Sustainable Seattle - City is a leader of worldwide movement to foster 'environmentally responsible' business practices

"Sustainable urban development is one of the most pressing challenges facing the human community in the 21st century."

-- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Every Thursday is car-free day in the Portuguese city of Almada. Hundreds of would-be car commuters voluntarily choose other modes of mobility, encouraged in part by reduced bus fares and discounts at local shops, museums and sporting events offered by city government and local businesses.

Early next year, several buses emitting nothing but water will hit the streets of Reykjavik, Iceland. In the coming years, the city will partner with Iceland's national government and major energy companies to replace its entire 80-bus fleet with these zero-emission vehicles, powered by hydrogen derived from renewable geothermal energy.

Here in Seattle, a growing consortium of government agencies and private companies is revolutionizing the way we design and build everything from residential streets to downtown skyscrapers.

For example the Seattle Justice Center that is nearing completion will feature a "living roof." Instead of metal or concrete, a portion of the roof will be covered with grasses and other green plants. This will cut the costs of heating and cooling the building (due to improved insulation), reduce the flow of storm water into Puget Sound, provide more soothing scenery for workers and visitors, and create habitat for birds.

Cities around the world are rising to the challenge of "sustainable development" -- experimenting with creative new ways to meet the needs of their expanding populations while respecting and protecting the natural resources and ecological systems on which long-term health and wealth depend.

When world leaders gather in Johannesburg, South Africa, later this month for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the spotlight will be on cities.

According to the United Nations' State of the World Cities 2001 report, urban areas already consume more than 75 percent of the world's natural resources and generate an equally disproportionate amount of pollution and waste. These challenges will only grow more difficult and complex as more and more people settle in cities. In 1960, about 30 percent of the world's population lived in cities; by 2010, that proportion will exceed 50 percent.

Seattle is a widely recognized leader in the movement toward more environmentally sensible cities. On Earth Day, Mayor Greg Nickels announced his Environmental Action Agenda, with urban sustainability as the centerpiece.

"The beauty and diversity of the Puget Sound environment is something that defines and distinguishes our city," Nickels said. "Our physical and economic health, now and into the future, depend on clean air, clean water and a healthy environment."

The mayor's agenda outlines a number of innovative next steps for putting sustainability into practice. Among them:

"Lean Green City Government": As a major landowner, fleet operator, employer, consumer of goods and services and service provider, city government has ample opportunities to reduce its own "ecological footprint" and to inspire others to do the same.


A key feature of the agenda is an aggressive campaign to make city government a model of resource-efficient and environmentally responsible business practices.

Recent examples include: significantly downsizing the vehicle fleet; converting all diesel vehicles to much cleaner, low-sulfur diesel; installing energy- and water-efficient fixtures in facilities; and purchasing environmentally responsible products such as less toxic paints and cleaners and more energy-efficient flat-screen computers.


  • "Restorative redevelopment": Seattle is being transformed by new development. Thirty-eight neighborhood plans are in various stages of implementation; almost all of them call for significant capital investments such as street and sidewalk improvements and new or expanded community centers, libraries and parks.


    Major chunks of the city (South Lake Union and High Point) and large segments of our basic urban infrastructure (roads, bridges, drainage systems) will be redeveloped in the coming years as well. The mayor sees this as an opportunity to work with the private sector and neighborhoods to practice "restorative redevelopment," which will incorporate new products, technologies and approaches that are healthier for people and the environment.

    For example, city departments and residents recently collaborated on the Street Edge Alternative pilot project in northwest Seattle. This innovative project features attractive swales -- miniature marshes filled with trees and native plants -- on each side of the street to filter pollutants and slow the flow of storm water into Piper's Creek. The alternative street design also slows traffic, creating a safer and more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly environment. And it adds green, improving quality of life (and likely property values) in the neighborhood.


  • "Transportation conservation": We are recognized around the world for our success in recycling and conservation of energy and water. The agenda takes the next step: transportation conservation. Since our ability to expand vehicle capacity is limited by funding and physical constraints, we need to use the existing transportation system more efficiently. We need to apply the same creativity and consciousness to our transportation choices that we apply to garbage disposal and energy and water consumption.


    The city will continue to help community groups, schools, neighborhood business districts and residents to develop homegrown strategies for reducing car use in their neighborhoods. In the University District, for example, one resident recently received a "Car-Smart Communities" grant for the "Explore 44" project. The project promotes both bus riding and local businesses by creating and widely distributing a map and directory of the schools, parks, shopping centers, hospitals and sightseeing destinations along Metro bus route 44, which runs through Montlake, University District, Wallingford and Ballard.

    In a lingering recession that has hit families and city government alike, the obvious question is cost. Can we afford these initiatives? But a better question might be: Can we afford not to make these kinds of investments in our current and future quality of life?

