As Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)  issues and initiatives climb higher on corporate agendas amid growing public awareness and expectations, it’s clear that local authorities also have a critical role to play in driving progress on the ESG front.

In many ways, local organizations have been at the forefront of social and governance developments by driving change with innovative initiatives – due in part to the reality that as leading organizations, the parameters and requirements of their social and governance roles are typically grounded in law.

But amid evolving public values and soaring social activism on environmental issues, local authorities should pursue a broader spectrum of initiatives aimed at protecting the environment. Customers want their local authorities to take a lead on ESG and local leaders are ideally positioned to do so.

Simply put, in addition to continuing the drive for progress on social and governance initiatives and outcomes that cater to specific or unique local needs via a ‘place-based’ approach, giving equal weight to the ‘E’ in ESG with cutting-edge programs is now an important order of the day.

The time to act is now

Forward-looking organizations realize that action, results and progress on the environment should be considered part of the customer experience. Authorities have, of course, been actively pursuing sustainability targets and working to meet regulations handed down by regional, central or federal governments – including for example the need for more-responsible energy use, efficient waste management, modern traffic infrastructure, ‘clean’ business practices and more.

The time has come, however, for local government organizations to expand their view and ambitiously drive significant gains in all areas that are indispensable to sustainability – including net zero of course. It will also be important to look at managing population growth’s impact, driving urban planning for a new era, supporting ecological diversity, and managing the impact of climate change – floods, fires, rising sea levels, natural catastrophes. A key is to align government capabilities, resources, services and stakeholders enterprise-wide via a fully connected, end-to-end ecosystem that precisely tracks customer needs, responses, performance and outcomes.

As part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to increase environmental protection and improve general liveability in its cities, the capital city of Riyadh has launched the Green Riyadh project. This mega project, with a total investment of US$11 billion over the next 10 years, will plant 7.5 million trees and develop more than 3,300 new parks and gardens to improve air quality and reduce the average ambient temperature. Green Riyadh further promotes the preservation of natural areas and biodiversity within the city while also spreading awareness among its citizen about sustainability.

Innovative business partnerships will help drive progress

Some local authorities are already pursuing this journey are spurred on not only by public needs and expectations but by the guidance of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as defined in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDGs set out aspirations for a sustainable future and encompass an array of crucial themes, including climate-change commitments, labor and workplace standards, social equality, industry innovation, infrastructure, health, clean growth and more.

The UN’s SDGs can ideally provide a metric or benchmark for embedding sustainability into local agendas and bringing today’s environmental issues truly into the mainstream of awareness and local action. Success along the way will require a more strategic ‘economic view’ among local authorities, one that includes innovative and productive new partnerships and collaboration with the private sector. Local public and private-sector leaders will need to work together to drive progress on what is clearly a shared mission.

Local authorities are ideally positioned to play a leading role in designing, implementing and tracking progress on SDGs and related programs. This includes embedding the notion of ‘social value’ organization-wide, including across the network of supply chain partners – proactively encouraging them to align their practices with the government’s stated values, mission and objectives.

Local councils are taking action

Progressive new local initiatives continue to emerge. In the UK, 230 local government councils – about 75 percent of councils nationwide – have declared a climate emergency and are taking action to reduce their own carbon emissions, according to the UK’s Local Government Association, representing local councils in England and Wales as ‘the national voice of local government.1

In the UK, Essex County Council’s ‘COVID-19 Recovery Transport Plan’ has set goals to reduce speed limits in agreed locations, improve existing pedestrian and cycle routes, and provide more electric-vehicle charging points.2 These local government organizations are committed to working with partners and local communities to drive greater progress in combatting the impact of climate change in their localities – ultimately improving the lives of their customers.

Ultimately, progress by local government organizations across the spectrum of ESG issues, needs and customer expectations will be critical to serving communities and positioning them for future growth and prosperity. Pursuing an outcomes-based approach to strategies and programs delivery – via a fully connected and newly responsive enterprise – is a way forward.

Key takeaways

  • Local authorities are ideally positioned to drive significant progress on environmental initiatives and outcomes.
  • Governments and their partners should focus on performance management, closely aligning it to ESG initiatives and goals that include today’s UN targets.
  • Making progress on the green agenda is crucial and private-sector partnerships will enhance progress.
  • Local leaders should set a progressive industrial strategy that is low carbon.