In building a more sustainable future, your neighbors matter. For the public and private sectors, important symbiotic relationships are emerging.

As a major source of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, cities are adopting climate action plans to strategically reduce emissions and ensure a sustainable future. Implementation requires specialized knowledge, which city governments often obtain from private consulting firms in environmental, engineering and energy services, from giants like AECOM to smaller local consultancies. More important, city governments often want to contract out for these services locally, and as former Erb Fellow Laurie Nijaki’s work shows, cities frequently use local procurement to directly grow local green industries.

More and more cities are contracting with local environmental firms to implement climate action plans. When they do, this symbiosis helps to both grow the local environmental services industry and achieve local decarbonization goals. These relationships boost sustainable outcomes, as my analysis of 330 cities around the world shows that cities with more of these firms tend to achieve greater greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Every year, as more cities adopt climate action plans, demand grows for sustainability professionals knowledgeable about and capable of fulfilling these local needs. And this is not the only emerging symbiosis that we should be paying attention to.


Municipal-corporate climate allies

Corporations across all industries are voluntarily adopting their own climate action plans or ESG (environmental, social and governance) standards. When this occurs within a city that is also taking climate action, innovative partnerships can form.

In my recent talk at the Ross School of Business, I explained how city governments are increasingly collaborating directly with local corporations on climate action. This collaboration includes co-financing sustainability projects, the companies aligning their decarbonization goals with their city’s goals, and the city publicly recognizing the participating firms for their contribution. This approach reduces the cost of climate mitigation and can elevate the amount of total emissions that a community can reduce collectively. This is the power of green neighbors that work together.

With climate-active cities from Boston to Paris having successfully carried out this type of collaboration, major environmental organizations have created the City-Business Climate Alliance, which seeks to harness this trend and put new city-corporate climate partnerships into practice. ESG professionals and policymakers can mutually maximize sustainability outcomes at the local level by implementing these practices, and developing this skill as a core competency involves not just familiarity with successful case studies but also data literacy.

Both competitiveness and cooperation within the sustainability space require tracking your performance as well as knowing how to detect others’ performance. A key starting point for corporations is disclosing sustainability data to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the largest repository for ESG data, which companies use to measure their own sustainability performance against that of their competitors. Local policymakers can similarly use these data to determine which local companies are climate-active and thus may be amenable to new climate collaborations. Do you know who your green neighbors are?