Building a More Sustainable Future in Wisconsin

Executive Summary

The current severe fiscal challenge facing local governments presents an opportunity to re-imagine how Wisconsin communities look and function. Communities moving beyond the traditional “silo” approach to problem solving will create solutions that simultaneously address economic, social and environmental challenges while building on unique local assets and resources.

To collect and synthesize ideas about this approach, the University of Wisconsin-Extension and UW Colleges hosted the Sustainable Communities Public Policy Forum in spring 2010. This was part of the Wisconsin Idea Forum series focusing University of Wisconsin System resources on the state’s most vexing problems.

More than 700 people participated through six regional roundtables, a subsequent two-day conference and a follow-up survey. They identified current policies and resources viewed as either supporting or hindering community sustainability efforts around the state. They also contributed policy ideas to strengthen existing efforts.

Many Wisconsin communities already are engaged in various approaches to promote sustainability. These range from community-based approaches aligned with international sustainability frameworks, such as The Natural Step, to more narrowly focused state level approaches, such as Wisconsin’s “25 x ’25” renewable energy goal.

The breadth and depth of a local sustainability agenda depends on the community’s overall priorities and level of commitment. Successful local sustainable development efforts are characterized by strong political leadership, a shared understanding of the benefits of sustainability and strategies to achieve those benefits. The defining characteristics of sustainability policy and practice include a focus on place, holistic outlook, acceptance of limits, long-term perspective and active involvement in problem solving.

Communities need new approaches, policies and sets of actions to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable society and more sustainable local communities. Communities will start from different places and with varied goals, assets and political leadership. A positive and compelling vision of the future can provide a sense of direction and shape local actions. Armed with this vision, communities will discover they can control many aspects of their future.

The policy ideas and recommendations generated through the Sustainable Communities Public Policy Forum provide a solid foundation for continuing to develop and implement local and state policies that support community sustainability. These recommendations have been synthesized and sorted into six policy areas. In the full report, each policy area section includes an introductory description, an explanation of its importance, summaries of what participants indicate promotes or hinders community sustainability, and brief descriptions of policy recommendations they identified and prioritized. The recommendations are summarized here.

The report was developed by the University of Wisconsin-Extension Sustainability Team. The complete report is posted at

Download the Overview Brochure or the Full Report


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