Santa Monica: Transparency in Sustainability with the Triple Bottom-line
As a seasoned professional with decades of institution management and public administration under my belt, sustainability, in my opinion, is a rational extension to organizations to operate under a triple bottom line. It is essential to be cautious and methodical when using the triple bottom approach to sustainability in a business.
Living in Santa Monica, I recently rode my bike to the local library to research Santa Monica’s approach to sustainability. I discovered within the contents of the city’s 2012 Sustainable report card a wealth of data. The environment, finances and social equity factors (triple bottom line) are all critical to the overall approach the City of Santa Monica has to approaching sustainability in a well rounded way. With my background in public administration, there are factors I find invaluable to the success of the City of Santa Monica’s approach: evolution of concerns, wide spectrum of human involvement and an eye for fiscal responsibility.
As far back as 1994, Santa Monica has had a focus on sustainability. In 1994 it created the city’s first Sustainable City Program center around the triple bottom line. The program has evolved over time and has challenged itself to meet annual, sustainable goals. By 2003 Santa Monica’s City Council adopted a Sustainable City Plan. As an active working document, this plan has evolved with time and the challenges of the city/society while always maintaining an eye on future generations and their sustainable needs.
The Sustainable City Plan has ten guiding principles:
- The concept of sustainability guides city policy.
- Protection, preservation and restoration of the natural environment is a high priority.
- Environmental quality, economic health and social equity are mutually dependent.
- All decisions have implications for the long-term sustainability of the city.
- Community awareness, responsibility, participation and education are key elements of a sustainable community.
- The City of Santa Monica realizes its link with regional, national and the international global communities.
- The sustainable issue most important to the community will be addressed first and the most cost-effective programs and policies will be selected.
- The City is committed to procurement decisions that minimize negative environmental and social impacts.
- Cross sector partnerships are necessary to achieve sustainable goals.
- The precautionary principal provides a complementary framework to help guide City decision-makers in the pursuit of sustainability.
These ten guidelines reveal the blend of the triple bottom line that is central to success of sustainable systems. Failure in adapting sustainable systems to a business often results from the lack of financial feasibility studies being explored prior to incorporating the new sustainable business measures. The financial factors of sustainability at times can be cost prohibitive as a public entity. The City of Santa Monica recognizes economic impact in portions of three of its principles:
- Guiding Principle #3 - It realizes that a healthy economy is mutually dependent with the environment and social equity.
- Guiding Principle #7 – The City recognizes the need for the most cost-effective programs and policies related to sustainability.
- Guiding Principle #9 – The necessitation of cross-sector partnerships encourages the inclusion of businesses and related financial concerns and opportunities.
Santa Monica’s Sustainable Report Card has been issued every year since 2003 (with the exceptions of 2009 and 2011). The recent report card issued for 2012 breaks sustainability for the city into eight categories that were graded for effort for each goal area as well as an effort grade to reflect the commitment the community has towards achieving the goals. In analyzing the 2012 grades in each area the city has performed its due diligence and has fairly assigned grades.
Grade: B Effort: A-
The purpose is to decrease consumption of non-local, non-renewable, non-recyclable energy, water, materials and fuels. There is also an emphasis on promoting renewable resource use.
Environmental and Public Health:
Grade: C+ Effort: A-
The goal is to minimize and/or eliminate use of hazardous waste and toxic materials and decrease the levels of pollutants in the air, soil and water.
Grade: B- Effort: A
The effort is to maximize mobility and access while reducing traffic and related pollution.
Grade: B Effort: A-
The emphasis is to develop and nurture a diverse stable economy and support the basic needs of community members. It also looks to increase sustainable business practices.
Open Space and Land Use:
Grade: A- Effort: A
The goal here is to develop and maintain a diverse open space system that supports community and the natural environment of Santa Monica. There is also an interest in creating a mixed-use urban village.
Grade: C Effort: A
The emphasis is to provide a mix of affordable, livable and green housing types for people of all socio-economic and cultural groups.
Community Education and Civic Participation:
Grade: A- Effort: A
Here the effort is in having community members participate in civic affairs and community improvements.
Grade: B+ Effort: A
The goals are that all community members are able to meet their needs, have adequate housing, health care, education, employment and are empowered to enhance the quality of their lives.
(Note: Details related to the factors that contributed to the grades are listed in detail on the report card for the City.)
New goal to be graded in 2013
Arts and Culture:
Grade: N/A Effort: N/ A
Forty-three percent of those living in Santa Monica have careers focused primarily in the arts and culture spectrum of business, and nine percent of those positions are based in the city itself. Integration of arts and culture into sustainable community planning is vital to a vibrant sustainable community. So it is no surprise that this new goal was incorporated to be included in 2013.
As a public administrator I found the factors I deem critical to sustainability were sufficiently addressed in the guiding principles and the graded areas of concern of Santa Monica.
First off, the City is forward-thinking and transparent. An indication of this is the evolution of the City report card. An example is the newly added category of arts and culture for 2013. It is constantly changing and adding to the sustainable needs of the city. This is key to adapting to varying factors such as resources, the economy, changing environmental concerns/laws.
Following this, Santa Monica involves its citizens, business people, civic leaders, teachers and artisans as a combined force to be educated and support one another in sustainable efforts. This is most evident in the report card grades. In all the areas, grade effort was no lower than a grade of A-. These grades in effort are supported by the measured results of the city’s inhabitants listed in its Community Education and Civic Participation section of the report. It is clear that all involved are quite concerned about sustainability in Santa Monica and seek to insure success. Hopefully this enthusiasm will continue among all involved going forward.
Finally, there is the emphasis on economic impact. This is fundamental to what is critical to success in the public sector with environmental programs and policies.
A blind eye cannot be turned towards the costs of sustainability. Santa Monica’s eyes are wide open and it will not place itself in financial ruin to meet extravagantly costly environmental goals. Seeking out cost-effective programs and policies and having cross-sector partnerships will help alleviate unnecessary spending on the environment. The City of Santa Monica is following a wise approach to sustainability.
To view the City of Santa Monica’s 2012 Report Card details, along with other factors related to the City’s involvement in sustainable practices, please visit www.sustainablesm.org. got
Joseph Stockemer has over 25 years of experience in strategy, marketing, and operations management in the legal services, banking, retail, public sector, and not-for-profit and charities (NFPC) sectors. He leads the Newport Consulting Group Not-for-Profit and Charity (NFPC) sector arm of the firm as well as the operations practice, also contributing to the sustainability management service ...
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