USDN members work together to visualize their upcoming priorities.

USDN members engage in forensic idea mapping to learn how to become more effective change agents.

USDN members and community members play “Game of Floods” to build relationships and learn to collaboratively plan for more resilient communities.

Kristin Baja (USDN Resilience Program Lead) presents to and collaborates with members in Hawai’i on the Nexus Project.

Members drawing to illustrate their plans and visions for the future.

Urban Sustainability Directors Network
2021 – $15,000 Nexus Program
2018 – $10,000 Climate Equity Leaders Program
2017 – $10,000 General Support
2016 – $10,000 General Support
2015 – $10,000 General Support

USDN is the primary network through which local government sustainability and climate practitioners access mission-critical resources and collaborate to advance their work. As of early 2021, over 230 communities and 1700 practitioners participate from across the US and Canada. As a member-led network, USDN enables groups of cities and counties to inspire and learn from each other, solve shared challenges, and engage in collective action to achieve impact in their communities. By bringing members and field partners together, USDN broadens, informs, and synthesizes perspectives on crucial issues and catalyzes new partnerships.

Programming focuses on three key areas: building practitioners’ capacity, accelerating action and innovation, and influencing enabling systems. Members highly value the support they receive through USDN and report that the network is critical to their success. From our annual member impact survey in December 2020:

  • 74% of members report that USDN enabled them to find a solution to a key challenge.
  • 73% of members reported that USDN involvement saves them time.
  • 64% said USDN participation enabled them to make a change in local policy.
  • 42% of USDN members indicated that USDN saves them money.
  • 80% of members indicate that USDN participation was a valuable asset in helping them achieve their highest impact action of the past 2 years.
  • “[USDN creates] a systemic resource for municipal sustainability professionals to access knowledge, connections, and financial resources. Such an organization does not exist in any other field, and it is a testament to its creators and the network. I simply could not be as effective as I am in my position without USDN.” — USDN member

Two overarching strategies guide USDN programming:

  • USDN’s High Impact Practices (HIPs) are the priorities in which USDN programming helps members take impactful actions to advance equity, GHG reduction, and resilience — the nexus of member leadership and USDN’s unique capabilities for support and action. The updated framework reflects a broad and more equity-focused summary of sustainability priorities, placing equal emphasis on both how members work as well as what work they do.  
  • In its Equity Principles and Commitments, USDN recognizes the root causes of climate change, environmental injustice, and racial inequity are the same and commits to using resources to advance members’ individual capacity to address racial equity, improve the diversity of practitioners, and transform the field. This builds off years of work in training local governments on the close connections between sustainability and equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The Nexus Project is one illustration of where USDN’s core strategies and programming focus areas converge and come to life. The Nexus is step-by-step guidance to help local government practitioners who are trying to fundamentally transform the traditional approach to climate planning and practice. It focuses on recognition of current power structures and outlines how to shift power to communities (particularly marginalized communities) as part of any process. 

Part of what is unique about the Nexus Project is that members learn to operationalize equity and work across department and technical silos in a supported process. The project provides 1:1 coaching for local government practitioners through USDN staff, and also brings in community partner coaches for government practitioners and community partner organizations to help them work together better. This holistic and multilayered approach is transforming how government practitioners approach their work and how communities and government can collaborate to build more equitable and sustainable communities.  

“We have transformed our work on climate to lead across the nexus as a result of the USDN Innovation Fund Grant – we have learned significantly from our peers in this space. The direct training and support from Baja [Resilience Director and Nexus Project Staff Lead] has helped us to build crucial interdepartmental support and relationships with other departments and jurisdictions, especially with the County. We’re working to transform the countywide approach to their All Hazard Mitigation Plan because of Baja’s technical support.” — USDN member 

USDN is grateful to the SEED Fund for its support of the Nexus Project.