Philadelphia Gets Sustainability Right

Here’s a simple recipe for success:  Start with a worthy, important goal – an audacious goal, one that can inspire others to get behind it. A goal that is clear, so you know when you have reached it.  A goal that has … a time deadline. Next, involve others in discussion and planning how that audacious goal might be achieved. Have that group create a number of smaller, intermediate goals that create small successes and build momentum. Next, regularly report to stakeholders exactly where you are on the road to achievement, whether good or bad. Along the way, keep the communication lines open so that all stakeholders see action. Inspire. Repeat.

While this might sound like simple common-sense advice from a self-help book on success and goals (and it could be), it is actually my quick overview of a bold plan put in place by Michael A. Nutter, the visionary Mayor of Philadelphia.  His goal: turn Philadelphia into “the greenest city in America by 2015”.  Beginning with his 2008 inaugural address, he created incredible energy around this goal, and based on their self-reporting, the City of Brotherly Love appears to be well on its way toward becoming that city.

Mayor Nutter’s first action was the creation the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (the “OS”).  The OS led a one year study of green issues, talking with residents, community leaders, outside consultants, and national non-profits engaged in green issues.  The OS drafted a program with doable and measurable intermediate targets, known as “Greenworks Philadelphia”.

Greenworks Philadelphia has 15 separate sustainability targets in the areas of energy, environment, equity, economy and engagement – with a deadline of 2015 (making it a 6 year plan).  The OS received help from two environmental consulting firms, ICF International and Stratus Consulting, whose job it was to help refine and evaluate the strength of the intermediate targets for their return on investment.  Greenworks Philadelphia was first released in the spring of 2009.  The first annual progress report was released in May, 2010, and presumably a second report is due this month.

Other city governments should take notice that Greenworks Philadelphia, once created, has attracted significant amounts of grants and other funding, including:

  • U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant
  • Greenworks Loan and Rebate Fund (created by the City in partnership with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and The Reinvestment Fund)
  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
  • U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities Program
  • Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority

I’m confident that Mayor Nutter didn’t have all this funding lined up when he took office and set his overall goal for the city.  Funny how a great and inspiring goal and a thoughtful plan of action have a way of attracting money and solutions.

Energy targets include lowering city government energy consumption by 30%, reducing citywide building energy consumption by 10%, and purchasing and generating 20% of electricity from alternative energy sources.  Environmental targets include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and diverting 70% of solid waste from landfills through increased recycling.

Equity targets include creation of more pervious surfaces – 3,200 acres – in all neighborhoods by planting thousands of trees, creating more open space, and bringing local food within 10 minutes of 75% of residents.  Economy targets include reducing vehicle miles traveled by 10% through increased transit ridership, creation of a city-wide bicycle trail network, and doubling the number of low and high-skill green jobs.

I have particular admiration for the way in which Mayor Nutter has engaged city residents in the goings-on of Greenworks Philadelphia, through a Facebook site, videos (there are 19 separate videos appearing on and the annual reports.  The Facebook site informs residents of upcoming events, application deadlines, and contains lots of pictures.

I’m sure that other cities would like to lay claim to the title of “Greenest City in America”, but when Philadelphia completes its six year plan (and I am very confident they can do it), Mayor Nutter and Philly residents will clearly deserve that title.  Maybe Mayor Nutter should write a book on success principles – he clearly is an expert on the topic.

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Dale Burket is a partner in the Real Estate Transactions, Development and Finance Commercial Leasing, and Environmental Law practices. With over 29 years of experience, Dale focuses his real estate legal practice on multi-site, multi-jurisdictional real estate acquisitions, dispositions, leasing and financing and large, multi-site and multi-state real estate transactions. His hospitality practice concentrates on restaurant leases and financing arrangements. Dale has also represented Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) in connections with mergers, securitizations, purchase of income producing properties, and sales of properties by taxable REIT subsidiaries. Dale is Board Certified in Real Estate Law by the Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization and Education. He has represented local, regional, and national clients in commercial real estate transactions, including CNL Financial Group, Inc., JDS Holdings, LLC., and Northland, A Church Distributed Inc. Dale has also handled purchase and sale transactions in excess of $100 Million, handled real estate aspects of a corporate merger involving more than 2,000 properties, and closed senior credit facilities on behalf of the borrower in excess of $50 Million.


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