It’s exciting to see numerous communities committing to 100% clean energy. At this point half a dozen states and more than one hundred local communities have committed to eliminate carbon emissions. That means about 1 in 5 Americans live in a community that’s committed to eliminate fossil fuels by mid-century.

These commitments are important and exciting. As we’ve discussed before, public commitments are a great way to jump start action while also influencing others to act as well.

To address climate change it’s critical, of course, that these communities succeed in transitioning away from fossil fuels. That’s where the rubber hits the road (and in many places the local roads are currently congested with single-occupancy vehicles, mostly running on gasoline).

Once the commitment is made these communities need to make change happen.

In most localities, the first priority is to address municipal operations—to make sure local government is walking the talk. This is a great spot to start because government operations can provide an example for private industry—showing the benefits of an electrified fleet and zero energy buildings, for example.

Simultaneous with those internal efforts, though, communities should tackle two other priorities:

  • Involving the whole community in the clean energy quest and
  • Optimizing near-term decisions that can impact long-term goals.


Everyone Has a Role

While it’s reasonable for community leaders to focus first on government operations, the ultimate quest here is to reduce emissions across the whole community. Accordingly, leaders need to communicate—from the beginning—that everyone will have a role in this effort.

Emphasizing government action to the exclusion of other efforts can prompt residents and businesses to assume they are off the hook—that the clean energy commitment applies only to government operations. Sending that message now will make it harder to motivate private sector change later.

Instead, try a message like “Our first priority is to reduce government emissions, which will help identify effective strategies for residents and businesses.” Make clear from the onset that this transformation involves everyone—that everyone will eventually participate and that everyone will see benefits.

And, from the onset, identify and celebrate the locals who are also leading by example. Perhaps there’s a business that has bench marked its energy use, installed a solar array or converted part of its fleet to clean fuels. If so, recognize them for their leadership and use that recognition as an opportunity to talk about how it’ll take efforts from everyone to realize the community’s ambitious goals.

When you recognize leaders it will inspire interest in others. It’s important that you’ve a short list of simple ways individuals and businesses can get involved. To maximize participation:

  • Keep the list short – 3 to 5 different ways to get involved is ideal (e.g., “Start using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to bench mark your business’ energy and water usage.” or “Commit to active transport–biking or walking–for trips shorter than half a mile.”)
  • Create a way for folks to tell you what they’re doing so that you can accumulate these results over time while also offering these folks more advanced actions
  • Keep recognizing and celebrating new successes

The aim here is to build a compelling story about how your community is working together to achieve its big climate goals. Ultimately you want everyone in your community to see themselves in this story.


Do It Right the First Time

A building constructed in 2019 will likely still be in use in 2049—which means that communities need to think about the long term impacts of current decisions. This is particularly important relative to buildings, roads and other infrastructure projects.

If your community aims to increase biking and walking over the next few decades, for example, then any new subdivision should prioritize sidewalks and bike lanes. To build new neighborhoods without this infrastructure will make it more difficult to achieve your big goals later.

Similarly, standards for new buildings—homes as well as businesses—should consider the long term objectives. If your plan presumes that all homes will consume 30% less energy by 2040, it doesn’t make sense to build a subdivision where the houses barely meet current building codes. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to build more efficient homes right now so that there’s less to fix later. (Plus this means residents benefit from efficiency up front—and you’ve another local success to showcase.)

Even if clean energy features aren’t desired up front, new buildings should be both electric vehicle and renewable energy ready. Installing wiring during construction costs just a fraction of what it will cost later to retrofit these properties.

A way to think about this is to consider the number of opportunities you’ll have relative to different technologies and infrastructures. The lighting in a business, for example, might be replaced 3 times between now and 2050, which means efficiency can improve again and again. Similarly, a resident might replace their vehicle twice in that timeframe and their heating system once. A new home, though, is likely to see no major structural changes in 40 years—so it’s critical to do it right the first time.


We Can Do This!

The U.S. is in the midst of an exciting transformation from fossil fuels, which powered our industrial revolution, to clean energy that will enable us to thrive forward. We’re on a tight timeline for this transition. The faster we reduce emissions, the more we mitigate dire climate change impacts. Local leaders are taking a critical first step by committing to clean energy goals. Next these leaders need to be smart about how to achieve their clean energy targets.

To learn more about achieving aggressive clean energy targets, check out the strategies here, watch our free webinars, or contact us for more information.

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