Joslyn Institute for
Nebraska Environmental Trust,
Sustainability Leadership Institute
Lincoln Electric System
Omaha Public Power District
Nebraska/Iowa Metroplex Council
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
US Green Building Council,
Nebraska Investment Finance Authority
Nebraska Association of County Officials
League of Nebraska Municipalities
Nebraska Association of
Natural Resource Districts
Lincoln Green by Design
Green Omaha Coalition
City of Lincoln
City of Omaha
Nebraska Center for
Sierra Club, Nebraska Chapter
Center for Rural Affairs
Nebraska Rural Initiative, UNL
Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshops
The mission of the Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshop (NSLW) is to help community leaders throughout the state craft shared visions for efficient resource use, environmental quality, alternative energy, economic opportunities, effective public policy, healthy and vibrant cities, and food-based coalitions.
The Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities received funding of $200,000 from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund to support the creation of this unique forum for community leaders to explore solutions to environmental challenges.
The NSLW completed its two-year series of 21 workshops in towns and cities across the state in 2010, with the goal of creating a network of sustainability leaders throughout Nebraska. The workshops were part of an innovative partnership program that is preparing Nebraska’s communities for today’s and tomorrow’s complex challenges.
Our community leaders are the chief designers of our communities and their component parts—central business districts, subdivisions, schools, industries and highways—and hold significant influence over current and future public policies. Civic leaders hold enormous sway over whether or not a new development is a good fit that brings long-term economic benefits without harming the ecological or cultural fabric of the community.
An uncertain energy future, growing shortages of water and other natural resources, and the unfolding consequences of climate change represent daunting challenges for Nebraska’s community leaders. Whether they live and work in sprawling cities or depopulating towns, all are struggling with myriad problems as natural resources become increasingly scarce while demands on resources continue to rise.
An initiative of the Joslyn Institute, the NSLW has been a unique opportunity for community leaders from across the state to share their challenges and successes and to discover new ways to address the critical environmental, social-cultural, technological, economic and public policy challenges facing their communities.
Over the two-year duraion of the NSLW, more than 650 elected officials, city managers, members of county boards, city councils, school boards and other community leaders engaged in dialogue and learning with planning, design and leadership experts. Participants were trained in the use of EcoSTEP™ and Sustainometrics, as well as communication and leadership principles focused on sustainability. Organized around case-study problems, these small-group workshops were tailored to address issues unique to each participating community while also exploring shared solutions to statewide and regional challenges including:
- Efficient resource use Future prosperity, economic or otherwise, will not occur unless Nebraska’s community leaders find consensus on identifying and efficiently managing our most fragile natural resources.
- Environmental quality Degradation of water quality and supply, loss of habitat and food production to poor land use practices, and toxins in our water, soil and air threaten the very survival of plant, animal and human communities. Species failure is a loss not only for our environment, but a dire warning of our own fragile ecological condition.
- Alternative energy Communities need to act quickly to address future energy challenges, working on a regional and statewide scale to increase the use of clean, alternative energy and to make energy efficiency and the efficient use of resources (materials reuse and recycling) a priority through building code improvements and incentive programs.
- Economic opportunities Valuable natural resources—water, wind, soils, and our four-season solar climate—are underutilized or misallocated in many communities large and small. Regional cooperation, coupled with long-term planning are keys to economic sustainability and substantial improvements to quality of life.
- Effective public policy No single jurisdiction can afford to foot the bill for the future, yet competitive tensions within and between jurisdictions often lead to inefficiencies in natural resource allocation and infrastructure investment. Policies designed to address 19th century conditions are not suited to the global and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Community leaders must work together to develop policies and incentives based on a shared vision of preferred growth patterns, land use policies, and economic goals.
- Healthy, vibrant towns and cities Policies and incentives are needed to encourage healthy, walkable, and culturally rich communities that offer transportation and housing choices in mixed-use developments that concurrently protect habitat, water supplies and local culture/history.
- Food-based coalitions Rural/urban interests are in conflict as farmland and fragile natural environments are lost to sprawl, acreage-style development and other non-food crop uses. Leaders need to explore ways to renew ties between populations and local food communities.
We asked the community leaders we invited to the workshops to identify local issues and case studies for discussion with experts and fellow community leaders from each region. Each session was limited to 15 participants and five consultants, and explored such topics as:
- enhancing the vitality and sustainability of Nebraska’s cities and towns
- economic and socio-cultural development
- community food systems as a form of economic development
- the economic and workforce development opportunities presented by blighted housing and commercial structures
- energy efficiency and alternative energy resources
- protection of soil resources through regional cooperation in public/private and urban/rural coalitions
- management of air quality and community health issues through interjusrisdictional planning, sustainable design and smart growth strategies
- management of watersheds across jurisdictional boundaries to ensure safe and adequate water for all living systems
- underutilized or misallocated natural resources (water, wind, soils, materials, four-season solar climate), and how jurisdictions can cooperate to make the most efficient use of resources through energy efficiency, waste reduction and material re-use
The results of the workshops were enlightening and valuable. JISC performed surveys among all the participants after each workshop and kept in touch with many of them. The resulting information gathered was put to good use in forming the basis for the next program JISC established: Conversations Conferences on Nebraska’s Environment and Sustainability (CCNES), the aim of which was to synthesize what was learned in the NSLW, take it to the public in a series of Conversations Conferences across the state, and encourage them to discuss the issues within a framework of five vital resources, and determine whether/how/when changes might be considered and implemented with regard to both conservation and development.