The Regional Indicators Initiative: Metrics to Promote Sustainability
Good intentions and big ideas aren’t enough to carry out an environmental initiative: effective programs and policies track key metrics to achieve and demonstrate sustainability. Efforts ranging from the Kyoto Protocol to corporate sustainability programs use data to establish benchmarks, gauge progress, and determine success.
i.e. is pleased to feature an example of data collection and analysis in support of the Minnesota GreenStep Cities Program, designed to improve sustainability and quality of life at the city level. Rick Carter, Senior Vice President in LHB’s Minneapolis office and LEED Fellow, works extensively on issues of sustainable design by promoting improved indoor air quality, energy efficiency, and resource efficiency. In this post, Rick describes the Regional Indicators Initiative and outlines key findings so far.
PERFORMANCE METRICS TO PROMOTE EFFICIENCY AND SUSTAINABLE CHANGE
To achieve certification through the GreenStep Cities Program, a city must meet minimum requirements and choose from twenty-eight best practices designed to improve its sustainability. GreenStep tracks which practices cities have adopted, but does not currently have a method of tracking how effectively these strategies have ‘moved the needle’ towards sustainability.
The desire to measure the impacts of sustainable practices led to a collaborative project, the Regional Indicators Initiative (RII), managed by LHB for the Urban Land Institute of Minnesota. The RII was conceived as a way to track the progress of cities involved in the GreenStep Cities Program. It measures annual performance metrics for twenty Minnesota cities committed to increasing their overall efficiency and sustainability. The Initiative supports planning for sustainability by defining a baseline, tracking a business-as-usual trajectory, establishing targets, and measuring outcomes of sustainable strategies at a city-wide scale.
This team developed a pilot to determine what citywide data can be collected annually to effectively measure progress towards sustainability. Three cities - St. Louis Park, Falcon Heights, and Edina - funded the study and volunteered to release their resource-use data for a period of 2008-2010. The pilot study proved that four indicators of city-wide sustainability: energy, water, VMT and waste can be measured, gathered, and analyzed in a reasonable period of time.
The participant cities represent over a quarter of Minnesota’s population (27%) and include municipalities of varying types, from large, central cities to inner and outer-ring suburbs of various sizes and population densities. The list of participant cities continues to grow, along with the awareness that maintaining a continuous database of consumption patterns is an essential task for measuring actual (rather than predicted) progress in sustainability.
WHICH DATA IS COLLECTED?
RII collects the following data that reflects the activities of the people who live, work, learn, travel, visit, and recreate within the city’s geographical boundaries for the years 2008-2011, with 2012 data coming soon:
Energy (in BTUs):
electricity, natural gas, and district energy consumed citywide(subdivided into residential and commercial/industrial)
Water (in gallons):
potable water consumed citywide (subdivided into residential and commercial/industrial)
Travel (in Vehicle Miles Traveled):
on-road distance traveled within city limits
Waste (in pounds):
citywide municipal solid waste managed via recycling, composting, combustion, and landfilling (prorated from countywide data)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions (in tonnes CO2e):
citywide greenhouse gas emissions associated with each of the four indicators
Cost (in dollars):
cost estimates associated with each of the four indicators
KEY FINDINGS AFTER INITIAL ANALYSIS
UPCOMING PLATFORM TO DELVE DEEPER INTO THE DATA
Beyond these findings, there are many others that can be discovered through manipulation of the data from different angles. The website being developed will provide an interactive chart to explore this data. Either one city or a number of cities can be compared, for all four years or simply one year. This data can be viewed as a total or normalized by factors of: number of household, number of jobs, population or weather factors. This website is scheduled to be released in April 2013.
Graphic credit: LHB