I would suggest that the best way to strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness, while making government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative, would be for the Obama Administration to lead the American People in Developing and Implementing a National Strategy for Sustainability.
It is commonly recognized that those of us in the United States are not living sustainably today. With only 5% of the world’s population, we consume 1/4 of the natural resources. Since 1940, Americans alone have used more of the earth’s mineral resources than all previous humans put together. We still only recycle about 15% of our waste; use 120 pounds of natural resources per person per day; and greenhouse gas emissions rose 13 percent in the US between 1990 and 2003 according to the EPA’s 2007 Report on the Environment. Meanwhile humanity uses 30% more of the earth’s bio-capacity than can be sustained. At this rate, we’ll need two planets to live on to meet everyone's needs by 2030.
Fortunately, millions of Americans are already doing what we can to change the situation and to contribute to creating a more sustainable future. Now our federal government needs to lead the people in creating a Sustainable America.
The US agreed to create a National Strategy for Sustainability during the UN Rio Earth Summit Conference in 1992 and then again at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. The US is one of the few Developed Countries that has not already developed, much less implemented, a National Strategy Plan. The Obama Administration should thus invite all Americans to join it in developing and implementing our National Strategy for Sustainability, beginning with a review of the reports and recommendations from the President’s Council on Sustainable Development that were developed during the Clinton years. See: See: http://clinton5.nara.gov/PCSD
The National Strategy could encourage such things as green building practices; transitioning to renewable energy; protecting and restoring the natural environment; limiting toxic chemicals; investing in all types of green jobs; adopting sustainable business practices; educating for sustainable development; ensuring that all people’s basic human needs can be met; and integrating the work of artists, engineers, educators, and restoration scientists on infrastructure, restoration, and other sustainable community projects; etc.
(This recommendation and description of the National Strategy for Sustainability is rather long as it is meant to introduce the idea to key people within the Obama Administration. If you want to know more about it please continue reading, however if not but you still like the idea please vote for it now.)
There is already a lot of interest and support for this idea of creating a National Strategy for Sustainability. In December I entered a proposal urging the Obama Administration to develop and implement a National Strategy for Sustainability in Change.org’s Ideas for Change in America web voting competition. It made it in the Top Ten out of more than 7800 Ideas entered and 600,000 votes cast and was in first place within the category of Environmental Conservation.
GOALS, GUIDELINES, AND PRINCIPLES
The development of a National Strategy for Sustainability ought to be based upon an agreed set of guidelines and principles, such as those developed by the OECD, beginning with a participatory and collaborative process (see: http://www.oecd.org/DATAOECD/34/10/2669958.PDF page 73). Coordinated and cooperative action is needed and the federal government needs to lead the way. The Strategy should include an Action Plan, authorizing legislation, and a significant budget and appropriations. An Office of Sustainability ought to be established, along with inter-agency working group(s) and a cabinet level committee on sustainability. Each state could be required to issue an annual report on sustainability.
The overall goal of the National Strategy for Sustainability ought to be to make as rapid a transition to full sustainability as is feasibly possible. A system of metrics and indicators is needed along with a Visioning and Planning Process which encourages the participation of the American People in determining our common future. In fact, the Administration ought to support civil society in playing a leading role in developing an independent multi-stakeholder process that fully involves all serious and committed contributors in driving the development of the National Strategy for Sustainability.
The National Academy of Public Administration and the National Academy of Sciences are two Congressionally chartered, non-profit, non-partisan institutions that provide an example of the type of entity that could be established with the mandate to lead the process of developing and implementing a National Strategy, which would include but also go well beyond government participation and activities.
GLOBAL RESPONSIBILITY AND PARTICIPATION
At the global level, preparations and consultations have already begun again at the United Nations for the 20th Anniversary of the Earth Summit Conference which will most likely be held again in Brazil in 2012. The US is going to look pretty foolish if we are one of the only developed countries that is not yet implementing a Sustainability Strategy and Plan. In addition, the federal government ought to be developing a process to encourage multi-stakeholder input and participation in the preparatory process for the Summit; and the effort to create a US Strategy could provide a good means for doing so.
The United Nations is also completing a ten year Marrakech Process to develop a Global Framework of Action on Sustainable Consumption and Production; and our federal government has just begun to participate actively in this process within the last year or two, though it did host a North American consultation in Washington DC in November of 2008. (http://esa.un.org/marrakechprocess) The Obama Administration should thus integrate the development of a National Framework on Sustainable Consumption and Production with our National Strategy for Sustainability and ensure that both are integrated as well with the Global Framework.
EDUCATION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
We are also now half way through the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development and UNESCO recently held it’s five year review conference for the Decade in Bonn (http://www.desd.org). In the US the US Partnership for Education on Sustainable Development has been leading the organizing effort (www.uspartnership.org); but unfortunately the federal government has provided very little leadership to date in engaging our country in this global process.
