Sustainability Plans for Parks & Recreation Agencies

Image of recycling containers as part of a sustainability plan

Our collective impact on the environment is undeniable. It makes sense to find and implement strategies that reduce our footprint on the Earth. After all, we want to be sure future generations get the same--or better--opportunities to enjoy our assets and natural resources.

More parks & recreation departments are adopting sustainability plans to ensure better health for the planet and find ways to save energy, work more efficiently, and preserve the land they manage.

Let's take a closer look at why sustainability plans are important for parks & recreation agencies.   


What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is a term that, in its broadest sense, refers to the ability to support or maintain something over time. Sustainability makes us more mindful of our resources and how we use them.

Sustainability is more than preserving the environment. It is a holistic approach that addresses three main categories:

  • Environment: Natural resources get consumed so that they can be replenished. 
  • Economic: Making sure resources are available to everyone while ensuring an agency can continue to fund programs, assets, and maintenance.
  • Social: Allowing opportunities for people of all backgrounds to work, play, and enjoy being part of a community.


What is a Sustainability Plan?

A sustainability plan provides strategies to address an agency's impact on the social, economic, and environmental health of the community and beyond. It also allows agencies to reasonably continue programs, partnerships, and activities in the long term.

Ideally, a sustainability plan should be in writing. A formally documented plan outlines the strategies for sustainability practices. It also includes measurable goals and methods to track progress. 

Yet, according to NRPA, only 23% of the parks & recreation agencies surveyed have a documented plan. This is often due to a lack of funding to create plans, a lack of dedicated staff, and limited expertise on practices. 


Benefits of a Sustainability Plan

The barriers to creating a sustainability plan may cause some agencies to put off developing one. Understanding the benefits to the agency and community can be the motivation to take a more serious look at why sustainability practices are so important.

A documented sustainability plan helps to:

  • Positively impact the environment.
  • Educate managers, staff, and the public about the importance of sustainability.
  • Save money with more efficient practices.
  • Gain public support and recognition.
  • Further the agency's mission.
  • Meet regulatory obligations.

Furthermore, given the uniqueness of parks & recreation agencies, sustainability practices can create a ripple effect throughout the community. Our agencies own and manage natural areas. We create opportunities for the public to explore and enjoy nature. Our programming can easily involve the public to help fund and power sustainability plans.  


What are Some Sustainability Plan Initiatives?

Parks & recreation agencies can implement several sustainable practices in their communities.

Here are a few sustainability initiative examples:

  • Providing opportunities for healthy activities in nature
  • Managing and protecting wildlife and natural habitats
  • Improving energy efficiency in facilities
  • Reducing landfill waste and encouraging recycling
  • Air, water, and land conservation
  • Educating and engaging the public on sustainability
  • Protecting cultural resources
  • Implementing green infrastructure practices

Every agency and community has unique needs. The best initiatives will resonate with your agency's mission and values. 


How to Get Started with a Sustainability Plan

Looking at some of these initiatives may have you wondering where to begin. There's so much to consider. Plus, you may not have the time, budget, or resources to create a comprehensive sustainability plan. 

That's okay. Start small. Little steps in the right direction are better than doing nothing.

Start by determining what kind of budget you can put towards becoming more sustainable. Then investigate feasible initiatives. 

You may not have the ability to outsource consultants to create a plan. If that's the case, reach out to colleagues to see what their departments are doing. Contact local nonprofits to see what input or resources they can contribute.

Be sure your sustainability plan includes some form of accountability. The plan should be reviewed periodically to see the progress of initiatives. Progress can be measured by checking energy usage, having dedicated staff create documentation, or utilizing software to better understand how assets are managed and maintained.

Review progress. Build from there. And if you hit a bump in the road, that's okay too. The important thing is your team is becoming more aware of sustainable practices and how your agency can adopt them.