What is the Sustainability Planning Process? The planning process identifies a clear pathway to achieve the community’s vision for sustainable economic development. In short, the process lays out the means to reach the ends. The process will include identifying/developing the following steps:
The snap shot of what the community could look like in the future. What can Milwaukee look like in 5, 10, or even 50 years from now? How can sustainability play a role in shaping the way that Milwaukee adapts to changing global environmental, economic, and social conditions? This statement takes into account a certain level of imagination paired with a realistic sense of what is achievable no matter how optimistic that might be – it sets the strategic direction for the Sustainability Plan.
Defines the fundamental purpose of the document, succinctly describing why it exists and what it does to achieve its vision.
Area of concern to be addressed in the planning document and includes broad categories like water quality, energy use, transportation and food security.
Identifies priority direction in issue areas. For instance, if water quality is an issue area, one goal may be to improve water quality in near shore areas.
Existing Conditions Report (baseline):
This information is a snapshot of what the current conditions are. In the case of the City of Milwaukee these should be indicator metrics related to the goals included in the plan. These are the baseline data that will be compared against future figures. Examples could be air quality as measured by the Air Quality Index, acres of green space, or number of commercial solar installations. Some formats used in creating a sustainability plan may not require this step.
These are the end results that the sustainability plan is intended to achieve. These directly relate to the goals and mission statement of the plan. An example of an existing target is Mayor Barrett’s goal of reducing city government energy use 15% by 2012. Targets are grouped to meet specific goals and should be measurable (i.e., quantifiable).
These are specific actions taken to achieve goal’s target. Initiatives can and are encouraged to have positive impacts across multiple goals. An example of a specific action to meet Mayor Barrett’s energy reduction target is replacing older municipal vehicle stock with newer more efficient stock.
This is the physical act of using the specified actions to achieve a desired outcome. Laying the ground work and determining accountability is essential for strategies to be implemented successfully. Many plans ignore this step, some have an entire section dedicated to it, while others take steps as far as writing an entirely different plan focusing primarily on implementation strategies.
Once a sustainability plan is in place it is essential to monitor what progress has been made in the community with regards to specific initiatives addressed in the plan. For each of these initiatives there will be indicators or metrics, which will need to be measured periodically and compared to the baseline year or the previous year.
A specific data point that will assist in monitoring plan implementation and tracking performance relative to meeting specific targets. For an energy reduction goal and targets, the vital sustainability indicator would be total energy use.
Monitoring the data will allow periodic analysis to be done in order to determine which strategies are working and which aren’t. This step is valuable as it helps to budget resources towards strategies that are performing well and reevaluate strategies that are under-performing. It also provides transparency to the community in the form of annual or biannual “report cards” or “score cards.” 
Click Here for Example Steps in a Planning Process.
What methods will be used during the planning process to reach the plans vision?
The primary method to be employed will be “backcasting.” Backcasting involves creating a vision of the future and then working backwards to make that vision a reality. An example would be a goal of reducing energy use in Milwaukee. The next step in backcasting would be to identify a target to reach this goal like reducing City energy use 30% by 2020. Now that a target is set the next step moving backwards is to determine how to make a reduction of 30% energy use a reality (e.g., lighting retrofits in every City building, hybrid vehicle replacement for City fleet). Backcasting is the primary method used by ICLEI and as a result of City membership many online tools will be available to Milwaukee during the planning process.
In order to complement backcasting during the planning process, the Green Team will need to identify sustainability indicators that assist in monitoring plan implementation and tracking performance relative to meeting specific targets. For an energy reduction goal and targets, the vital sustainability indicator would be total energy use. Identifying quantifiable indicators may be difficult in certain sustainability topic areas, however, planners must make every effort to quantify results. “That which gets measured gets improved” must apply to Milwaukee’s Sustainability Plan.
As the City progresses on Plan development it needs to at least keep parallel with ICLEI STAR Community Index implementation. This framework will allow municipalities to comprehensively measure, plan and implement a set of sustainability goals that act as a national standard for benchmarking. Since this framework is still in the beta testing mode and will only be fully piloted through 2012, Milwaukee planners need to keep abreast of ICLEI’s developments to the STAR Community Index during the entirety of the planning exercise.
The STAR Community Index includes the following guiding principles: think and act systemically; instill resiliency; foster innovation; redefine progress; live within means; cultivate collaboration; ensure equity; embrace diversity; inspire leadership; and continuously improve. OES believes these are admirable principles to guide Milwaukee’s Sustainability Planning exercise. ICLEI has also developed 81 sustainability goals to support the new index. The Green Team should be aware of these goals and advocate for them where they make sense. In addition, OES believes the planning process should follow the ICLEI sustainability goals framework: Environment (natural systems, planning and design, energy and climate); Economy (economic prosperity, employment and workforce training); and Society (education, arts and community, health and safety, affordability and social equity).
The Natural Step for Communities model is a systematic approach to sustainability. It fits well with the ICLEI model focusing on goal setting, backcasting and indicator identification. The model doesn’t approach sustainability in terms of single projects, but as an entire system and all of the actions and decisions that made within that system. Actions in the Plan work within the overall structure of the strategic vision the community will set out so that each goal reinforces other goals (i.e., smart alternative transportation planning could also help in meeting an energy reduction goal). Core to the Natural Step model is using the A-B-C-D planning process. That process is as follows: Awareness and Visioning; Baseline Mapping; Creative Solutions; and Decide on Priorities.