Green Local Government

San Francisco City Hall
San Francisco City Hall

Local governments wield significant influence and authority that can drive environmental sustainability within their jurisdictions. In addition to moderating their own resource and operational decisions, local governments can substantially influence the resource behavior and associated carbon impacts of their constituents and other key stakeholders through a variety of policies, plans and actions.

In its Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) established a strategic framework for helping local governments advance sustainability within their jurisdictions.

    Lead by Example

The California Sustainability Alliance has embarked upon multiple activities to help local governments implement these strategies.

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Local Government Toolkits

The California Sustainability Alliance has developed several toolkits and other resources that aid local governments in planning and implementing sustainable initiatives. These tools help local governments advance sustainability within their jurisdictions, which provides them with the opportunity to lead by example, positively influence their communities, and leverage local authority. These toolkits include:

Local Government Retrocommissioning Toolkit

The California Sustainability Alliance’s Local Government Retrocommissioning (RCx) Toolkit was created to help local government staff develop and implement a municipal facility retrocommissioning program.   The RCx Toolkit is designed to be flexible enough to be a complementary resource for an energy manager in a large local government or to be the sole RCx Program management tool for facility and public works staff in smaller jurisdictions.  The RCx Toolkit complements existing portfolio management tools and utility management systems, helping the user take the “next step” once a decision has been made to incorporate retrocommissioning into municipal facility standard operating procedures. 

Green Tenant Guide for Local Governments

The Green Tenant Guide is designed to guide local governments through the process of greening their operations and staff behaviors. Intended to be an ongoing reference, the Green Tenant Guide aims to walk agencies through planning and implementing their sustainability program. Readers will learn how to work with organization leadership, property managers, and staff to set clear and feasible goals, establish buy-in and excitement among employees, define metrics, and measure and communicate results.

Local Government Green Procurement Toolkit

The Toolkit and Guide assist local governments in adopting environmentally friendly procurement plans. The toolkit incorporates case studies of eight leading local governments in California and Washington and outlines steps for greening procurement policies. In addition, it includes draft policy language, sample green bid specifications, best practices from local, state and federal governments across the country, information on eco‐labeling and links to public and private eco‐labeling programs.

Local Government Operations Protocol Toolkit (LGOP)

    The LGOP helps cities and counties measure their carbon footprint by developing a greenhouse gas inventory. It has been adopted by the California Air Resources Board and is supported by the California Climate Action Registry and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability. The LGOP Toolkit is designed for use by local government staff who are interested in or are currently developing a greenhouse gas assessment for their operations. The toolkit is a step-by-step version of the full LGOP released by the California Air Resource Board in September 2008.

    Green General Plan Toolkit

      The Green General Plan Toolkit provides guidelines and sample measures to local government staff interested in developing a sustainable general plan for their communities. It addresses the policy drivers motivating local governments to integrate sustainability into the planning process, and discusses approaches a municipality can take to develop effective and holistic policies. This toolkit also recommends a decision-making framework and illustrative measures that planners can adapt to their own general plans, and includes references to existing green general plans in California.

      Local Government Resources Toolkit

        The Local Government Resources Toolkit helps cities and counties identify and locate tools and funding sources to help their communities set and meet sustainability goals. These resources consist of informational reports, calculators, and funding opportunities available from state and federal departments. The tools cover topics such as community development, transportation, greenhouse gasses, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and water efficiency and sustainability.

        California Local Energy Efficiency Program (CALeep)

          The California Local Energy Efficiency Program (CALeep) is designed to help local governments plan and implement highly effective energy efficiency initiatives within their communities. In order to create this energy efficiency decision-making tool, key representatives from utilities, private sector energy groups, energy service companies, and various levels of government contributed to the development of “best practices” for use by all local governments. These practices stimulate energy-efficiency activities within local government jurisdictions and support greenhouse gas reduction, job creation, water conservation, and green building.

