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Environment: Protecting Our Natural Resources

Mayors nationwide know that livable communities thrive when they have green spaces, fresh air, clean water and litter-free streets

Lake With Geese, Tree Lined, Cityscape In Background, Daylight, Environment, Protecting Our Natural Resources, Livable Communities

Arpad Benedek/Getty Images

A green scene in Atlanta, from the Environment chapter of "Where We Live."

In the 21st century, protecting and preserving natural resources doesn’t need to take a backseat to other priorities.

Instead, being mindful of environmental impacts supports a range of goals — from boosting local economies to improving public health.

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Mayors know that expand­ing and preserving parks and open spaces helps create opportunities for physical activity while protecting important habitats from destruc­tion.

They understand that energy efficiency can minimize pollution from fossil fuels while lowering energy bills for governments and consumers alike.

And they're realizing that a focus on green jobs can put people to work while spurring next-generation innovations.

The Takeaways:

  • Environmental conser­vation can help the planet and the budget: Installing energy-efficient lighting on public roadways; increasing the use of hybrid, electric and natural gas-powered vehicles; installing solar panels and upgrading water, heating and cooling systems in public buildings can make a significant dent in both energy use and long-term public spending. Similar upgrades by businesses and in single-family homes, apartment buildings and other resi­dences help lower household utility bills and are good for the community-at-large, too.
  • Going green can create jobs: With growing mar­kets for green products and services, mayors see an opportunity to spur economic development through environmentally conscious innovation.

  • "Think big, act small"can equal success: Mayors across the country are encouraging small actions that add up to big impacts for our environ­ment. Person by person, town by town and city by city, communities are making a difference to reduce waste, conserve energy and save habitats.

Here's What Mayors Have Been Doing

Mayor Kasim Reed as seen in the book Where We Live

Photo courtesy City of Atlanta

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (as seen in "Where We Live") helps clear land for a park.

Atlanta, Georgia

Mayor Kasim Reed (2010-)
Power to Change/One Million Acts of Green

Kasim Reed wants Atlantans to join him in the effort to make their city a model of sustainability. How to attain his goal? One Million Acts of Green.

Since becoming mayor, Reed has moved the city toward ambitious environmental goals: making the region's airport one of the most sustainable in the country, improving the energy efficiency of the city's commercial buildings through the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge and implementing a Climate Action Plan to miti­gate the city's impact on climate change.

But to really make a difference, he asked the city's residents to join the effort. That's what the innovative, citywide Power to Change/One Mil­lion Acts of Green initiative is all about.

At the start, the program engaged more than 300 stakeholders — including residents, non­profits, government, business and academia — to develop a framework for action and break apart the complex idea of "sustainability" into under­standable components.

The resulting 10 impact areas (including air quality, water management, energy efficiency, land use, materials man­agement, community education and business development) are further defined by goals and priorities that can be achieved through the cumulative effect of individual actions as well as business-government collaboration. Ideas range from incentives for buying and using electric vehicles to enhancing neighborhood recycling programs and water management programs.

The Power to Change mobilizes Atlantans as "sustainability ambassadors" who commit to take action on projects that benefit the 10 impact areas. Ambassadors log and track their actions through the Power to Change/One Millions Acts of Green website. By the start of 2016, nearly 1,000 acts of green had been completed, saving more than 36,000 pounds of greenhouse gases, nearly 5,000 gallons of water and 9,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.

Learn more: Website for the City of Atlanta | Atlanta is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities
Summary published June 2016 

Berkeley, California, Mayor Tom Bates

Photo courtesy City of Berkeley

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (in white helmet).

Berkeley, California

Mayor Tom Bates (Term: 2002-)
Berkeley Climate Action Plan

Mayor Tom Bates wanted to reduce his carbon footprint, so he sold his car.

Constituents now see Bates biking, walking and taking public transportation around town — and many are following his lead. Berkeley has the second highest walk-to-work rate and third highest bike-to-work rate among the nation’s midsize cities.

Increasing cycling and walking are components of the Climate Action Plan that Berkeley adopted. Other elements of the plan include reducing the amount of solid waste sent to landfills and increasing the number of green buildings and the use of renewable energy. To help residents meet the plan's waste reduction targets, the city provides curbside pickup of compost, such as yard waste and food scraps, and distributes bins that accommodate paper on one side and glass and cans on the other.

Learn more: Website for the City of Berkeley
Summary published June 2016


Bridgeport, Connecticut

Former Mayor Bill Finch (Term: 2007-2015)
Greening the City

In 2010, then-Mayor Bill Finch brought together more than 100 organizations and individuals to map out the future of Bridgeport. Their vision: a better place to live with cleaner waterways and soil, less reliance on fossil fuels and more green jobs.

