A Decade of Sustainability Action

The author (far right) joins other climate leaders in Bonn, Germany, during the 2017 United Nations climate conference.

Today, as I look back on 10 years of work with ICLEI USA, I am incredibly proud of the work of my colleagues, that of the member communities we serve, and the field of community-scale climate action as a whole. When I started, it was the beginning of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant and there was tons of work happening: New tools for action planning and vulnerability assessments, a Green Business Challenge program taking off in many cities, progress to train and support program evaluations and monitoring, and the early work on how to meaningfully measure an expansive set of sustainability indicators in what would become STAR Communities were all coming together. It was truly exciting as it felt like we were breaking new ground every day.

As things in the nonprofit world tend to go, the funding and campaigns that sparked many initiatives came and went along with the amazing people who helped make it all happen. Those initial efforts may be in the past, but the impact of all of them is real.

The Evolution of GHG Accounting Protocols

Not every program was so transient, however, and over the years, we laid critical groundwork that we rely on today for the road ahead. The U.S. Community Protocol (USCP) was a triumph of balancing multiple perspectives on community GHGs — recognizing early the importance of consumption and the collective responsibility of a local footprint. Some ideas just take time to catch on. After seven years and nearly 4,000 downloads, the USCP remains relevant and useful for many practitioners.

The way ICLEI and the many contributors that designed the USCP remains innovative for today and will stand the test of time. The simplicity of the Sources and Activities Framework, the notion of a scoping exercise to set community priorities for the effort, and the encouragement to tell your own climate story to drive meaningful action all are right in line with the best guidance we give today.

In addition, the USCP continues to develop as we will soon release an update to begin accounting for forests and other emissions from lands, bringing an important recognition to the climate protection opportunity that local government has through its role in land use decisions. I look forward to how the Protocol will continue to evolve and support further exploration of local climate action.

Greenhouse Gas Management Tools Mature

In the spring of 2013, we started on a little project called the Climate and Energy Management Suite. Realizing the unfortunate acronym overlap with “continuous emissions monitoring systems” — and recalling the annoying alphabet soup that was CACP and CAPPA — we renamed it ClearPath and blazed a trail bringing community and local government accounting, data management, and scenario planning into cloud.

Over 800 local government accounts, 1,800+ individual users, and 110,000+ individual records later, the ClearPath tool is by far the most widely used application for this kind of work, and I am speechless at the number of practitioners we’ve supported with that application. Also impressive is the tremendous amount of data that we’ve generated together. I’m proud that we’ve maintained data privacy and respect for our users a top priority even if it has limited what we’ve been able to do with that resource.

Going forward, I am optimistic many more will choose to note which of their data can be made public, which will allow ICLEI to better tell your stories and that of collective local action. Here again this ICLEI USA resource is poised to get richer over time. Without too much difficulty, we’ve evolved ClearPath to meet shifting reporting requirements, new methodologies, and to accommodate over 8,500 different combinations of input data that our users have to work with. It has been translated into four additional languages and been used successfully the world over. I expect that it will continue to serve our community of communities well.

Driving Local Government Sustainability Action Forward

More recently, with a great group of partners we’ve created the contribution analysis approach for understanding inventory progress of individual cities and made our own contribution to the understanding of collective local action, something even was noted in the 2018 UN Emissions Gap Analysis Report.

In addition to these pieces of infrastructure, the other through-line of my decade with ICLEI USA has been the drive and passion of the staff of the local governments we serve. Your questions, observations, and the local initiatives that come from you and your communities have been a constant source of inspiration and fodder for self-reflection on how to best support local climate action.

In my absence, more of the upcoming staff at ICLEI USA will know the joy of being thanked for helping to explain some obscure number or pointing to the right angle to get that reluctant mayor involved. Thanks for having me along for parts of your journey and maybe our paths will cross again in my next role with Kim Lundgren Associates.

Warmly,

Michael Steinhoff
Program Director, Tools & Technical Innovation, ICLEI USA

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