Sustainable States Network: Linking State-Based Recognition Programs

One of the greatest strengths of the SolSmart program is our extensive network of partnerships—with states, regional organizations, nonprofits, and local governments themselves. One partnership that we’re especially proud of is with the Sustainable States Network (SSN), which connects voluntary statewide initiatives to promote local government sustainability across the country.

Launched in 2015 and led by the Great Plains Institute, the Sustainable States Network brings together 15 voluntary, state-based programs that encourage municipalities to adopt sustainability best practices. These programs offer certification or recognition to local governments that achieve the criteria, much in the same way SolSmart works at the national level. For example, Sustainable Maryland published a “menu of sustainable actions” which help participants earn points toward Bronze or Silver certification.

“SolSmart has been a good match for some of these programs because SolSmart itself is best practice-based,” says Lola Schoenrich, Vice President of Communities at the Great Plains Institute and Network Coordinator at SSN.

SolSmart is linked to these state programs in another way: In many cases, participation in SolSmart counts as a credit toward certification. Many state programs have also incorporated best practices from the SolSmart Program Guide into their own certification criteria.

Thanks to these shared goals, state programs in the SSN have been instrumental in recruiting communities to join SolSmart. For instance, Sustainable CT led four participating towns (Ashford, Bloomfield, Manchester, and Stonington) to SolSmart designation in 2022.

An important goal for SSN members has been to incorporate social equity principles into their sustainability best practices. This focus on equity “has been a priority from the very beginning,” Schoenrich says. As one example of a best practice, a local government could identify vulnerable populations in their communities and assess how they would be impacted by a new policy, while engaging with community members to ensure their voices are heard.

Sustainable CT now requires participating local governments to achieve equity actions as a condition for receiving certification. The group published an equity toolkit to guide Connecticut local governments step by step through the process, and hired professional equity coaches to provide hands-on training. SSN is now working to replicate that model in New Jersey, Shoenrich says.

If you live in one of the 15 states where SSN members are active, we’d encourage you to find out how your own local government can get involved. Check out the list of SSN members to find out more!