10 Cities Focused on Sustainability Initiatives

Learn how 10 cities across the country are tackling big sustainability goals.
10 Cities Focused on Sustainability Initiatives
Learn how 10 cities across the country are tackling big sustainability goals.

Happy Earth Day! A day dedicated to educating the public about the environment, Earth Day is a worldwide holiday that we’ve celebrated for over 50 years. From turning off the lights for an hour to becoming conscious of our plastic use, Earth Day continues to inspire us to better protect our planet.

This year, we were curious – how are local governments around the country working to do the same? Cities are instrumental in protecting our planet. The United Nations states that since 2007, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities and this number is expected to exceed 70% by 2050. Keeping this in mind, we started to dig into everything we could find on cities’ sustainability efforts.

As experts in strategy execution, we know no great plan (for sustainability or for your wider strategy) exists without clear goals and metrics to meet. Below, you’ll find initiatives from other city's sustainability plans to copy for your own city’s plan, as well as ways you can give back to our planet this Earth Day. From D.C. to California, we walkthrough cities from coast to coast!

Table Of Contents:

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability refers to meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It can be broken down simply: sustainability is focusing on people, the planet, and profit. By focusing on social responsibility (people), environmental stewardship (planet), and economic prosperity (profit), a city offers amazing benefits to enhance the quality of life for all residents, present and future. Sustainability also recognizes that resources are limited and need to be used wisely, with consideration of consequences for humans and the environment.

10 Cities Doing It Right

These 10 cities have stellar sustainability plans, with big goals, big targets, and smart initiatives! We dive in deeper for each city below. These are in no particular order. Because every plan looks different and molds to fit the city it supports, we’ve focused on pulling out our favorite parts of every plan. Below you’ll find inspiration on how to share your plan with residents, initiatives to improve sustainability efforts in your local government, and targets your city should aim for. With that, let’s dive in.

Washington, DC

As the heart of this country, Washington, DC is setting the example on how to build a strong sustainability plan. Their Sustainability 2.0 plan documents 36 goals over 13 categories and contains about 167 initiatives. To say DC is aiming high and working hard feels like an understatement. With short term, medium term, long term, and ongoing goals, their plan really shows they’ve sat down and thought of it all. Our favorite goals? Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing resilience to climate change. We break down the target and two initiatives for each goal below.

Goal #1 – Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all local sources to put us on track to eliminate emissions by 2050.

  • Target: By 2032, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.
  • Initiative 1: Build awareness and provide resources to empower people and organizations to take actions to reduce their share of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Initiative 2: Measure and eliminate methane gas leaks into the atmosphere through the District.

Goal #2 – Advance physical adaptation and human preparedness to increase the District’s resilience to climate change.

  • Target: By 2032, require 100% of new buildings, major infrastructure, and neighborhood plans to consider climate risks and identify adaptation solutions.
  • Initiative 1: Improve emergency and community preparedness to respond to climate change events including extreme heat, storms, and flooding, with a focus on the most at-risk populations.
  • Initiative 2: Fully implement and regularly update the Climate Ready DC plan, the District’s plan to adapt to the changing climate.

City of Austin, TX

In 2014, the City of Austin, TX set a bold goal: To achieve net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Shortly after announcing this goal, the City began to develop a strong plan of action to make it a reality. They track and share progress on this goal with residents through an annually updated dashboard. Their website also holds links to various initiatives the City is running, and links to help residents feel empowered to take on new sustainability efforts themselves, like composting! We love when cities share their plans and progress with residents. Nothing builds trust more than transparency.

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite action items and policies the City of Austin has taken on in their Imagine Austin Plan:

  1. Create a system of high-capacity transit, including elements such as urban railroad and bus rapid transit.
  2. Enhance crosstown transit options to better connect people to the places where they live, work, play, shop, and access services.
  3. Expand programs providing discounted transit fares for economically disadvantaged citizens, disabled individuals, and seniors.

City of Raleigh, NC

The City of Raleigh, NC was the first community in North Carolina to receive a certification through the national STAR Community Rating System for their excellence in sustainability. Their commitment to sustainability shows, with their website breaking down sustainability for residents to learn more and take action. Our favorite aspect of Raleigh’s website? They have fun blogs and articles on how you can support sustainability efforts at home on Earth Day! In this blog, they list activities for residents of all ages to complete on Earth Day including becoming a citizen scientist through Zooniverse, removing invasive plants from your property, and learning how to start a container garden. The City of Raleigh is building a more sustainable and resilient city with and for their residents.

