Building Sustainable Communities

By Art Wiselogel
Did you know that there are approximately 1,261 cities in the United States with populations of more than 25,000? That's a lot, but not as many as I thought. Did you know that there are 1,081 "Cool Cities" and over 370 members of the International Council on Local Environmental Issues? Both of these nonprofit organizations are leaders in developing green community initiatives. These numbers seem to indicate that we live in an environmentally concerned and active country, however, many of these cities, communities and county governments have not really been able to change their energy profile or carbon footprint very much, if at all. Whether it is due to lack of commitment, lack of financial or work force resources, or constituents concerned about change or expenditures of tax dollars, little has really been done.

At the same time, some "well-heeled" communities that are environmentally conscious have made big strides. In Colorado, where I live, the cities of Aspen and Boulder are leaders in reducing their carbon footprint. And, a large city such as Denver has the resources and motivation (Democratic Convention) to make great strides in "greening." But, most cities, for one reason or another, are struggling to make the change.

Oftentimes it takes a catastrophic event for change to occur. The aptly named city of Greensburg, Kan., was leveled by a tornado in May 2007 and is now making a concerted effort to rebuild itself in a sustainable manner with buildings designed using the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System and incorporating renewable energy. The city of Greensburg and state and federal agencies that supplied financial and technical resources should be applauded for taking this tragedy and working to provide a bright and green future for the town.

Another recent tragedy, the flooding in Iowa, presents a similar opportunity that I hope the resilient people of that great state will embrace. Several communities have the opportunity to "reinvent" themselves. State leaders and organizations have the chance to help those communities go beyond just planning to prevent the next flood, they can also plan for a fossil energy constrained world. I sincerely hope the state supports those cities that want to rebuild as energy sustainable communities.

Art Wiselogel is manager of BBI International's Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability. Reach him at or (303) 526-5655.