Sarasota County Leads the Way in Sustainability

Sarasota County, Florida, is a state and national leader in sustainability. Long before sustainability became a buzzword for local government, Sarasota County embraced sustainable practices with the construction of an environmentally-friendly library in 1986.

Sarasota's success in achieving its sustainability goals is due in large part to its recognition that sustainability goes beyond environmental stewardship. The county defines sustainability as a balance among people, planet, and prosperity. Community goals must address environmental improvement, long-term economic viability, and social well-being.

Three pillars of sustainability in Sarasota County

1. Economic sustainability means long-term planning for economic growth and diversification, efforts to identify public/private partnership opportunities, and networking opportunities for businesses.

2. Environmental sustainability means understanding that our economic livelihood and social well-being are all connected to local environmental resources. Quality of life and the ability to attract new businesses are tied to your community's natural assets.

3. Sustainability is not possible without citizen involvement, conducting community conversations, and listening and being responsive to the needs of residents.

Why sustainability?

Sarasota County decided to make sustainability a priority based on feedback from citizens and local businesses.

1. Sustainability is a citizen priority. In citizen surveys, public hearings and conversations, and referendums, Sarasota County citizens have consistently said they value the environment, arts and culture, affordable housing, smart growth, cultural diversity, public safety, and public transportation.

2. Sustainability is good for business. Local businesses have found advantages in embracing sustainability that go beyond cost-cutting. The county's Green Business Partnership certifies businesses large and small that practice sustainability. Certification has brought these businesses increased attention, a new niche in green building for some companies, and the development of new green products for others. The new niche has helped many businesses weather the current economic crisis better than businesses that were not certified.

3. Sustainability is the future. Sustainability has helped prepare Sarasota's future economic direction and reap the benefits of being on the cutting edge of local governance.

Walk the talk

Sarasota County administrators advise that if you want to achieve sustainability in your community, you must walk the talk. If you want your citizens to embrace sustainability, government employees must do so first. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Turn your government buildings green. Strive to have existing buildings and build new buildings that meet LEED and ENERGY STAR certification.

2. Explore the use of SCAT hybrid buses, B5 biodiesel fuel, and hybrid cars and trucks for your mobile workforce fleet.

3. Use environmentally preferable products. A city or county government buys a large amount of office supplies. Buy products with low toxicity and low waste that are recyclable and renewable.

4. Take the ENERGY STAR Challenge. Increase energy efficiency in existing government facilities by 10 percent.

5. Engage government employees through an education campaign. It is important that government employees feel a sense of ownership of any sustainability programs you implement and that they feel involved in the process.

For its efforts, Sarasota County has received numerous awards for its sustainable practices. But more importantly, the county has earned wide support from citizens because the of the county's willingness to listen and respond to community and business needs, its ability to walk the talk when it comes to implementing sustainable practices, and its embrace of a broader scope of the meaning of sustainability.

To learn more about ICMA's Sustainable Communities Initiative, visit <> .

Nice work, Sarasota County!