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Planning Resources

Plant in hands

A comprehensive environmental plan allows local governments the ability to see where they are, where they are going and outline the steps to get there. Using an integrated approach and seeking input from a variety of stakeholders, including community residents, allows the community to combine all their resources to create an inclusive plan to make their community more sustainable.

An environmental plan will help the community prioritize solutions to environmental problems and develop a strategy for achieving community sustainability. This approach lets the community decide how best to use its resources, rather than simply react to regulatory deadlines set by distant government offices. It gives you the time and opportunity to develop the best approach for designing a sustainable community based on your community’s needs, resources, and vision.


How ICLEI Can Help

ICLEI members have access to a variety of planning guides and tools, including sample local climate action plans.

Selected Resource:



  • Environmental Planning for Small Communities: A Guide for Local Decision Makers, US EPA
    This guidebook can be used as a starter for a comprehensive environmental planning process. Published in 1994, it is still relevant to small communities today in terms of the basic steps needed to develop an environmental action plan, from engaging the stakeholders to implementation and evaluation.

  • Online Guidebook – Environmental Planning for Small Communities, Purdue University and US EPA
    Created by the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department at Purdue University, this online tool provides a complete one-stop introduction to a wide range of environmental issues and decisions that affect small to medium-sized communities. It offers communities the chance to judge their own needs and preferences, and to make informed decisions on their own. It includes environmental laws and regulations, risk analysis, financial tools, and case studies.

  • Placemaking Tools for Community Action, Sustainable Communities Network
    This guide, published in 2002, provides “a starter kit for a community member, city official, planner, or design professional to identify currently available planning tools and to assess their applicability and appropriateness to specifc projects or issues, alone or in combination.” Although it was not written for small communities particularly, its flexible approach allows users to identify and tailor the decision-making tools according to their circumstances.

  • Toward a Sustainable Community: A Toolkit for Local Governments, University of Wisconsin Extension
    Applying the Natural Step approach, this toolkit provides strategies, actions, case studies and resources on adapting local government functions toward sustainability. Topics include energy, building, transportation, procurement, investment and human resources. The toolkit also has a collection of sample resolutions for becoming an eco-municipality.

  • Community-Scaled Renewable Energy and Rural Economic Development, The New Rules Project, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
    This report is slightly research oriented, but it provides a good overview of the impacts of the renewable energy industry on rural economies (i.e. local ownership and economies of scale). It also points out local policy recommendations that can help rural communities to capture the benefits of the emerging new energy movement.



  • The Westlake Comprehensive Plan, Town of Westlake, TX
    The Westlake Comprehensive Plan, originally published in 1992, includes four sections: environment, urban design, utilities and transportation. Under each section, there are specific objectives and policies adopted to ensure the realization of the town’s vision—“to create a community which builds on its existing high quality office park development and rural residential character, and which maintains and enhances the natural features of the community."

  • Transportation Plan for Active Living, City of Decatur, GA
    Decatur’s Transportation Plan for Active Living is a multi-modal plan to assure a high quality of life in the City by increasing pedestrian and bicyclist opportunities and safety for those traveling in Decatur. The planning process sought public participation and the plan call for active community involvement.

  • Municipal Approaches to Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Production: A Resource for Community Energy Initiatives: Community and Rural Development Institute, Cornell University
    This is a booklet with detailed case studies in New York state that illustrate the process of community energy initiatives. The examples of two small towns with populations less than 2000 and 3000 respectively are of particular interest to small communities that are considering purchasing clean power, installing renewable energy facilities or developing an energy plan.


Case Studies

  • A Sustainable Approach to Small Town Expansion, Fairview, TX
    This small town has seen substantial population growth in the last few years. Learn how Fairview, TX worked to preserve the rural character of the town, while still providing opportunities for growth, through its Ten Principles of Development Excellence.

  • A Successful Comprehensive Environmental Agenda, Morgan Hill, CA
    After recognizing that many of the City’s policy goals were related to environmental sustainability, the City Council worked to create a comprehensive environmental agenda to guide the town’s progress.