State of the Planet

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Sustainability Policy: Hastening the Transition to a Cleaner Economy

Sustainability Policy book

On Tuesday, authors Steven Cohen, William Eimicke, and Alison Miller celebrated the release of their new book, Sustainability Policy: Hastening the Transition to a Cleaner Economy. Moderated by Columbia MPA in Environmental Science and Policy alum Curtis Probst, the authors discussed the critical role of government and public policy in bringing about a sustainable economy at a book launch hosted by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. After a formal panel discussion with a packed audience, the authors signed books and celebrated with a reception of students, faculty, alums, and friends. According to Steven Cohen, Executive Director of the Earth Institute, the goal of the book is to provide examples and case studies of innovative sustainability initiatives being implemented by governments—at the state, local, and federal levels—and show the importance of public-private partnerships in creating a sustainable economy.

In Sustainability Policy, the authors define sustainability management, placing it in the context of the evolution of organizational management, and discuss the growing momentum behind sustainability practices in both well-managed corporations and sophisticated governments. As pointed out by an audience member, sustainability is a growing and noticeable trend, and therefore no organization, and consequently no manager, can ignore the physical dimensions of sustainability. Sustainability management emerged to cope with the 21st century problems facing the global economy; however, the changes needed to solve the sustainability challenges are so profound that government must partner with the private and non-profit sectors to ensure progress.

Moderator Curtis Probst, MPA-ESP alum, with authors Alison Miller, Steven Cohen, and William Eimicke.
Moderator Curtis Probst with authors Alison Miller, Steven Cohen, and William Eimicke.

Alison Miller, Deputy Executive Director of the Earth Institute, explained sustainability policy as the incentives and regulations that government can use to spur innovation. She argued for increased government funding for the basic science needed for renewable energy and other sustainable technologies, and explained how the tax system and other financial tools can be used to steer private capital towards investment in these areas.  Government must develop and enforce rules supporting sustainability, regulating corporate and private behavior to steer the transition. While the private sector has a significant role to play in the transition to a sustainable economy, Miller pointed out that the public and private sectors are equipped for different roles, and that there are specific tasks uniquely suited to government.

Sustainability Policy uses a series of case studies and examples to describe a portfolio of tools at the federal, state, and local levels that government can use in order to hasten the transition to a sustainable economy. Examples include market-based tools, such as the production tax credit at the federal level, regulatory failures, such as the BP oil spill, and international examples, including carbon taxes in Finland. State and local strategies are also presented, such as regional cap and trade programs, renewable portfolio standards, and climate adaptation programs. The authors observe that cities are at the cutting edge of sustainability initiatives, such as New York City and its PlaNYC sustainability plan, and while many of the successful examples are of a regional and local scale, they were all written with a global application in mind.

As discussed by William Eimicke, founding director of the Picker Center for Executive Education at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, you can’t be well managed if you aren’t measuring your sustainability, and it is difficult to manage the transition to a sustainable, renewable economy without measuring and benchmarking progress. Metrics are the key to setting concrete sustainability goals and tracking an organization’s progress. Sustainability Policy describes past efforts to measure and evaluate sustainability initiatives, and the status of sustainability reporting in the U.S. and across the globe. The authors outline a role for the federal government in developing a set of generally accepted sustainability metrics and other measures for the green economy in the U.S.

Authors Steven Cohen, Alison Miller, and William Eimicke sign
Authors Steven Cohen, Alison Miller, and William Eimicke sign their new book, Sustainability Policy: Hastening the Transition to a Cleaner Economy.

Ultimately, the authors hope this book will serve as a resource for decision makers implementing sustainability. When facing an implementation problem, advises Eimicke, “be encouraged and look for solutions. Look through this book.”








Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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