Academic journal article The Public Manager

Local Government Lessons on Emissions Inventories: Federal Managers Can Learn from Local Governments and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, Which Has Pioneered Processes for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Local Government Lessons on Emissions Inventories: Federal Managers Can Learn from Local Governments and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, Which Has Pioneered Processes for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories

Article excerpt

More and more local governments, state governments, and corporations now report their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Soon, federal agencies will be required to inventory the annual emissions from their buildings, fleets, and other sources. A daunting challenge for any public manager, the process of conducting an emissions inventory can be lengthy and complex. In hindsight, few inventory veterans could have guessed that their effort would require studying the minutiae of, say, how to track fugitive hydrofluorocarbon emissions from refrigerant systems.

Today's federal administrators have an enormous advantage: they can draw on the expertise of local governments, which have a decade of experience trailblazing the methods, measures, and reporting protocols to complete GHG inventories for both government operations and communities at large. This progress has been spearheaded by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA, a member association of 500 U.S. local governments. Founded in 1990 as the "International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives," this organization is committed to climate protection and sustainability goals. (ICLEI Global, the parent organization, boasts an additional 500 members worldwide.)

"ICLEI has driven a movement on local climate action, and the key to success has been our leadership and guidance with greenhouse gas emissions inventories," says Michelle Wyman, ICLEI USA's executive director. "Over the past decade, individual cities, towns, and counties have turned to ICLEI for support, software tools, technical expertise, and, most recently, our Local Government Operations Protocol, the new reporting standard that is completely scalable for any size and level of government." "Together," adds Wyman, "ICLEI and its members have faced just about every challenge, question, and misstep possible in the inventory process."

An executive order or regulation that mandates GHG reporting for each federal agency is highly likely in 2009. Now is the time for public managers to begin their preparations, drawing on key lessons that apply at the federal level from ICLEI and its network of local governments.

Indispensable Inventories

At first take, an emissions inventory may seem like nothing more than a bureaucratic burden, but it lays the groundwork for inspiring action. A 2005 survey of ICLEI members around the world, for example, found that their climate protection measures helped them collectively reduce GHG emissions by 23 million tons and saved them $535 million annually.

None of these successes could have been possible had these local governments not started with an emissions inventory. ICLEI's mantra since the beginning has been, "You Must Quantify," or, as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others, puts it, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." You can't know whether your climate protection efforts have been successful unless you first measure your emissions (through a baseline inventory) and track your progress accurately and consistently.

The lesson is the same for federal managers: before you begin installing compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) light bulbs in your facilities or switching to biofuels in your fleets, you must calculate your starting point. Then, down the line, you'll be able to state definitively that your building retrofit program saved $50,000 per year and reduced your carbon dioxide emissions by 400 tons.

Questions and Guidance

The average local government inventory takes 400 hours (or 10 weeks), including the planning and strategizing that typically precede data collection. Careful planning is key. At the outset, nearly every local government seeks the same reassurance: Will we be doing this inventory the "right way"? Will we be following the same methods and standards used by other local governments?

ICLEI has always strived to guide this consistency, but back in the mid-1990s--when only a handful of proactive local governments were even interested in emissions inventories--its standards were far less defined and its requirements far less strict than they are today. …

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