ESG & Diversity
Kathleen Vail Image
Kathleen Vail
Former Editor-in-Chief, National School Boards Association

4 simple ways for governments to be more environmentally friendly

February 13, 2019
0 min read
Planting flowers for a local government initiative.

Local governments that practice sustainability and strive to be environmentally friendly will reap benefits for residents and businesses, positively impacting their local community and the world beyond.

Advancing sustainability can take various forms; local officials can examine the environmental practices within their offices, consider sustainability in planning public buildings and parks and influence community members and businesses to adopt their own green practices.

These sustainability efforts make local communities better and more desirable places to live and work. Local governments also see cost savings benefits in energy efficiency and conservation, waste reduction and recycling and climate-friendly purchasing, according to The Institute for Local Government’s report, The Fiscal and Economic Benefits of Sustainability.

While there are plenty of reasons for working toward environmental sustainability, creating environmentally friendly initiatives in local government may not be as hard as you think. Below, we outline four easy-to-implement tactics for a cleaner, greener community.

Environmental priorities of the next generations

Community members increasingly expect that local governments will take a leadership role in enacting and encouraging practices that help the environment and promoting sustainability. Millennials and Gen Z prioritize the state of the environment and are willing to take action on climate change issues, according to a Pew Research Center report. Those actions include “donating money, contacting an elected official, volunteering or attending a rally.”

Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, has a strong commitment to sustainability, with 82% expressing concern about the state of the planet, according to a blog post by Jodie Shaw for Kadence International. She wrote, “72% say they have already changed their behavior to reduce their impact on the environment.”

With these two generations as voters, residents, business owners and employees, local governments will increasingly be expected to reduce their own carbon footprint as well as offering incentives to businesses and vendors to become more environmentally friendly.

Promoting a green-friendly culture

Your local citizens will take notice when government staff and elected officials are committed to improving the environment and sustainability. Local governments that actively promote green practices and an eco-friendly culture in the workplace demonstrate to their citizens and constituents the importance of becoming environmentally friendly. The changes provide a healthy model for citizens to emulate and may encourage them to change some of their own habits.

Local governments can look to private organizations for inspiration regarding implementation of environmentally sustainable practices, as many businesses have taken the lead by moving toward green initiatives. Such companies boast significant financial benefits as a result of their efforts — which local governments could also experience — by focusing on budget-saving sustainability practices.

Environmentally friendly practices can help save money and reduce waste. Through these practices, local governments can show they are responding to the concerns of their residents while making their communities cleaner and more desirable places to live and for companies to do business.

Green practice categories

To develop green practices, consider ways to conserve, mitigate and eliminate. Below are explanations and examples of these concepts:

Conservation: This concept applies to natural resources such as water and energy. Green practices include disposing of chemicals instead of pouring them down the drain and making sure that faucets and pipes don’t leak. Installing energy-efficient appliances, low-energy light bulbs and solar lighting are ways to conserve energy.

Mitigation: These are practices that lessen environmental harm, such as walking instead of driving, which decreases air pollution. Recycling and reducing single-use plastics can keep materials from ending up in the landfill.

Elimination: This is the practice of removing the source of pollutants. Eliminating food waste is an example. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food waste accounts for one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and generates 8% of greenhouse gases annually.

These green practice categories can help local governments prioritize where they want to focus their environmental efforts.

Environmental role models: 4 simple practices to implement

There are many things that governments and municipalities can do to make changes in their own practices and encourage change in residents and business. Here are four key ways to become a sustainability leader in your community:

1. Encourage everyone to do their part

Offer incentives and services for residents and local businesses to recycle and reduce waste. Educate community members through your website, social media and board or council meetings about recycling sites. Make recycling accessible, particularly for businesses and industries that produce a great deal of waste.

Identify community groups that help residents with composting to reduce food waste. Educate restaurants and schools on ways to keep food from going to the landfills, including donating leftover food to homeless shelters and food banks.

2. Make green changes in the office

In government offices, remind employees to turn off computers, printers and power strips at the end of the workday. Ask employees to delay turning lights and office equipment back on the next day until they really need to use them. Make sure that monitors are set on the most energy-efficient settings and eliminate screensavers on computers. Replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent or LED bulbs. Consider installing motion sensor lights in meeting rooms and other places such as the restrooms.

To reduce paper use, set printers to print on both sides. When paper use can't be avoided, opt for recycled paper. In addition, check out other eco-friendly office supplies, such as refillable ink cartridges and non-toxic highlighter pens.

3. Foster clean commute initiatives

Offering teleworking for employees can reduce energy use in buildings and reduce emissions by keeping cars off the road. Give your own employees the option to telework, either fully remote or in a hybrid schedule. If employees must come into the office, encourage the use of public transportation or ridesharing. You can offer tax incentives and other benefits to local companies and businesses to encourage teleworking and use of public transportation.

Biking is becoming a popular way to commute and local governments can make it easier for cyclists in their offices by giving employees secure places to store their bikes and offering shower facilities for early morning cyclists. Working with city or municipal planners to create bike-only lanes on local highways will also encourage more local cyclists to commute to their offices. Up the ante by offering a 'clean commuting' award for employees who practice clean commuting for a specified period of time.

4. Use software solutions to help reduce local government's carbon footprint

Establishing local environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria has become a priority for many local governments, but the hallmarks of carbon reduction remain consistent across locales. Think about taking the office as paperless as possible. Diligent Community makes this possible with board management software that simplifies board agendas and meeting minutes, while eliminating paper use. The solution also helps local governments to drastically cut down on printing costs when compiling board meeting books. Last-minute changes are no problem, as public officials can access the latest changes online in real-time.

You can also store an unlimited number of important records using secure cloud-based storage. Reduce the use of paper from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with a transparency website where citizens can retrieve public documents electronically. Diligent Community offers a way to be environmentally friendly while enhancing meeting efficiency and keeping citizens strongly connected to their local government.

Ways to share your environmentally friendly efforts publicly

When local governments are transparent in their actions, trust is built between the government, its officials and its community members. Efforts to become more environmentally friendly can cause some inconvenience or require extra investment in infrastructure. People need to understand the “why” behind environmental practices, as well as the goals and the outcomes. Letting the public know about your green efforts also provides evidence that you’re tackling them. For example:

  • How many cars are off the roads
  • How many tons of paper and other waste did not end up in a landfill
  • How much taxpayer money was saved on power bills in government offices
  • How many acres of green space have been added

Reporting and publishing green requirements and expectations for vendors is another way that both potential vendors and community members can see your commitment to mitigating the effects of climate change.

Diligent Community supports your environmental efforts

Implementing environmentally sustainable practices can have a wide range of benefits, from creating better places to live and work to cost savings for the locality. Not only is it important to take action — like creating a paperless workplace — you also need to consider how you will share these initiatives with community members.

Using board management software such as Diligent Community can help reduce waste, save paper, track your environmental goals, engage council members and keep your community engaged and informed about environmental efforts.

You can report these efforts on your public transparency website that comes with Diligent Community, that seamlessly integrates with your local government website, as well as communicating them at public meetings and in social media posts.

Find out how Diligent Community can help support your local government’s strategies for climate and environment. Request a demo today.


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