    Growing urban needs translate into growing opportunities for innovation, jobs and profits. Last year, a consortium of utilities and economic development agencies from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest commissioned the report "Poised for Profit: How Clean Energy Can Power the Next High-Tech Job Surge in the Northwest." According to the report, clean energy -- the production of energy-efficiency technologies and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power -- will grow from a $1.4 billion-a-year industry to $4 billion a year over the next 20 years; 12,000 jobs will be created.

    Approaches to meeting human needs that conserve resources, reduce waste and protect and enhance urban environmental quality already are in high demand. That demand will skyrocket, both here and abroad, as more and more cities struggle with rapid population growth, limited funds and intensifying competition for dwindling natural resources. Companies that develop "green" products and technologies, and the knowledge and skills to implement them, are positioning themselves to tap into these potentially huge emerging markets.

    A critical mass of such companies has emerged here, including Mithun (a Seattle architectural firm specializing in sustainable building); MagnaDrive (a Seattle-based manufacturer of super energy-efficient motors), and Neah Power Systems (a Bothell-based start-up developing hydrogen fuel cell technology). Seattle can become a major U.S. hub for such "green businesses" -- companies and research centers developing the ways and means of putting sustainable urban development into practice. The mayor's new economic development action plan pledges support to this promising new niche.

    When we invest in protecting and strengthening those qualities that most distinguish us as a city, we improve the quality of life for ourselves and our kids. At the same time, we sharpen our competitive edge. In his recent groundbreaking study, "Competing in the Age of Talent," Carnegie Mellon professor Richard Florida cites two telling surveys.

    In one, Money magazine asked 512 respondents to rank 37 quality-of-life factors on a scale of 1 to 10. Two environmental factors -- "clean air" and "clean water" -- were ranked in the top three, higher than factors such as "low sales taxes" and "cheap car insurance." In the other survey, private companies ranked "environmental quality" third among important factors influencing their business location decisions, just below "good schools" and "public safety" and higher than "easy commute" and "cost of living." High technology firms ranked "environmental quality" first.

    "Environmental quality and economic vitality depend on each other, especially here in Seattle," the mayor says. "Keeping our city green, keeping our air and water clean and healthy for our kids -- we've been committed to these goals for a long time. But more and more, we're recognizing that environmental quality is a source of jobs and economic competitiveness, too. And this community, with its culture of entrepreneurship and ecological consciousness, will be a leader in this new industry."


    Steve Nicholas is director of the Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment. For more information on the mayor's Environmental Action Agenda and the city's sustainability initiatives, see www.cityof For more examples of sustainability initiatives in other cities around the world, see .

Is "sustainable development" something the American people should want? Read about it here to decide:

When sustainable development comes to your town by Henry Lamb

Sustainable Development is alive and well in the U.S. by Sharon Shumate

Arkansas: Sustainable Development brought in through Community Development Dpt. vis-a-vis the Dept. of Agriculture

Europe incorporates Sustainable Development Strategy

U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development Report

New religion? Global Ethics, Sustainable Development and the Earth Charter
Global Ethics, Sustainable Development and the Earth Charter April 3, 2002 Received from one of our reporters, this note caught our attention

Agenda 21/Sustainable Development - Philanthropy...or Piracy?

UN Secretary-General names five key areas for advancement of Sustainable Development worldwide

Sustainaable Development: A snowball bound for hell

Moving Toward World Government? A report on the UN World Summit for Sustainable Development

Sustaining Nothing, Losing Everything

Sustainable Communities by Henry Lamb

Imperial Rule by Benevolent Council

Earth Charter adopted in Russia

It all ties together - controlling the opposition

'Sustainability Community Plans', South Carolina style, includes preservation of everything except individual liberty

New 'green' policy for World Bank

In Sustainable Oregon: Property rights and gardens

Corridors of Wilderness: How much land should the government own?

Governor Locke promotes a "sustainable Washington" - what does that mean?

Freedom 21 Report: Sovereignty issues high on agenda

'Smart Growth' or dumbed down by consensus politicians

The Forced Relocation of Rural Populations

United Nations attack on gun ownership by Phyllis Schlafly

A Lightning Bolt of Reality: The forced relocation of rural populations

Property Rights and Wrongs: Web of intrigue is spun while America sleeps

The Olympic Discovery Trail - An alternative to driving?

NGOs march toward global governance

The privatization of water

Stormwater Management Plan carries far more restriction on land than meets the eye

'No American Left Alone!' - The Trail of control over U.S. lives

The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America

Understanding the Third Way by Niki Raapana

UN Millennium Declaration - "Mandate" for global governance

Portland votes to grow like Los Angeles

Connecticut Representative introduces Wildlands Bill for Western States

A Sustainable World reprint from 1998

Farming takes the hit from all sides, by M. Ireland

Conservation Easements: A Critical Commentary

River owners balk at selling out their property; encouraged by county agencies with an agenda to become 'willing' sellers

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