Their website isn’t the only great thing. Their Community Climate Action Plan is an extensive 133-page document that provides education to residents and outlines how the City intends to meet their goals to:

  1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy use, transportation and waste,
  2. Build community resilience to the impacts of climate change, and
  3. Support climate equity in Raleigh.

We’re not surprised to see ClearPoint Reporting Superhero’s like the City of Raleigh take on sustainability so well!

City of Long Beach, CA

With a seasonal newsletter, community meetings open to all, and an Earth Day summit, ClearPoint customer, the City of Long Beach, CA, shows that your city’s sustainability efforts don’t have to happen in silo from your residents. The City of Long Beach provides transparency to their residents and encourages action. A simple example? They’re holding an Earth Day Summit where professionals, students, activists, and concerned residents meet to discuss the future of sustainability at the City of Long Beach. Their Office of Sustainability is currently working through their Sustainable Strategic Plan for the next 5 years – and they’ll use insights from this summit to influence the strategic plan.

Their current 2021 Work Plan highlights some projects the City is working on to continue to meet goals outlined in their Sustainable City Action Plan. We walk through two of our favorite projects below!

Residential Direct Install Program

The City is launching this program to “provide and install energy saving products and services at no cost for residents in disadvantaged communities”. Sustainability isn’t always affordable, but by utilizing city taxes and upfronting additional costs, every person in your community can feel connected to your strategy!

Sustainability Strategic Plan

On their list for this year, the City of Long Beach is looking to develop a strategic plan for sustainability in collaboration with other departments. This initiative also notes the need for sustainability to be integrated into other strategic planning efforts for the City. By incorporating sustainability into their larger strategic plan, the City of Long Beach is showcasing the importance of sustainability and holding themselves accountable to meeting goals and becoming a resilient community.

City of Denver, CO

The City of Denver, CO is another great city tackling sustainability goals. Did you know Denver is one of the most solar-friendly climates in the country? The City is ready to support both homeowners and building owners in their pursuit to go solar – and become more sustainable – with clear resources on their website for each to learn about what being solar-powered would look like in their residence. Their goal to go solar isn’t the only big goal they have! They’re committing to becoming a sustainable City and showcase below how they’re making it happen.

Denver is aiming to have a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. How are they tackling this goal? With the following initiatives:

  1. Have residential single-family homes have 10% reduction in energy use,
  2. Ensure municipal buildings have 100% renewable electricity, and
  3. Make 15% of Denver vehicle registrations electric.

The City also has an amazing visual showing the City’s progress towards these goals. We only wish it was in real-time so we could know how this was performing every quarter! A great goal to see is that they want to increase citywide recycling and composting to 34% by the end of this year. In 2018, they were at 23% - so they’re definitely close to crushing these goals.

Kansas City, MO

To say we’re obsessed with Kansas City, MO’s Comprehensive Plan feels like an understatement. While they’re currently updating their plan, their website has simple modules for anybody, on any level of knowledge, to start learning about their efforts. They also have their playbook schedule listed, available for all to see and understand where their City currently is in their plan updates.

Their cool plan isn’t the only thing this city has accomplished. They have great information on all they’ve achieved on their website for all to see. We love the transparency!

These are just a few of the cool initiatives they’ve accomplished as they tackle their goals:

  1. Adopted the 2008 Climate Protection Plan.
  2. Installed 60 - 25 kW solar panels on rooftops of 58 City buildings, generating 1.5 MW annually.
  3. Participated in the Renewables Direct program so they could procure energy for municipal operations through renewable sources.
  4. Integrated green infrastructure into storm water and sewer planning.
  5. Invested in a free downtown Streetcar.

City of Miami, FL

Last year, the City of Miami, FL announced a carbon neutrality goal of reaching net zero City-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As strategy and ClearPoint experts, they knew they couldn’t just make a big goal. They researched and put in a plan to make sure they meet this goal.

Through research, they determined the City should commit to a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2018 to 2035 to make sure they reach their goals by 2050. How will they reduce greenhouse emissions from now to 2035?

