United States

Urban Sustainability Leadership Academy

Urban Sustainability Leadership Academy

Helping sustainability directors across the U.S. create, lead, and manage change in their communities.

Most urban sustainability directors face an odd and exceptionally difficult set of circumstances. They often have no formal authority, little to no budget or staff, and a stand-alone sustainability office. And yet their mandate is enormous: Institutionalize sustainability across a variety of government departments, throughout their communities, and among a diversity of stakeholders.

To help them succeed in this context, we launched the Urban Sustainability Leadership Academy (USLA). The purpose of this Academy is to strengthen the leadership of local government sustainability directors so that they can better institutionalize their programs and their role as change agents. Toward this end, the Academy is focused on showcasing effective leadership tools, frameworks, and strategies, and sharing the stories of successful leaders.

The Academy curriculum is based on a thorough needs/wants assessment, during which we interviewed nearly all of the workshop attendees, "coaching corps," and other long-term sustainability directors. These interviews have revealed five main themes, each addressing an essential piece of a holistic leadership approach: Building Relationships; Delivering and Demonstrating Value; Leaning on Leverage Points; Integrating Across the Community; and Sustaining & Financing Sustainability.

Piece_BuildingRelationships.jpgBuilding Relationships. Sustainability directors cannot be effective in a vacuum. Rather, they need to work across multiple departments and constituencies and persuade stakeholders to make what in some cases may be significant changes. To achieve these objectives, sustainability directors need excellent collaboration skills and the ability to build trust and credibility. Successful directors get to know people personally, and prioritize ways to be of service, rather than relying solely on advocacy. They let people come to their own conclusions about sustainability, but inspire in them a shared vision of a sustainable future.

Piece_DeliveringDemonstrating.jpgDelivering and Demonstrating Value. All sustainability directors must deliver unique value to their governments and demonstrate the viability of their work to the community. While it can be tempting to begin by aiming high through ambitious policies or programs, the most effective efforts start first at a manageable scale. This can simultaneously demonstrate the value of sustainability projects on the ground, build capacity and confidence, and gain visibility among implementation partners.

Piece_LeaningOnLeverage.jpgLeaning on Leverage Points. To maximize impact, most sustainability leaders closely monitor the most influential aspects of government and the community. Identified here as “leverage points,” these areas provide opportunities to multiply the effect of sustainability efforts by tapping into existing momentum and priorities. For some, this strategy may include becoming involved in setting new economic priorities such as downtown revitalization. Finding and acting on leverage points requires the ability to identify common themes between sustainability objectives and a community’s priorities, and the ability to join the decision-making process.

Piece_IntegrationStrategies.jpgIntegrating Across the Community. Sustainability is most effective when it is integrated into a government and community’s visioning process and infused into daily life. Integration can be achieved through practical means such as adopting policies, codes, and accountability systems, or through cross-sector activities that bring departments or sectors together for a common cause. Many sustainability directors work toward integration by helping stakeholders identify and build programs, and then move toward a support role as the programs take root.

Piece_SustainingAndFinancing.jpgSustaining & Financing Sustainability. Over time, sustainability offices can be exposed to a number of potentially destabilizing forces, including changes in administration, budget cuts, and shifts in political priorities. Today, many directors rely on the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG) to fund their programs. These grants are set to expire soon, forcing many to seek alternative means to sustain their work. While these forces can be difficult for everyone in government, it is possible to position the sustainability office as a stabilizing force that is beneficial to all. Many offices have found success through entrepreneurial means, helping others in the government to innovate new, high-value programs. Others have developed organizational models that integrate their function and value deeper into the core of government operations.

Each Academy brings together 65-70 local government sustainability directors and 6-10 long-term sustainability directors and thought leaders as the "coaching corps."

Included among our coaching corps are:

  • Susan Anderson, Director, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, City of Portland, Oregon
  • Fritjof Capra, Director, Center for EcoLiteracy, Berkeley, California
  • John Coleman, Director, Department of Sustainability & Strategic Planning, City of Fayetteville, Arkansas
  • Bob Doppelt, Executive Director, The Resource Innovation Group, Eugene, Oregon
  • Adam Freed, Deputy Director, Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, City of New York, New York
  • Merrick Hoben, Director, Consensus Building Institute, Inc., Washington, DC
  • Piper Evans, Senior Associate, O-H Community Partners, Ltd., Chicago, Illinois
  • David Fairman, Managing Director, Consensus Building Institute, Cambridge, MA
  • Mike Kearney, Senior Director, Energy and Environmental Services, Siemens Building Technologies, Buffalo Grove, IL
  • Dave Newport, Director, Environmental Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
  • Gayle Prest, Sustainability Manager, City of Minneapolis Sustainability Office, Minneapolis, MN
  • Andrew Watterson, Chief of Sustainability, Office of the Mayor, City of Cleveland, OH

To date, we have hosted two Academies; one from July 18-20, 2011 in Washington, D.C., and one from November 14-16 in Chicago, IL.

USLA 1.0 - July 18-20, 2011
Resource Guide

USLA 2.0 - November 14-16, 2011
Resource Guide
Changing Organizational Culture through Sustainable Thinking - Bob Dopplet, Executive Director, The Resource Innovation Group

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