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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sustainability in Austerity

Sustainability in Austerity: How Local Government Can Deliver During Times of Crisis

By Philip Monaghan
Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing
ISBN 978-1-906093-57-0
This review was first published on on 19th January 2011

Sustainability in Austerity has been written to provide local leaders with a lifebelt in these turbulent times. It empowers local authorities to address challenges they now face - by offering a treasure chest of cost-neutral and powerful ways for leaders in local government to advance sustainability as nations emerge from the global recession. The book sets out the required rules for leadership and proposes a myriad of innovative strategies for self-help achieved through habit-forming behaviour change among council members, staff and local communities alike. Packed with international case studies, anecdotes and management tips derived from a wealth of learning by like-minded peers across the world - all of whom have faced and overcome serious sustainability challenges - the book will be a touchstone for professionals working in areas such as: democracy and decision-making; corporate assets and resources; economic development and planning; waste and environmental services; fleet and logistics; and community management.

"Can you be a responsible citizen and have a pet?" This is just one of the many issues addressed by Philip Monaghan in his fascinating book, Sustainability in Austerity. Apparently, in San Francisco, the estimate is that up to 5% of landfill waste comes from pet waste. Apparently, the energy required to feed a cat is about the same needed to build and drive a car 6,000 miles a year. Apparently, this is one of the issues local councils may want to consider as they explore opportunities for their communities to live more sustainably and reduce the environmental footprint of towns and cities. Perhaps the pet waste issue is not the most important one that councils will deliberate over, but it does open our eyes to the degree of complexity that local councils face in trying to move entire communities towards more sustainable lifestyles.

Philip Monaghan's book is an authoritative and inspiring guide for those holding local office. As the author writes, "For many, local councils are pivotal to the delivery of sustainability as every aspect of their role shapes how people live their lives - from democratic elections to education and planning to waste collection." Philip was inspired to write this book as a response to the Global Financial Crisis and the expectation that local councils would have to manage with much reduced budgets and navigate the "crippling impact on local government spending" in order to meet the needs of national governments and local constituents. Every time someone throws something away, for example, it increases the burden on waste management and local resources. The focus of this book, therefore, is getting things done in a cost neutral way.

The author lists 102 cost neutral interventions that local councils can leverage to drive the achievement of greater collective sustainability. They are in the form of case studies, anecdotes and management tips, with examples from many different cities as far flung as Baoding, China; Krakow, Poland; Caracas, Venezuela; Brisbane, Australia; Oslo, Norway; and Flanders, Belgium, to name but a few. The range and scope of these interventions address all aspects of local life including: pedestrianizing downtown city areas at weekends and transforming them in to walking, roller-skating or playground areas (Craiova, Romania); a Foodshare community coalition to improve access to food, with wholesale bulk buying clubs and a "Field to Table" schools initiative where students receive cooking training and develop schoolyard gardens (Toronto, Canada); incentives for installation of stormwater management controls for businesses and private residents (Montgomery County, Maryland, USA); creation of 8,000 microgardens in city areas (Caracas, Venezuela); a program for 45% reduction in local council water usage (Nillumbik, Australia); whole-life costing methods to improve health and safety with use of recycled materials for kerb edgings (Wakefield, UK); low-carbon trade zones incentivizing energy-saving businesses and clean energy development (Baoding, China); a pay-as-you-throw scheme that bills residents according to how much household waste they generate (Flanders, Belgium); a "greenest city in America" plan, which includes planting 500,000 trees, revitalizing parks and encouraging rooftop gardens (Chicago, USA); banning non-recyclable plastic bags at supermarkets (San Francisco, USA); and home composting - including the composting toilet (Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador).

Conscious that the drive for change is not just about solutions, but also about mindset transformation, the author clearly explains the business case for local councils to drive sustainability behavioral change and the processes for "making change desirable." The author proposes a five step "Excellence in Austerity Framework," based on a new paradigm for local government, which he calls the "Green Concentrate: focused, cost neutral interventions on sustainability during a time of reduced spending, made possible by freezing choices to enforce positive changes." Philip Monaghan offers a "management dashboard" for local councils, similar to a balanced scorecard approach, to serve as a template for advancing and tracking effective progress. Perhaps all local councils should follow the example of Vancouver, Canada who has developed a 100-year plan for sustainability?

Most business literature about sustainability and social and environmental responsibility tends to address national or international government policy, business actions or personal lifestyle change. This book is a refreshing approach from the perspective of another and no less a significant critical agent - the local council - in leveraging both the ability and opportunity around sustainability of all other players in our communities in creative and potentially revolutionary ways. If the image of many local councils is that of sluggish, unresponsive and bureaucratic officialdom, then this book offers to revitalize that image and show how councils can be a dynamic, thriving force with a mission that is much broader than collecting local taxes and handing out parking fines. It could even be the key to sparking a burst of energy at local municipality level, thereby transforming a much underestimated link in the chain of sustainability and survival of the planet into a new source of possibility. Local council leaders who see sustainability as key are the next generation of global heroes. It is my hope they will take the lead from this book, so the 100-year plan for sustainability in Vancouver can actually run to term in a world where its own local sustainability is dependent on broader supra-local systemic change with other localities making equally enlightened commitments.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

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