently passed stimulus bill brings extraordinary new resources.

Sustainability is a Top Priority

The study revealed that most cities are starting to seize the challenge and opportunity of addressing climate change.  Four in five big cities report that sustainability is among their top five priorities and more than half of the big cities are either currently creating a sustainability plan or have already finished creating one.  Several cities report that they have a single staff member dedicated to these issues; while others report they have several dozen.  However, but few cities are prioritizing the needs of low-income people and communities as part of their green strategies and programs.

These cities have shown their commitment to sustainability by putting dollars behind their pledges. Living Cities asked officials about the staff and funds they’ve committed to the work. Nearly all said it was a challenge to come up with hard and fast figures: fighting climate change is typically handled by staff across many agencies and programs, rather than just in a single department. Nonetheless, most cities were able to at least make an educated guess as their resource commitment. Reports about budgets are similarly varied, with responses falling between $75,000 and $15 million. Most cities reported budgets of between $150,000 and $500,000.

Most Big Cities Have Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plans  and Place Emphasis on Energy Efficient Buildings

More than three-quarters of big cities have, or will soon have, detailed plans on how they will reduce greenhouse gases. However, how much big cities are investing in reducing greenhouse gases varies widely.  Cities are building more efficient buildings and nearly have of cities have programs subsidizing insulation, energy-efficient appliances and weatherization.   About one in four cities have green building mandates that go beyond city buildings and apply to private construction: usually commercial and, in a few cases, residential

Most Big Cities are Placing an Emphasis on Green Jobs

Nearly all cities want to attract green-collar jobs and industries. In fact, one in three cities have partnered with area colleges and created green-focused training programs.  One in six report they have programs that place trainees in green jobs.

Transportation Figures into Most Big City Sustainability Plans

Rising energy costs have driven increases in public transit ridership in virtually every city in the survey and a significant number of cities reported they’re investing in one or more of four central strategies to boost mass transit.  Most cities report they expected their commitment to battling climate change to remain strong noting that retrofitting city buildings and greening a vehicle fleet can actually save cities money and pave the way to a new green economy.

Cities surveyed (ranked by population):
New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Columbus, Austin, Fort Worth, Memphis, Charlotte, Baltimore, Boston, El Paso, Milwaukee, Seattle, Nashville, Denver, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Louisville, Portland, Oklahoma City, Tucson, Albuquerque, Atlanta, Miami, Oakland, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Saint Paul, Cleveland.

© 2009, Tracey de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Tracey de Morsella (323 Articles)

Tracey de Morsella started her career working as an editor for US Technology Magazine. She used that experience to launch Delaware Valley Network, a publication for professionals in the Greater Philadelphia area. Years later, she used the contacts and resources she acquired to work in executive search specializing in technical and diversity recruitment. She has conducted recruitment training seminars for Wachovia Bank, the Department of Interior and the US Postal Service. During this time, she also created a diversity portal called The Multicultural Advantage and published the Diversity Recruitment Advertising Toolkit, a directory of recruiting resources for human resources professionals. Her career and recruitment articles have appeared in numerous publications and web portals including Woman Engineer Magazine, Monster.com, About.com Job Search Channel, Workplace Diversity Magazine, Society for Human Resource Management web site, NSBE Engineering Magazine, HR.com, and Human Resource Consultants Association Newsletter. Her work with technology professionals drew her to pursuing training and work in web development, which led to a stint at Merrill Lynch as an Intranet Manager. In March, she decided to combine her technical and career management expertise with her passion for the environment, and with her husband, launched The Green Economy Post, a blog providing green career information and covering the impact of the environment, sustainable building, cleantech and renewable energy on the US economy. Her sustainability articles have appeared on Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation, Chem.Info,FastCompany and CleanTechies.