          Emerald California works with local governments to help them meet state environm
          Emerald California works with local governments to help them meet state environmental targets.
          Emerald California

          The Emerald California program is a partnership between the Alliance and the California Department of Conservation which seeks to help local governments adopt sustainability reach goals in the areas of:

          • GHG Emissions Reduction
          • Air Quality Improvement
          • Energy Efficiency and Conservation
          • Water Conservation and Water Quality
          • Environmental Health
          • Waste Reduction and Recycling
          • Reduced Automobile Usage
          • Reduced Fuel Consumption
          • Land Use and Development Policies
          • Natural Resources, Agriculture and Open Space Protection

          This partnership brings technical and advisory resources to participating communities to help them evaluate their current programs and policies, adopt reach goals which meet or exceed state targets, build coalitions of interested local and regional stakeholders, access state and private resources, and undertake transformative catalyst projects for speeding sustainability adoption. Through these efforts the Emerald California pilot project seeks to help local and regional communities become more “green” and become part of the effort to meet the state’s environmental, energy and economic priorities.

          Learn more about the Emerald California program.

          Sustainable Communities

          Explore the drawing below to find out what makes this community sustainable -
          and what you can do to increase sustainability in your community.

          Illustration by Fuscoe Engineering, 2008


          The success of California's energy and climate goals will depend in large part on how well local governments can implement policies to meet them.  The California Sustainability Alliance is working to create and share tools and resources to help local governments advance sustainability within their jurisdictions. These resources give local governments the opportunity to lead by example, positively influence their communities, and leverage local authority.

          In the video below, Frank Spasaro, Manager of Energy Efficiency Partnerships for Sempra Utilities, discusses first cost barriers and what financing approaches local governments can take to overcome them.  In the following video, Bridgett Luther, Director for the California Department of Conservation, presents the California Emerald Cities Pilot Program, which directs state resources to help local governments develop sustainability plans and reach state goals.

          Frank Spasaro, Manager of Energy Efficiency Partnerships, Sempra Utilities, discusses overcoming the first cost barrier.


          First Cost Barriers

          Emerald California


          Los Angeles City Hall
          Los Angeles City Hall
          Survey Results

          To better understand and help local governments in California successfully develop and implement effective sustainability plans and policies in their jurisdictions, the Alliance in partnership with Public Technology Institute conducted a survey of California cities to determine needs for sustainability benchmarking tools.

          The survey, conducted in April-May 2009, examined the following:

          • The level of sustainability adoption among California cities;
          • What sustainability benchmarking tools cities are now using;
          • How sustainability tools are working for local city governments; and
          • What additional functionality these tools need to support the development and implementation of sustainability plans and actions.

          76 of 480 cities in California (or 16%) participated in the survey. Key findings from the survey include:

          • 67% of respondents indicated that their communities strongly support sustainability;
          • 55% responded that there is very strong leadership support within their cities for sustainability programs;
          • Water and energy efficiency were included among the top three sustainability priorities by more than 50% of respondents. Water efficiency was selected by 21 cities as their very top sustainability priority. Eleven cities selected energy efficiency as their top priority while 20 cities selected energy efficiency as their second highest priority.
          • Although the limited sample size meant it was difficult to draw broad conclusions from this survey. The diverse responses reinforce the perspective that local governments tend to have unique local priorities and resource challenges. There are several important common themes:
            • California’s local governments face many competing priorities, many of which are mandatory, and do not have enough financial and staff resources to do them all.
            • Confusion is high, with existing and evolving policy goals and regulatory and legislative mandates competing for attention, and lack of clarity as to exactly what actions local governments need to take.
            • Despite these challenges, city leadership and community support for sustainability remain high and there is a lot of current activity in all of the sustainability priorities.
            • On their own initiative, many local governments are proactively partnering with their utilities, state and federal agencies, private organizations, and other cities and counties.
            • Nearly every one of the 76 cities that participated in this survey indicated they had some type of environmental sustainability program ‐ whether it was recycling and/or composting, to fully integrated smart growth and climate action programs.

          To view the full survey results and report, please click here