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Frequently Asked Questions#

The City of Fort Collins defines sustainability as, "the long-term social, economic, and environmental health of a community." Another example is the most internationally recognized definition from the 1987 Bruntland Commission, which is "meeting the needs of the present without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

To bring the global concept of sustainability to action at the local level, sustainability advocates use the triple bottom line in decision-making. Essentially, that means projects are evaluated based on their social, economic and environmental impacts. Rather than make decisions on the basis of profit or the economic bottom line, three bottom lines (social, economic, and environmental) are considered. For the City, it means creating an optimal mix of resource efficiency, cost effectiveness and employee well-being in daily City operations.

There are two areas where the City can use the triple bottom line:

1.) Planning

2.) Daily decision-making at the staff level.

On the planning level, the City has prioritized focus areas based on their potential triple bottom line benefits. In terms of daily decision-making, if the City follows the triple bottom line approach, it might examine the answer to several questions before a final decision is made.

For instance, when reviewing something as simple as purchasing paper, city staff might ask several questions.

  • What is the budget for purchasing paper? 
  • Is the City spending too little or too much to meet the needs? 
  • What products will foster employee productivity (e.g., avoid equipment jams, etc.)? 
  • Will purchased products have a minimum recycled content and/or be chlorine-free? 
  • What impacts will various paper products have on employee well-being and the environment? 
  • Is the environment valued above the other two legs (social and economic) of the triple bottom line?

While sustainability emerged out of the environmental movement, there is increased recognition that environmental gains must be balanced with economic and social well-being. Each is given equal opportunity.

The City has existing plans and programs that incorporate sustainability principles.

Some examples include:

  • Wellness Programs
  • Core Values
  • Health and Safety
  • Economic Vitality and Sustainability Plan
  • Energy Policy
  • Cities for Climate Protection
  • Green Building Guidelines. 

The Plan for Sustainability helps identify the commonalities among programs and maximize returns by selecting action steps that incorporate principles from all three categories (social, economic, and environmental). For instance, Green Building could incorporate Energy Policy and Wellness principles, inspiring a building design that saves money from energy costs (economic), reduces energy consumption (environment), and uses low toxicity materials to protect employee health (social).

There are many existing City operational policies that include sustainable practices and overlap with the goals of the Plan for Sustainability. In those cases, staff members can determine how to best refine City practices to include the best sustainable methods. If there are conflicts with existing policies, staff members can determine whether the existing policy or practice should be updated or refined or whether the sustainability goal or target is more appropriate.

As part of ongoing efforts to implement and measure updated or new operations, the implementation team may develop checklists, resource listings, or other effective tools to assure that best practices are being carried out. The City has also developed a Triple Bottom Line Analysis Map which can help city planners apply the triple bottom line approach to new projects.

Many cities throughout the world are practicing aspects of sustainability, and several have developed formal policies and action plans. Three good examples include the cities of Calgary, Seattle, and Portland, which have adopted sustainability policies.

The Fort Carson Army Base in Colorado Springs is a good example in Colorado with a 25-year vision for a comprehensive sustainability planning process, including goals and quantitative targets.

Many businesses and government entities have determined that there is a correlation between sustainability and best practices. Emphasizing sustainable practices throughout operations has a number of long- and short-term advantages. Measurement is used to monitor progress and to determine if new or revised practices need refinement.