Virginia Tech’s Sustainability Planning Lab began to inventory in 2011, by cataloging and assessing the current planning landscape. Starting with a preliminary list of 240 cities (from a compilation of a 2009 inventory of ICLEI member cities, results from the National League of Cities’ 2010 sustainability survey, and the authors’ web searches) we started by making the distinction between true sustainability plans, and sustainability initiatives and/or internal green management programs. While these initiatives are certainly important first steps in the journey toward sustainability the lab intentionally inventoried only those cities or counties that had formally adopted some type of sustainability plan through local legislative action. The emerging typology was comprised of three different sustainability plans: comprehensive land use plans, policy plans, and climate action plans. The major distinctions among these plans rest on their framework and content.
In classifying the plan type, here are the essential characteristics that help distinguish one from another:
- Comprehensive plans integrate sustainability principles and policies throughout the locality’s comprehensive land use plan, or this spatial plan includes a sustainability element or section of the plan.
- Policy plans are stand-alone strategic plans, often but not always connected to community sustainability initiatives and other strategic plans.
- Climate action plans have a narrow focus on strategies for climate mitigation, adaptation, and greenhouse gas reduction. Although a high number of places focused on climate action plans, many plans lack such components essential to sustainability as housing and green infrastructure.