Local government can lead by example by making its own operations more efficient and sustainable. And, for local leaders to truly green their communities they need to engage sector leaders, businesses, and residents in the effort to reduce energy use, save money, and prepare the community in a sustainable way.
While policies aimed at improving building energy use and transportation are important levers in local sustainability, in many instances a carrot can be more effective than a stick. Local leaders can extend their efforts across the whole community by also providing incentives and friendly challenges to residents, businesses, and other sectors. Challenges and incentive programs provide an element of friendly competition, and when paired with concrete rewards to recognize effort and success, can make the community feel like a real part of the solution to climate issues.
Incentive programs can include a wide range of rewards, from free or subsidized lighting replacements, appliance rebates, free home and business energy audits, to gift cards and other prizes provided by local businesses that pledge to support the program. Incentives can be used to entice members of the community to use less energy, drives less, eat locally produced foods, recycle and compost more -- just about anything that your community wishes to accomplish towards achieving its sustainability goals.
Similarly, friendly competitive challenges and pledges can be designed and issued to residents, businesses, faith congregations, local schools and universities, medical offices -- even agencies of local government -- as a way of engaging lots of people from within those groups to participate in your sustainability plan. While the social science of such challenges is still emerging, there is some evidence that what compels challenge participants the most is the element of competition, not the benefits to the environment or themselves, so it is important to find the balance of competition and rewards that will get people involved, and keep them involved. The following links provide a number of tips, ideas and tools to get your community involved.