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Sustainability Plan / Municipal Expenditures / Introduction

Economist John Maynard Keynes once wrote, “The important thing for government is not to do things which individuals are doing already, and to do them a little better... but to do those things which at present are not done at all.” The City of San Francisco, through its actions and by example, is now in a position to create a new trend. It can set a realistic course toward sustainability in both the public and the private sectors. Municipal expenditures must go beyond collecting and allocating tax dollars to become part of a larger governmental policy which has sustainability as a foundation, and which encourages and enables the fulfillment of this goal throughout the community.

The paramount question repeatedly asked by our city officials is, “How should the government allocate its $2 billion annual budget to improve the quality of life in San Francisco?” An integral part of the answer to this question is to establish resource-efficiency criteria for all municipal expenditures. These criteria should affect all aspects of governmental activities, both internally and as they relate to the public at large -- it is only through a collaborative effort that sustainability can be reached.

Within city government, policymakers must be committed to including long-term sustainability issues in their decision-making processes. A part of this process is the establishment of an environmentally sensitive “full-cost” accounting system. This is a system which takes into account:

  • An evaluation of capital expenditures for procurement,

  • The maintenance of the City’s material resources,

  • The cost of operating facilities over time, and

  • A consideration of the full cost of disposal of the goods it purchases.

Full-cost accounting not only gives a clearer picture of the long-term direct costs to the City of purchasing and maintaining supplies, equipment and facilities, it includes the indirect costs such as landfilling and hazardous waste disposal. These indirect costs represent very real municipal expenses, which are often ignored when purchasing decisions are made. Full-cost accounting is essential for prudent long-term fiscal management.

This so-called “cradle-to-grave” approach to municipal spending can be facilitated by environmentally savvy managers who are motivated by peer esteem, and by the accomplishment of sustainability objectives through performance requirements.

The role of the government is not limited to what can be achieved with prudent expenditures solely within the bureaucracy. Government expenditures also may be used to provide information and promote change in the private community. With public awareness of successful programs within the government as a guide, and under the direction of informed leaders, private enterprises will be encouraged to take a proactive approach to sustainability. Under these circumstances, businesses ultimately will be motivated both by the need to satisfy government expenditure criteria and by the desire to be regarded as leaders in their fields.

Five fundamental principles have been identified that serve as a framework for a sustainable municipal expenditures strategy:

  • The goal of municipal expenditures is to improve the quality of life in San Francisco.

  • The City’s policy structure should support creation of a sustainable city.

  • Municipal expenditures should be tailored to realize sustainability.

  • The City should leverage its resources to facilitate sustainability in the private sector.

  • The City should establish resource-efficient criteria for all resource allocations.