Sustainability Action Planning – Who is Left Behind?

Sustainability Action Planning – Who is Left Behind?
Main Street, Anytown, USA with Limited Resources – How do they pursue sustainability?

When we look at the sustainability movement today, we see thought leaders worldwide working to address Climate Change with efficient, sustainable best practices and initiatives. Many governments, organizations, and companies are all working hard to test our limits and innovatively lead us to real Sustainable solutions. This is a process-driven roadmap to improve our world’s resilience and halt the march toward a warmer planet that would have devastating consequences everywhere. There is certainly room for improvement even at the top of the list of those leading Sustainability efforts. For the most part, however, at the macro-level there is a good understanding of the danger we face and a sense of urgency to address it.

Now look down the list. The sustainability movement does not carry the same weight at the smaller community level as it does at the top. Many communities are left behind without the resources to start sustainability programs. These places can be found across America from small townships up to medium sized cities where it is difficult to internalize the need for Sustainability. Not many industry experts will serve communities stuck at the beginning of the innovation and adoption curve, those who are trailing behind the innovators and early adopters. Why? The effort to influence a community of 500 or 5000 can potentially match the effort spent for large cities of 50,000 to 500,000. It stands to reason that previous Sustainability efforts would focus on leaving the biggest impact, which of course would mean tailoring to the bigger cities. But if the goal is full scale adoption of Sustainability then we must consider that this means bringing as many people as possible under the tent. Technological innovation and the sophistication of our resources continues to make Sustainability more feasible for everyone. Our recent blogs have suggested that the wide scale adoption of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is the method of its defeat, and applying that principle to addressing Climate Change should be what we strive for. HlpSum1 believes that there is merit in inspiring everyone to participate.

There were 19,502 incorporated places registered in the United States as of July 31, 2019. 16,410 had a population under 10,000 while, in contrast, only 10 cities had a population of one million or more. Within these communities there are still many individuals that do not believe climate change affects them or that their own impact will be negligible enough to not matter. This segment of the population, typically in smaller communities to mid-size cities will always have trouble internalizing the message of big data, especially around sustainability and environmental impacts. Without a real, personal experience with a threat like this the reality is it will be out of sight, out of mind for many. The COVID-19 pandemic touched every single person around the world in some capacity and as a result the response to it was swift and decisive. Homeowners within the high-threat zones for wildfires in places like California and Australia will have a much different perspective on the global climate change threat than most. Those living on the coasts who must worry about more frequent severe storms and hurricanes feel this as well. Climate refugees will be forced to move to lower-risk communities. Though the effects of climate change may not be as obvious as wildfires and huge storms in Ohio, they are still present, and they will only get worse if actions are not taken. Without the will, the knowledge, and the resources to make change small-town communities will be left behind in the fight to combat climate change and they will suffer the consequences down the road.

The Small-Town Executive’s Dilemma

The reality for the small to mid-size towns is that there are many needs in the community and limited resources with which to address them all. With scarce resources, particularly in sparsely populated areas, only basic community services are provided. Maintaining roadways and provisioning for emergency response is a critical focus. Zoning, building permits, public health and governance is typically managed at the county or parish level, so the community officials have little control over funding and direction for main programs. This dilemma is certainly significant, but the town’s officials are not to blame for it. HlpSum1 believes that fighting for sustainability is not some pipe dream meant only for big cities and Fortune 500 companies. The question is where to begin?  How can we take these ideas, which may initially seem unpopular, unrealistic, or obscure and push forward an agenda that will lead to the betterment of the community without sacrificing political capital and the approval of voters?  How do you get more people believing that they can do their part to improve climate resilience?

Stay tuned to this blog. HlpSum1 seeks to become a guiding motivator for professionals, policy makers, and individuals to bring smaller to medium sized communities along the sustainability curve, focusing on an environmental impact mission that improves the lives of others in a tangible way.

About HlpSum1: HlpSum1 is a sustainability consulting firm with a focus on supporting small communities. Derek Miller, author of this post, is a sustainability advocate supporting HlpSum1’s mission as a city and regional planning consultant. Derek has teamed up with HlpSum1 to research how leading organizations are approaching sustainability, and use proven business management techniques to create achievable sustainability initiatives for small communities beginning this journey. For more information, please visit for information about sustainability alignment strategies.

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