That's all captured in BGreen2020, a blueprint of 64 actionable strategies to guide the community's efforts. One innovative BGreen2020 project is the creation of a green jobs hub at an abandoned industrial site. The Eco-Technology Park is now home to the largest fuel cell facility in North America, a mattress recycling facility, a grease recycling and biofuel production plant, a natural gas vehicle fueling station, a permeable paving company, a biofuels home heating oil company, a tire recycling facility, a waste-to-energy facility and one of the city's two sewage treatment plants.

Other BGreen2020 initiatives range from providing loans to make homes more energy efficient to enhancing public transportation and improving stormwater management.

Learn more: Website for the City of Bridgeport
Summary published June 2016


Cheyenne, Wyoming

Mayor Rick Kaysen(Term: 2009-)
Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens aims to be an oasis on the High Plains, and Mayor Rick Kaysen is one of its biggest boosters. A longtime advocate and member of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Foundation board, Kaysen champions an expansion and renovation effort.

The centerpiece is a large conservatory featuring subtropical plants, a waterfall and a bonsai garden that is designed to give Cheyenne's residents and visitors a welcome respite from the region's long, cold winters. The improvement initiative also allows for enhanced environmental education programs and expands the center's greenhouse, growing its capacity and making it more accessible to visitors of all ages and abilities. The project is funded primarily through a $16 million one-sixth penny sales tax approved by voters.

Learn more: Website for the City of Cheyenne
Summary published June 2016


Des Moines, Iowa

Mayor Frank Cownie (Term: 2004-)
Greening the City

At the start of his administration in 2004, Mayor Frank Cownie put a focus on sustainability. He established an Energy, Efficiency, Environ­ment and Conservation Task Force comprised of city staff and community leaders. Over the years, the task force led the charge to adopt a citywide sustainability plan and initiatives ranging from replanting parks with native grasses to adding hybrid and zero-emission vehicles to the city's fleet. Des Moines has also invested in green building initiatives, and the city regularly works in part­nership with local builders and businesses on adaptive reuse projects that attempt to incorpo­rate best practices for energy efficiency, materials recycling and sustainable water use.

Learn more: Website for the City of Des Moines | Des Moines is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities  
Summary published June 2016


Evansville, Indiana

Mayor Lloyd Winnecke (Term: 2012-)
Clean Evansville

When Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said he wanted to lead an effort to clean up Evansville, he meant it literally. Through anti-trash and litter programs, he aims to boost the city's economic develop­ment potential while helping the environment.

Since the first cleanup day in January 2012 under the Clean Evansville initiative, Winnecke and 5,400 community volunteers, coordinated through the nonprofit Keep Evansville Beau­tiful, have collected more than 50 tons of litter and trash. The initiative has now expanded to local businesses, which can take a Clean Evans­ville Pledge, promising to keep their properties and the street in front of their businesses clean.

Learn more: Website for the City of Evansville
Summary published June 2016


Laredo, Texas

Former Mayor Raul G. Salinas (Term: 2006-2014)
Energy Efficient Efforts

Under the leadership of then-Mayor Raul Salinas, Laredo took concrete steps to make the city cleaner, safer and more fuel efficient.

The instal­lation of 45 solar-powered trash compactors in the city's downtown helps keep trash off the streets while reducing the number of trips each trash truck makes, saving 2,000 gallons of fuel each year and reducing emissions by 75,920 pounds. The city also replaced incandescent fixtures in the downtown area with brighter and more efficient LEDs, making streets safer while using 125 fewer watts in energy per bulb. Other projects include the installation of solar panels and upgrading HVAC systems in city buildings.

Learn more: Website for the City of Laredo
Summary published June 2016


Madison, Wisconsin

Mayor Paul Soglin (Term: 2011-)
Increasing Pollinator Presence

At the direction of Mayor Paul Soglin and the Madison City Council, a city task force developed recommendations to help stop the alarming decline of bee colonies and other pollinators. The task force spent its first year conducting research and reviewing practices that contribute to a problem impacting U.S. food and agriculture systems. Its recommendations, released in September 2015, include concrete steps the city can take to support habitats friendly to pollinators such as using specific plantings on city property and changing how frequently city properties are mowed


Minneapolis, Minnesota

Mayor Betsy Hodges (Term: 2014-)
Zero Waste Minneapolis

Betsy Hodges's efforts to make Minne­apolis a zero-waste city began with her inauguration's One Minneapolis Celebration, which attracted 2,000 people and produced only 24.3 pounds of trash (or less than one-fifth an ounce per attendee), with 628 pounds of material com­posted and 640 pounds recycled.

Minneapolis residents of all ages are encouraged to be "zero heroes" by buying products with less packaging, bringing coffee mugs to work, repairing and maintaining durable goods instead of replacing them and creatively reusing materials such as greeting cards and paper products. For more complicated approaches, like composting, the city hosts educational events for residents and businesses. In 2015, a policy task force was des­ignated to create additional strategies to move Minneapolis toward zero waste.

