Supporting local government

Action at the Local Government Level

As articulated in 1997 by UNESCO, “The kind of change required by sustainability implicates each community, each household, and each individual. Successful solutions to problems at this level of society will need to be rooted in the cultural specificity of the town or region if the people are to be supportive of and involved in such change.”

Federalism, or the subsidiary principle, offers guidance for allocating responsibility among different levels of government. Responsibility should rest with the smallest unit of government, closest to the people that are up to the task. Smaller units of government are more responsive to community needs and are best able to adapt solutions to local variations in preferences and conditions. Increasingly, municipalities in the U.S. are investing in sustainability departments. Most local governments, however, have very limited resources to assess and implement new strategies to address emerging issues and opportunities. Thus the role for state frameworks and for state government.

State Programs to Support Local Government Action

Higher levels of government – the states – have the capacity to study complicated problems and to research, develop and apply resources toward implementing innovative solutions that can work at the scale of the hundreds of municipalities in each state.  States are the unit of government that, through legislative action, defines the powers and role of local government generally. States are the frontline implementers of major environmental, social, and economic policies and programs. States are also significant funders of local government through various types of shared taxes, grants, and intergovernmental transfers. States are large enough to make investments, conduct research and adopt innovations, think regionally, and organize significant and systemic changes.

Network Programs Help Local Government

The 12 statewide programs offer local governments and communities an array of resources and incentives:

  • A menu of best practices, standards and standardized performance metrics
  • Informational resources, tools and training
  • Peer-to-peer exchanges
  • Technical assistance and mentoring
  • Coordination with and among government agencies
  • Access to resources from multiple sectors
  • Financial incentives (preferential government funding, competitive grants)
  • Recognition, certification and other forms of formal recognition