CAMBRIDGE, — If cities choose to make all of their buildings, products and services environmentally friendly, the financial, environmental and health benefits would be staggering, writes Michelle Wyman.

Wyman, the executive director of International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, USA (ICLEI-USA), argues in Turning the Ship, a five-week online dialogue convened by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and The Clark Group (and hosted by GreenBiz.com here), that with their substantial buying power, cities large and small can have a profound impact on the market for green goods.

Wyman cites four cities as examples of municipal power in sustainable development:

  • The city of Chicago passed its own standards for energy-efficient buildings, the Chicago Standard, and the writing was on the wall that new construction and major renovations must achieve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
  • Austin, Texas, in 2000 passed a resolution requiring all public projects larger than 5,000 square feet to be LEED certified.
  • Denver, which has launched the "Greenprint Denver" initiative to further encourage sustainable purchasing and other green practices, the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building was built in 2002 to Energy Star qualifications to consolidate 40 agencies and provide the city government with a number of energy saving measures. In addition, Denver voters approved a $378 million bond in May, 2005 for the creation of a new justice center, which will be built to LEED certification standards.
  • New York City has earned the nickname "the Big Green Apple" by switching all of the traffic signals to energy-efficient lighting (LEDs), saving $6 million a year, and replacing about 200,000 refrigerators in public housing with energy-efficient versions, saving $7 million a year.


Wyman's full essay, "Going Green, Buying Green: The Power of Local Government Dollars," is posted on TurningTheShip.com.

The Turning the Ship dialogue has brought together leaders from a variety of fields to explore market and policy barriers that may be inhibiting adoption of environmentally sustainable practices by U.S. businesses. In addition to Wyman, other participants in the discussion include Dan Esty, Director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy; Truman Semans, Director for Markets and Business Strategy, Pew Center on Global Climate Change; Ben Packard, Director of Environmental Affairs, Starbucks Coffee Company.