Learn more: Website for the City of Minneapolis | Minneapolis is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities  
Summary published June 2016


New Bedford, Massachusetts

Mayor Jon Mitchell (Term: 2012-)
Green Economy

Mayor Jon Mitchell is working to position New Bedford to be a national leader in renewables and green jobs. The city has been able to boast the most installed solar panels per capita in the continental United States, and New Bedford is looking to capitalize on its coastal location by harnessing offshore winds into energy.

A partnership with technology corporation Siemens plans to help upgrade 100 city-owned buildings with energy-efficient windows and heating and cooling systems and replace 10,000 street lights with LEDs. There's more to come as the city organizes itself to support a green future. The city's energy officer provides in-house techni­cal and policy expertise, and the city has hired a chief financial office to keep an eye on the bottom line. "The infusion of talent," Mitchell says, "was critical to finding innovative ways to navigate around our fiscal realities — and do more, with less."

Learn more: Website for the City of New Bedford 
Summary published June 2016


New Orleans, Louisiana

Mayor Mitch Landrieu (Term: 2010-)
Resilient New Orleans

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 highlighted New Orleans's unique vulnerability to environmental forces. Ten years later, Mayor Mitch Landrieu unveiled a comprehensive, forward-looking resilience strategy in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and its 100 Resilient Cities program.

Measures include restoring the coastal wetlands to protect New Orleans from future flooding as well as implementing a regional urban plan to protect against floods and reduce the sinking that occurs in communities below sea level. The city also supports a range of awareness programs that promote responsible environmental stewardship and ways to mitigate climate change.

Learn more: Website for the City of New Orleans
Summary published June 2016


Raleigh, North Carolina

Former Mayor Charles Meeker(Term: 2001-2011)
Environment and Sustainability

In 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named Raleigh the most sustainable midsized community in the nation thanks, in large part, to then-Mayor Charles Meeker.

Under his watch, Raleigh launched a green building worker-training course, installed 30 electric vehicle charging stations and developed what was then one of the nation's only two convention centers with a Silver LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Meeker also introduced Neighborwoods, a program that works with residents to plant more than 10,000 trees throughout the city.

Learn more: Website for the City of Raleigh 
Summary published June 2016


Salt Lake County, Utah

Mayor Ben McAdams (Term: 2013-)
Improving Air Quality

With about half of Salt Lake County's air pollution caused by motor vehicles, Mayor Ben McAdams encourages residents to get out of — or tuneup — their cars.

A 2015 pilot project conducted in partnership with the Salt Lake County Health Department and Utah Transit Authority gave away 2,000 UTA transit passes worth $10 each. The county's vehicle repair assistance program helps low-income car owners fix engines that fail emissions tests. As an incentive for residents who own or might consider buying an electric vehicle, a fast charg­ing station located at the county government building is open to the public.

Learn more: Website for the Salt Lake County 
Summary published June 2016


San Diego, California

Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer (Term: 2014-)
Climate Action Plan

Kevin Faulconer wants San Diego to be a "smart city" that adapts and responds to a chang­ing world. That means taking on the challenge of climate change with an ambitious Climate Action Plan.

The plan sets a high bar for success. By 2035, the city seeks to supply all electricity from renewable sources, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent and use purified wastewater to pro­vide one-third of its water needs. A partnership with Sun Edison aims to capitalize on the city's abundant sunshine by installing solar panels on publicly owned sites — 25 locations to start and 40 more on deck for the project's second phase. And a Pure Water plan is under way through a 20-year capital improvement and technology program to turn wastewater into a safe and reliable source of drinking water.

Learn more: Website for the City of San Diego 
Summary published June 2016


ST. Louis, Missouri

Mayor Francis Slay (Term: 2001-)
Milkweeds for Monarchs

Monarch butterflies are making a comeback in St. Louis, thanks to Mayor Francis Slay. His Milkweeds for Monarchs program rebuilds crit­ical butterfly habitat across the city, an effort to improve the region's environment and agricul­tural system.

Launched on Earth Day 2014, the project's focus is simple and tangible: planting one-square-yard gardens of a milkweed mix, the sole food source for Monarch caterpillars. In its first year, the city created 50 milkweed gardens in public parks and at local firehouses. Slay built on this early success with a call for residents to build 200 more gardens and expand the pro­gram into the city's schools.

Learn more: Website for the City of St. Louis 
Summary published June 2016


Yonkers, New York

Mayor Mike Spano (Term: 2012-)

As part of his commitment to make Yonkers a sustainable city, Mayor Mike Spano led an ambitious multiphase project to uncover a part of the Saw Mill River that had been buried in the 1920s. The riverbed was rebuilt with native plants, and new parks and pedestrian plazas replaced a parking lot and other above-ground structures. Aquatic life — including American eel, white perch and herring — is now returning to the restored river. Infrastructure upgrades improved water quality by separating the city's storm and wastewater sewer systems.

Learn more: Website for the City of Yonkers | Yonkers is in Westchester County, which is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities.
Summary published June 2016

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