By Jessica Espey

On 26 January, SDSN and the Global Development Incubator (GDI) convened a high-level side event at the Winter Meeting of the US Conference of Mayors (USCM), in partnership with the City of New Orleans and Mayor Dyer of Orlando. The event focused on the relevance and power of the SDG framework for cities across America, with specific examples provided by the Mayors of Orlando, San Jose, and Baltimore, as well as Louisville and St. Petersburg.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs opened the event with a keynote presentation on the state of sustainable development in the United States. He highlighted the state of US healthcare, with life expectancy having worsened in 2016, the fact that the US is 35th out of 35 high income countries on obesity, and has the world’s worst opioid crisis. In the absence of federal leadership to tackle these social and environmental crises, local government leaders must step up and fight to promote sustainable development across America.

In the ensuing moderated discussion, Mayor Liccardo of San Jose highlighted the value of setting goals, akin to the SDGs, as they can inspire you to plan ahead and to convene stakeholders. In San Jose the SDGs have been a brilliant platform through which to foster new partnerships, such as with local universities San Jose State and Stanford University. It has also encouraged regional dialogue. These activities are prompting the city to be more ambitious, for example moving to a city-wide community choice energy program which is expected to boost renewable energy use by 40%.

Mayor Pugh of Baltimore also emphasized the value of SDG-oriented partnerships with local universities. The University of Baltimore played an important role in briefing her on the current state of sustainability in the city when she assumed office, and continues to help the city collect data and monitor clear targets. She emphasized the value of goals for setting clear targets and discussed Baltimore’s CitiStats Smart Program, which is helping local government take a more quantitative and evidence-based approach to program implementation.

Mayor Dyer of Orlando highlighted the important position of Mayors for inspiring local change, exclaiming “residents won’t be inspired if you aren’t.” The Mayor emphasized the importance of local residents taking action within their homes and local communities, for example subscribing to the cities home composting program and recycling more, which is being supported by the city’s move to single-stream recycling. Orlando is aiming to be a zero waste city and to have reduced greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 90% by 2050.

Three key takeaways emerged from the discussion;

  1. The need to make these good news stories better known – SDSN will seek to compile these stories and is working with partners like GDI and the USCM to disseminate them and encourage peer learning.
  2. The need to create platforms for inspiring and committing Mayors across America to showcase their work and galvanize change, sharing truthful but hopeful messages that overturn the sense of American exceptionalism. Participants suggested tabling a resolution to make an SDG Committee within the USCM and to do more public events, such as something at the UN General Assembly in September.
  3. The need to formalize local university partnerships and to lean on local academics’ and their expertise to support city planning.

For more information on the event or on SDSN’s US Sustainable Cities Initiative please write to with title “US Sustainable Cities.”

A video recording of the event is available here: