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The Challenge of Respecting the Environment While Running an Organization

A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.

By Stephanie Moore

Paper or plastic?

That question used to greet you at the end of your shopping journey. The question of paper or plastic is rarely asked and before you know it numerous plastic bags have already been haphazardly filled with your items. The result is evident by the abundance of plastic bags littering the street scape and stranded in trees. Environmental efforts are taking place in such cities as New York and San Francisco, where plastic bags are now banned. Changing the mindset of shoppers is a lot like changing the mindset of the city employee or resident.

Moore julyTechnology has changed the mindset of the office and has greatly enhanced our ability to respect the environment and conserve our natural resources. Making best use of that technology in a professional manner is still a challenge for public administrators. A university study showed that even making a small change in the font type could help save ink.

Asking employees to make simple changes can result in savings of natural and monetary resources, including preserving city budgets and saving positions from being furloughed. As public administrators we are constantly challenged with changing the mindset of the employee and resident. Educating employees and residents on conservation measures is an ongoing and valuable lesson. However, conservation of natural resources is a delicate balance.

A lesson about conservation of natural resources is also a lesson in saving money. Conserving natural resources is much more than just putting paper in the proper bin. Tax payers should pay attention; conservation of natural resources also leads to the savings of their tax dollars and results in far reaching benefits for the entire community.

One of the largest consumers of energy and resources are buildings. According to Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star, buildings waste 30 percent of the energy they consume due to inefficiencies. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Certified buildings are making a positive impact on conservation efforts. Another conservation effort is adaptive reuse of existing structures. When communities can preserve, improve and reuse an existing structure, the waste is diverted and a treasure is preserved for future generations.

A recent Governing article titled, “How Karl Marx’s ‘Urban Metabolism’ Is Helping Cities Go Green,” talks about the process of Urban Metabolism. In addition, an article from MIT titled “The Changing Metabolism of Cities,” provides substantial information about urban metabolism. Urban metabolism is broadly defined, “as the sum total of the technical and socioeconomic processes that occur in cities, resulting in growth, production of energy and elimination of waste.” Urban metabolism is a process to explain how a city is currently utilizing the natural resources of water, materials and energy surrounding a community.

Using urban metabolism, a city can set a baseline in which to set benchmarks for improvement in the use of these natural resources. Armed with the data and tools, stakeholders can be charged with the responsibility to be stewards of natural resources. We must change the current mindset that a natural resource is a disposable commodity. Changing the mindset will result in an improvement of the status quo and lead to a willingness to do things differently so things can be done right for the environment.

Cites and residents are changing their mindsets from energy hogs to energy hounds. Cities are scouring for innovative ways to improve energy efficiency in order to save money. There are encouraging results from the IBM Center for The Business of Government report, “Breaking New Ground: Promoting Environmental and Energy Programs in Local Government.” The survey asked local governments what sustainability initiatives their local government has undertaken.

The survey outlines the results and highlights case studies from communities across the country. The results indicated that the surveyed communities shared seven action steps to comprehensive, systematic approaches to sustainability:

  1. Formal commitment and a broad strategy.
  2. Engagement process for broad community outreach.
  3. Citizen’s committee.
  4. Partnerships.
  5. Break down silos and encourage coordinated action.
  6. Measure performance.
  7. Report and improve on that progress.

The highlighted communities are already using these action steps and getting high quality, sustainable results. Communities in the study are addressing issues ranging from reducing light pollution, utilizing methane recovery generators, installing solar panels and land conservation initiatives. City staff and residents working together for the greater good of the environment generated the ideas. Once we frame the environmental challenge to the “triple bottom line,” environment, economy and social equity, then will our efforts will be more impactful, sustainable and threefold.

Many cities have started green initiatives as a way to reduce waste. As a member of my Green Team, we came up with the idea to save on excessive office supply orders by creating a surplus office supply exchange. In an effort to save on the budget and reduce the amount of office supplies being delivered, the Surplus with a Purpose (SWAP) was born. Now employees can double-check before placing an order to see if the office supply is already in stock. This is a beneficial program that be expanded into communities and include not only office supplies but books, tools and bikes.

As public administrators we must lead by example and provide a sustainable path for our communities. The challenge of balancing the budget while balancing the environmental impact of decision-making is enormous. However, it can be done and is already in action in local governments across the nation. As stewards of the environment, we are all responsible for making environmentally friendly choices and conserving our natural resources. The next time you are making a decision, whether it’s at the local government level or making a visit to the local store just remember to add the fourth “R” refuse. Refuse that out dated, non-environmentally friendly option and commit to the option that puts conservation of natural resources above all else. Oh yeah, bring your own bag to the store and refuse the plastic one.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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