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 / Summer 2008 / Issue 51(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Critical Enabler

Addressing these trends demands megacommunity engagement on a regional scale. In any region, some counties and cities are more affluent and developed than others. Moral suasion alone will not convince jurisdictions that have been bypassed in earlier waves of development (but whose open land has become a rarer commodity) from swearing off future development. Without a megacommunity approach, regional optimization will give way to local self-interest.

The public sector is well positioned to initiate and maintain megacommunity-style solutions. It is easy to envision a regional chamber of commerce, board of trade, or nongovernmental organization sponsoring a conference or a study addressing one or more aspects of a region’s future. Far more difficult to see is an orga­nization other than government putting in place a sustaining engagement model in which businesses, government, and civil society come together regularly to work on both the strategy and tactics central to a region’s future. Government alone has the broadest reach across so­ciety, and only government can provide both the information necessary and the ability to align incentives that will make the ensuing dialogue meaningful and actionable.

The Future of Creative Government
The three strategies for public-sector innovation — incentives, information, and engagement — have potential applicability well beyond the approaches described here. For example, a desperate need exists for resolving the effects of traffic congestion on the environment and quality of life in major metropolitan areas. With government incentives and support, such innovations as local “satellite” business offices (which cut commuting times by allowing people to work closer to their homes) are more viable; without government leadership, some of the most significant endeavors, such as improving urban public education (which would draw more families back into cities), are impossible.

Governments would also do well to review the criteria and selection processes they use to fund capital improvements at public and military facilities; in many cases, such processes work at cross-purposes with other efforts within the same government agencies to limit environmental harm.

For their part, business leaders can start to recognize and encourage the potential role of governments as creative partners. Businesses can help governments understand not only what outcomes companies desire, but how current government actions affect their business models. Leading companies have embraced sus­tainabil­ity and are now developing insights that may be helpful to government decision making. And when the three strategies for public-sector innovation described here are pursued, government initiatives, combined with efforts from the private sector and civil society, can catalyze the kind of sea change in public consciousness that is needed to find, and implement, sustainable solutions.

Reprint No. 08207

Author Profiles:

Gary M. Rahl is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton based in McLean, Va. He leads sustainability initiatives in the public and private sectors.

Also contributing to this article were Booz Allen Hamilton Senior Associate Scott Thigpen and Consulting Editor Paula Margulies.

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  1. Joe Cortright, “Portland’s Green Dividend” (PDF), CEOs for Cities white paper, July 2007: The economic benefits of holistic land use planning, which include saved time and a low spending on transportation.
  2. David Fahrenthold, Lisa Rein, and Kirstin Downey, “Threat of Power Shortages Generating New Urgency,” Washington Post, February 3, 2008: As goes Capetown, so goes the U.S. capital?
  3. Molly Finn, Gary M. Rahl, and William Rowe Jr., “Unrecognized Assets,” s+b, Autumn 2006: Example of an innovative land use strategy, finding hidden sources of value in environmental liabilities.
  4. Lawrence Frank, James F. Sallis, Terry L. Conway, et al., “Many Pathways from Land Use to Health: Associations between Neighborhood Walkability and Active Transportation, Body Mass Index, and Air Quality” (PDF), Journal of the American Planning Association, Winter 2006, 75–87: Linking suburban sprawl with poor human and biosphere health.
  5. William Fulton, Rolf Pendall, Mai Nguyen, and Alicia Harrison, “Who Sprawls Most? How Growth Patterns Differ Across the U.S.” (PDF), The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, July 2001: Analysis of density trends that shows how sprawl outpaces population — with damaging environmental effects.
  6. Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, “The Megacommunity Manifesto,” s+b, Summer 2006: Overview of the three-sector engagement approach.
  7. Mark Gerencser, Reginald Van Lee, Fernando Napolitano, and Christopher Kelly, Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today’s Global Challenges Together (Palgrave, 2008): How collaborative engagement across the three sectors can help governments become critical enablers.
  8. Karlson “Charlie” Hargroves and Michael H. Smith, eds., The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century (2005; Earthscan Publications, 2006). Case studies demonstrating that sustainable development leads to economic growth.
  9. Rajendra Pachauri and Andy Reisinger, eds., Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report  (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2008): Sobering overview of current environmental prospects.
  10. David Malin Roodman, The Natural Wealth of Nations: Harnessing the Market for the Environment (W.W. Norton, 1998): Argues for more effective government use of incentives in cutting pollution and waste.
  11. Ecolabelling Web site: Devoted to tracking and commenting on eco-labels.
  12. For more on global perspectives, sign up for s+b’s RSS feed.
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