The pursuit of sustainability is in many ways a pursuit of innovation. Far from altering the ultimate processes, systems, services, and objectives of local government – sustainability initiatives seek to find new approaches, use creative solutions, and plan comprehensively to enhance overall efficiency of cities and create healthy, prosperous, and strong communities. Sustainability approaches bring together and often streamline disparate functions, thrive on partnerships, focus on lasting solutions and are rooted in practicality even while embracing out-of-the-box thinking. In other words – while vastly necessarily, sustainability can be endlessly complicated.
Because of these complexities and the need for context-specific approaches, identifying and implementing appropriate sustainability initiatives is rarely a straightforward undertaking. The need to balance cause-and-effect across social, economic, and environmental considerations, and among a range of stakeholders can be especially challenging. Cities recognize that when it comes to pursuing innovative approaches to complex issues there is strength in numbers – in sharing, learning, and working together.
NLC’s Sustainability Program within the Center for Research and Innovation seeks to support, strengthen and connect cities’ sustainability efforts by sharing best practices, resources, and topic-specific information. Last month we welcomed the Sustainable Cities Institute, an online platform of case studies, model policies, and more to help achieve this goal. Recognizing the global implications and opportunities inherent within the field of sustainability, we have also regularly engaged international audiences through dialogue and information sharing.
Global innovations aimed at creating “smart”, sustainable, efficient, and healthy communities are rapidly expanding – as are efforts within U.S. cities. There is much to learn from and to share with the international community and many opportunities to expand international collaboration – among cities, businesses, universities, and other partners – to achieve sustainability goals.
To facilitate the exchange of best practices and learning across international communities this week NLC’s Sustainability Program is leading a delegation of U.S. local leaders to cities in Sweden and Germany (see press release). In each country, delegates will meet with international counterparts, non-governmental organizations, and high-ranking government officials to highlight locally led sustainability initiatives in the U.S. and learn about successful approaches being used in European communities.
Delegates will tour projects known for significant sustainability achievements in the cities of Stockholm and Malmö, Sweden, and Hamburg, Germany. Topics covered will range from advances in energy efficiency and renewable energy development, comprehensive community design, waste management, waterfront redevelopment, “green ports,” and strategies to connect sustainability with economic goals through clean tech and “greening” of business practices.
Meetings in Sweden provide an opportunity to build upon relationships developed through a similar delegation in 2010 when NLC signed on to support the Swedish American Green Alliance (s.a.g.a.), an initiative designed to encourage dialogue and knowledge transfer between the two nations on energy, environmental, and clean tech issues. In Hamburg, delegates have been invited to help recognize and celebrate the city’s history of environmental achievement, which in 2011 resulted in the city being named the European Green Capital, a prestigious and competitive designation awarded by the European Commission.
The NLC delegation consists of local officials from the cities of Baltimore, Md., Cleveland, Ohio, Dubuque, Iowa, Los Angeles, Calif., Saint Paul, Minn., and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Follow the delegation all week on CitiesSpeak and via twitter @NLCgreencities for daily reports on activities throughout Sweden and Germany.
-NLC’s Sustainability Team