The US Partnership developed a series of recommendations, in partnership with the Working Group for Sustainable Change, which we submitted to the Obama Administration and Transition Teams for how the US could strengthen its involvement and promote Education for Sustainable Development. These recommendations should be considered both by the Department of Education and as we work on developing and implementing both the National Strategy and the Ten Year Framework on Sustainable Consumption and Production. (see: http://change.gov/open_government/entry/us_partnership_on_education_for_sustainable_development/)
STRENGTHENING AND RENEWING PARTNERSHIP INITIATIVES
During the run up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 several hundred UN Partnership Initiatives were also developed. Both the Bush and Obama Administrations have taken quite an interest in many of these Partnership Initiatives. They provide an excellent means for implementing sustainability programs and policies both in the US and around the world. Unfortunately, most of them remain rather under-capitalized and need much more funding to be able to fulfill the great promise and urgent role that they could provide. As a part of the development of the National Strategy for Sustainability the federal government should thus review these Partnership Initiatives and determine what could be done in the US and by our government to strengthen them; and the US citizenry should be invited to participate actively in this review process as well. (See: http://www.usda.gov/oce/sustainable/partnerships.htm and http://www.sdp.gov/usgweb.)
The STAR Community Index is a new framework for improving the livability and sustainability of U.S. communities. ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) have established a partnership to develop STAR with the goal of launching this tool in January 2010. (see: http://www.iclei-usa.org/programs/sustainability/star-community-index) The STAR website states that, “there is a pressing need for a national framework to guide sustainable community initiatives. Many local governments have already developed frameworks, while others are seeking a framework that can be adapted to reflect local conditions. These frameworks offer a vast diversity in the structure and focus making it very difficult to compare the progress of one locality to another and reducing the opportunity to leverage change and share lessons learned.”
A similar situation exists but the need is perhaps even more pronounced within the business community, educational institutions, and particularly within and among state governments. The development of a National Strategy should thus incorporate and promote the development of the STAR Community Index and support the development of similar such initiatives for businesses, educational institutions, rural communities, and state governments.
THE PRESIDENT’S MEMORANDUM ON TRANSPARENCY AND OPEN GOVERNMENT
As one of his first acts in office President Obama issued a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government in which he outlined three principles for his administration: transparency, participation, and collaboration. The Memorandum states that, “Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.”
There could probably be no better way to engage the American people in the work of our government, at all levels, than to develop and begin to implement a National Strategy for Sustainability. Non-profit organizations, businesses, individuals, educators, and government employees at all levels are already doing what they can to contribute to creating a sustainable future; and we would welcome the opportunity, if provided by the federal government, to provide our expertise on how our country can do so as well.
SHARING THE EXPERTISE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WITH GOVERNMENT
The Memorandum goes on to state that, “Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information.” Again, the development of a National Strategy and a Ten Year Framework on Sustainable Consumption and Production would provide an excellent vehicle to enable the American people to share our collective expertise and information with government departments and agencies.
This would now include a multitude of initiatives that have been developed or are now springing up such as: the ABA’s Model Sustainability Policy and Implementation Guidelines for Law Organizations, the Environmental Law Institute, the US Green Building Council’s LEED Program, National Ski Areas Association’s Sustainable Slopes Environmental Charter, California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, AIGA Center for Sustainable Design, Green-Blue Institute’s Design Competitions, various Standards and Certification Schemes, and a great number of business consultants specializing in sustainable development.
Then there is the PlugIn Hybrid Electric Vehicle Partnership, ICLEI’s Star Community Index, SustainLane’s Sustainable Development knowledge base for State and Local Government officials, Sustainable Land Development International, the Bioneers, BioMimicry Guild, Zero Waste Alliance, Center for a New American Dream, Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, North American Sustainable Consumption Alliance, US Citizens Network for Sustainable Development, Sustainable Communities Network, etc. These are just a few examples of the many people and initiatives, showing just a bit of the breadth of the movement, that would eagerly embrace the opportunity to share their knowledge and information with government at all levels.
OVERCOMING POLICY IMPEDIMENTS AND EMBRACING COLLABORATION
Now I would like to respond to two questions raised as a part of this Open Government Dialogue process. We’ve been asked, “What policy impediments to innovation in government currently exist?”
There is currently a lack of coordination of activities within and among agencies at all levels of government; lack of a coordinated approach toward dealing effectively with a host of urgent problems that must be solved to create a more sustainable future; coordinated means by which all stakeholders can contribute effectively to providing common solutions that could be replicated throughout our society; etc. These problems could all be solved through an effect effort to develop and implement a National Strategy for Sustainability.
“What is the best way to change the culture of government to embrace collaboration?”
The Obama Administration could develop an open and participatory process welcoming all Americans to join in developing and implementing a National Strategy for Sustainability, including such stakeholders as municipal and state government, the business community, educational leaders and students, civil society, etc. The effectiveness of such partnership processes has been demonstrated time and again through collaborations such as the US Partnership on Education for Sustainable Development, the National Council on Science and the Environment, the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, the National Academy of Sciences Board on Sustainable Development/Report, the National Summit on Sustainable Development, UN Commission on Sustainable Development processes, UN Partnership Initiatives for Sustainable Development, etc.
ACHIEVING A SUSTAINABLE AMERICA
Finally, Law Professor John Dernbach’s latest book, Agenda for a Sustainable America starts with a simple but powerful premise: “Sustainable development would make the United States more livable, healthy, secure, and prosperous. Policies that promote sustainability would reduce risks to our national security, improve our economic efficiency and productivity, enhance our health and communities, improve the lives of the poorest among us, and foster greater human wellbeing in other countries. And it would achieve these things while protecting and restoring the environment for our generation and for generations that follow.”
Now those are goals that would be worth striving for as we develop and begin to implement our National Strategy for Sustainability.
For more information please contact:
Campaign for a Sustainable America
Robineagle @ worldcitizen.org
Robwheeler22 @ gmail.com
Citizens Network for Sustainable Development