One great initiative to make this happen is reducing electricity and natural gas usage in existing buildings. This initiative will help the City meet their target of a reduction of energy usage by 40% in existing buildings by 2035. The City will work with private sectors and obtain funding to make homes and business more energy efficient and fully electric.

They are currently working on updating their goals and plans – and are encouraging both internal and external feedback! We love seeing the whole city get involved in strategic planning.

City of Lakewood, CO

The City of Lakewood, CO has an award-winning sustainability program. From our work with them as customers, their current Sustainability Plan, and their Sustainability Plan for Kids – developed by middle school students – we’re not surprised they’re continuously winning awards for their amazing efforts. Additionally, they produce annual reports showcasing how they’re meeting their goals. Here are a few initiatives they kicked off last year that we love:

1. Bear Creek Watershed Adaptation Plan

Lakewood’s Bear Creek Watershed Association performed climate modeling and risk analysis for the Bear Creek Watershed to inform water quality management in the face of a changing climate.

2. The Road to Renewable Energy

The City directed 1,015 kilowatts of solar energy to power City facilities.

3. Festival Italiano Zero Waste Efforts

The annual Festival Italiano partnered with local business to implement more recycling and composting at their event.

City of Charlotte, NC

The City of Charlotte, NC is dedicated to smart growth. They define smart growth as, “an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement”. Their website has pages with videos about their goals, what they’ve accomplished, what they’re hoping to, and their wider vision. We pulled out one of their goals and a few initiatives that we love from their Charlotte 2030 Vision Plan.

Goal: Continue to provide platforms and ways for residents to stay informed and have a voice in the transportation choices and land-use decisions that affect them and their family.

They outline initiatives to make this goal a reality. We’ve summarized four of our favorites here for you:

  1. Consistently inform residents of opportunities for them to help shape the Unified Development Ordinance, Charlotte Future 2040, Comprehensive Plan, and Strategic Mobility Plan.
  2. Partner with neighborhoods to help them understand and have a say in proposed developments and street changes that affect them.
  3. Inspire 600+ people to explore their community by bike during Biketoberfest and on foot during #WALKCLT (Hi – City of Charlotte, ClearPoint here – let us know if we can join as this sounds fun!).
  4. Host their ninth annual Charlotte Sustainability Awards as an interactive online event to recognize our community’s sustainability leads and celebrate Earth Day.

City of Durham, NC

City of Durham, NC has a 62-page sustainability plan with a strategy map, vision, and background on how they developed the plan. This information makes it clear: they have a well-thought out plan that’s easy for their residents to find and understand. We highlight one goal that we love, and the initiatives (and measures of success) linked to it.

Goal: Thriving, Livable neighborhoods

How will they meet this goal? They’ve outlined clear projects to work on below:

  1. Establish a community-led advisory board to make recommendations around equity and empowerment goals, measures, and strategies.
  2. Develop a democratic process to give residents direct decision-making power in local government.
  • Measuring success: Demonstrate a Resident Engagement Index score of 9 or greater by 2040.
  1. Prioritize capital funding towards priority sidewalk construction and repair projects as identified within the Bike+Walk Plan.
  2. Develop a 5-year short term transit plan that focuses on expanding bus route and park and ride options.
  • Measuring success: Reduce daily vehicle miles traveled per capita to 30 by 2040.
  • Measuring success: Demonstrate that 70% of residents live within a ten-minute walk (0.5 mile) by 2040.


Every year, Earth Day only becomes more important. It’s amazing to see these cities are taking action and making our Earth a priority!

What do each of these cities have in common? Besides the obvious of having a well-developed strategic plan, each city takes the time to share their plans with residents. Transparency is key for local governments looking to showcase the value of their work to residents. With great dashboards, plans, and ways for residents to get involved, each of these cities takes the first step in allowing their residents to be involved in their plan and protect our planet.

We love seeing the initiatives each city is undertaking, alongside the goals and measures they’re linked to. If your organization is looking to develop some more sustainability initiatives this year, our team is happy to help! Schedule a time to chat today.

10 Cities Focused on Sustainability Initiatives

Ted Jackson

Co-Founder & Alabama Native

Ted is a Founder and Managing Partner of ClearPoint Strategy and leads the sales and marketing teams.

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