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Sustainability Plan Guidance

A Regional Plan

A regional sustainability plan should include the following:

  • A baseline assessment of the region, including inventories of greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, as well as assessments of natural resource and economic assets, liabilities and opportunities. The plan will identify data gaps and steps to fill them.
  • Long-term and short-term sustainability goals for the region, including greenhouse gas reduction and sustainability goals for energy supply, transportation, water management, waste management, land use, open space, agriculture, housing and economic development. The plan should include metrics for each goal and a commitment to annual reporting.
  • Actions to achieve greenhouse gas reduction or other sustainability goals, including barriers to successful implementation and proposed means for removing such barriers. Descriptions should include metrics of progress and co-benefits such as job creation and taxpayer savings.
  • An implementation plan showing how the participating municipalities will collaborate and a schedule with timetables of targeted milestones and completion dates for actions described in the plan.
  • Stakeholder involvement throughout plan development and implementation.

A regional sustainability plan can improve environmental quality by reducing air, water and land pollution and improve quality of life through smart growth and sustainable development. Smart growth promotes land-use practices such as compact growth, transit-oriented and mixed-use development, walkable and bicycle-friendly practices, complete streets, context-sensitive design, and protection of critical land, water and natural resources. Sustainable development strives to enhance environmental, economic and social well-being without degrading current or future natural, economic and social resources. Projects identified by this planning process should improve energy efficiency throughout the community, promote renewable energy and result in reduced emissions of carbon.

Please see below for additional guidance and references. This information will be updated to include additional details and references, so please check back periodically.

Core Components of a Regional Sustainability Plan (Last updated -- August 22, 2011)

Baseline Assessment

Assess the current conditions within each of the three pillars of sustainability:

  • Social equity
  • Economic conditions
  • Environmental quality, including pollutant emissions

This assessment will be based on an assessment of existing data, such as Census data and any completed regional greenhouse gas emissions inventories, followed by a gap analysis of missing data. Planning grant funds can be used to fill appropriate data gaps to ensure that a complete baseline is available for the sustainability plan.

Stakeholder Engagement and Public Outreach

A regional board to lead the planning effort and provide the most in-depth analysis and support possible, a group of expert stakeholders, and general public engagement must all be included in the plan development process.

Vision Statement

A visioning process will identify where the region wants to be in the future. This process must be an inclusive process with significant outreach that utilizes various education and engagement tactics and tools targeted to engage all audiences-public meetings, blogs, online surveys, social media, neighborhood house parties, etc. The final vision for the region will drive the development of goals and strategies.

Goal Setting

Establish a set of short-, mid-, and long-term goals that will help the region achieve its vision. The description of each goal should indicate a timeline for achieving significant milestones.

Core Systems and Strategies

The various strategies that will be identified and implemented to meet the goals and, ultimately, the vision for the region will be divided into core systems that are of particular importance or significance to the region. It is expected that many, if not all, core systems will have some overlap with other systems.


  • Energy and climate
  • Natural resources
  • Economic development
  • Transportation
  • Food
  • Community and cultural resources
  • Infrastructure
  • Land use
  • Public health


Every strategy identified within the core systems identified above must have an implementation plan attached to it. Each implementation plan will include the responsible parties, the estimated costs of implementation, the potential energy and greenhouse gas benefits, the potential funding sources, the timeline for implementation, and any additional co-benefits.

Regional Collaboration

The core of the plan is the regional focus that enables a consortium of municipalities to create a shared vision and then pool their resources towards achieving that vision. The regional sustainability plan must show how the municipalities within the consortium will work together, both in development and implementation of the plan. A successful plan will include some level of commitment to implementation from each municipality in the consortium.

Tracking and Reporting Progress

A regional sustainability plan should include metrics for annual reporting and provide an annual analysis for updates and to report progress. The plan should identify a time period, no greater than five years, by which a full review of the plan will be undertaken.

Optional Areas of Innovation

  • Scenario Planning

Many sustainability planning efforts use future land-use scenario planning to help establish a vision for the plan. An effective sustainability plan includes a land-use connection that ties future build-out to sustainability targets. Planning scenarios would include transportation impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, open space losses, stormwater runoff, preservation of agricultural and forest land. The plan would include an impact analysis cast based on each scenario.

All the following links leave the DEC website.


Many regions and large cities that have developed regional sustainability or climate action plans have followed ICLEI's Sustainability Planning Toolkit, which is based on New York City's PlaNYC. Access to the toolkit requires ICLEI membership, but there are ICLEI members in all regions, and the cost of membership would be very small in comparison to the cost of developing the plan.


Long Island 2035 includes analysis of several scenarios of population and employment growth.

Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission includes a detailed plan and discussion of indicators.

San Diego Background Report on Climate Action Plans (http://www.sandag.org/uploads/projectid/projectid_332_8469.pdf) includes discussion of best practices for planning.

Denver Regional Council of Governments provides categorized lists of many references to regional and local planning resources.

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