Principles of Sustainability

The public works profession has a unique role to play in providing a high quality of life for all community members. The APWA Center for Sustainability has developed this list of guiding principles to help public works leaders identify the actions they can take to integrate the concepts of sustainability into their organizational objectives and operations. Policies, programs or activities that are grounded in these principles will result in more thriving and healthy communities.

Sustainability in public works means pursuing a balanced approach for a vibrant community today and tomorrow through the efficient delivery of services and maintenance of infrastructure in an environmentally, economically, and socially responsible way. Sustainability, based on the elements of the Triple Bottom Line – people, planet, prosperity – is a way of looking at the public works mission holistically and systematically so that sound, long-term solutions can be found for community challenges.

Recognize the Community as an Interconnected System

Recognize the community as a series of interconnected systems that function together to provide the quality of life citizens deserve, and acknowledge that the whole operates as a dynamic interconnected system – a change to one part of the system will affect all other parts of the system.

Promote Community Revitalization

Work to provide incentives and put in place management approaches that accelerate redevelopment, reinvestment, and rebuilding of existing communities. Promote reuse and redevelopment of previously developed sites to support economic activity that creates jobs, housing and recreational assets. Foster the creation of well-designed neighborhoods that are walkable, bikable and offer healthy lifestyle opportunities for residents.

Manage Assets

Develop and implement a strategic and comprehensive asset management plan covering all asset classes, and acknowledging, where appropriate their interconnectedness in order to assess the current state of all assets; define the level of service and short- and long-term performance goals; understand the risk and sustainable level of service for all assets; inform decision making; and communicate needs.

Restore and Enhance the Natural Environment

Recognize the role of natural resources to provide a community with critical ecosystem services, including those linked to air and water quality. Maintain and expand land, air and water protection and local conservation programs. Conserve and restore environmentally sensitive lands and natural areas for ecological health, biodiversity and wildlife habitat. Promote development that respects and enhances natural lands and resources. Use natural approaches as well as traditional engineered projects.

Protect and Enhance Recreational and Heritage Resources

Maintain and improve recreational and heritage assets and infrastructure, including parks and forests, greenways and trails, historic sites and resources, outdoor recreational areas and cultural landmarks. Create linkages between neighborhoods and natural, recreational and heritage resources.

Collaborate with Key Stakeholders

Drive cross jurisdictional and interdepartmental planning that promotes engagement of a representative sample of the local and regional community to identify, evaluate, and execute priorities, programs, services and projects.

Practice Fiscal Responsibility

Understand the full life-cycle cost of decisions and maximize the triple bottom line return on investment that result in high performance and operational cost savings.

Foster Active Communication and Civic Engagement

Work to be transparent and accountable to the community to build trust and confidence. Create a pathway for community members to participate in decision- making, planning, and implementation of projects, programs, and policies.

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