Guest post from Center for Sustainability Leadership Group member Keith Reester, Director of Public Works, Loveland, CO.

Public Works is about sustainability!


Don’t think so? When is the last time you built a bridge that you planned to last 10 years, we are building 50 years from now today. Fifty years ago John Kennedy was president of the United States, in Canada the Trans-Canada Highway opened, and the Cuban Missile Crisis rocked the world. Our business has always been about taking the long view about building communities and making them safe, interesting, livable, and business friendly. Now granted there are days when it seems that the long view is a long ways away – potholes, trash, storm runoff, and political funding challenges – but we are in the business of building great towns.


For the longest time the three legs of the stool in public works planning were cost, schedule, and quality; but these days we need to think about sustainability as the fourth leg. Just like any change this is a challenge, we’re not used to asking the questions associated with sustainability on the level we ask about the other three legs. It takes practice, patience, and an innovative spirit to lead through the turmoil.

One of the great things about APWA is the tremendous network we share with over 28,000 other professionals that we can tap into to help us along the path of working on sustainability. These links may help you find someone who is nearby or you may have met at an APWA event that might be a tie to aid your effort.

APWA Center for Sustainability: http://www.apwa.net/centerforsustainability
Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure: http://www.sustainableinfrastructure.org/
Institute for Sustainable Communities: http://www.iscvt.org/
Urban Sustainability Directors Network: http://usdn.org

Good luck with your efforts!!


New Sustainability Resources from the Emerging Leaders Academy Class of 2012.

Each year a small group of public works professionals participate in a year-long Emerging Leaders Academy that provides intensive leadership and management training within the context of public works. The ELA program encourages professional growth through a strong network of peers, and offers an in-depth introduction to APWA at the national, chapter, and branch levels.

Each ELA class selects a topic to focus its class project on and the ELA Class of 2012 focused its work on determining how can APWA integrate sustainable thinking into the public works profession as well as into the culture of APWA?

The goals of the class project focused on increasing awareness of sustainability principals and methods to those in the Public Works profession. The project goals were determined to include the following:

  • Investigate currently available tools such as the Center's Framework for Sustainable Communities (http://www.apwa.net/documents/sust/framework_designFINAL.) and ISI's EnvisionTM sustainability rating system (www.sustainableinfrastructure.org)
  • Produce a packet of tools that can be distributed to Public Works professionals that would assist them in integrating sustainable practices and policies into their organizations and projects
  • Guidance for creating sustainability-focused RFPs
  • Sample Board/Council letters to implement sustainable policies into local ordinances
  • Video explaining what sustainability means in Public Works and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure
  • Develop a pilot program
  • Develop a plan to distribute the packet to Public Works departments throughout the U.S.

The ELA Class of 2012 submitted its final project report in August and presented its findings during APWA Congress & Expo in Anaheim.  The final project report includes several helpful resources including sample council letters, sample RFP language, and an example of a project that used EnvisionTM to evaluate the sustainability of the project.  I encourage you to spend sometime reviewing these resources and thinking about how you can use them to bring more sustainable practices to your community.


The APWA Center for Sustainability Leadership Group held its winter face to face meeting in Tempe, AZ, February 6-7, 2014.  While enjoying the relative warmth of Arizona, Center Leaders spent a day focusing on refining its mission and priorities for the next 6 months and then enjoyed a tour of Singh Farms to see how they are working with the city on its new compositing program. 

The Leadership Group spent time simplifying its purpose and developed an elevator speech to help explain what the Center does for APWA and its members.  


The APWA Center for Sustainability promotes and supports APWA members continuing efforts to advance efficiency in their operations, services, projects and usage of resources that consider the economic, environmental and social contributions to livable communities.


This statement reflects the elements of public works management and highlights the importance of balancing the elements of the triple bottom line in creating sustainable communities.  To achieve the goal of promoting and supporting APWA’s members, Center Leaders identified three priorities to focus on over the next several months:  (1) Focus on marketing and outreach to raise awareness of sustainability in public works and of the tools and resources the Center has created or identified to help APWA members achieve sustainability; (2)  Continue to promote and support the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure and the EnvisionTM sustainable infrastructure rating system; (3) and Institutionalize sustainability principles and practices throughout APWA’s operations, programs and services.   


Center Leaders Enjoy Dinner After a Long Day of Work


Over the next several months, Center Leaders will be working on several projects to fulfill these priorities.   We are already working hard to integrate the elements of the Sustainabilit in Public Works conference into the 2014 Congress in Toronto, Ontario this August.  There will be numerous sustainability related education sessions offered in Toronto and there will be a session highlighting several presentations on how to use the Envision sustainable infrastructure rating system.  In addition, Center Leaders are planning on hosting a roundtable discussion on sustainability in public works.  Center Leaders are also hard at work preparing several education sessions as well.   In addition, the Center also continues to solicit case studies highlighting sustainability in public works.  The Center would like to highlight sustainable public works infrastructure projects, programs and local initiatives so that we can build a collection of useful resources for your peers.  We have created a template for you to follow – http://www.apwa.net/DR/index.asp?ID=1726.  We will accept case studies on a continuing basis throughout the year.  Case studies should be sent to Julia Anastasio at janastasio@apwa.net.

In addition to spending a day working on the Center’s agenda for the next several months, Center Leaders had the opportunity to visit Singh Farms, an organic farm near Scottsdale, AZ.  Singh Farms was highlighted in the Stewards of Sustainability DVD that the Center for Sustainability produced in 2012. 


Singh Farm Vegetables


Mr. Singh took an abandoned piece of property and created an oasis in the desert where he grows organic produce, produces compost and fish fertilizer and holds a weekly famers market.  Mr. Singh has created a unique garden, designed for the Arizona desert environment.  He has planted a mix of trees that creates a micro-climate and increases humidity to protect his plants.  The gardens are planted in the spaces in between the trees where the plants are able to grow all year.  For his compositing activities, Mr. Singh has spent years researching and learning about the science of compositing and loves to share his knowledge about how to turn poor soil into rich productive soil.   Mr. Singh has been sharing his compositing knowledge and expertise with the City of Tempe’s new composting program.  Mr. Singh has advised city staff and remains in contact with them as they work to refine the city’s compost.  The City uses the compost at their facilities and parks and offers the compost to citizens in the community once or twice a year. 


Mr. Singh talking compost and soil science


All in all, Center Leaders had a very productive meeting in Tempe and are focused on identifying and providing the best tools and resources available to assist APWA members in creating livable communities.