Sustainable Economic Development

Photo: kate hiscock via Flickr Creative Commons

State-of-the-art sustainability practices can transform traditional economic development and poverty alleviation strategies. Creating resource efficiencies in areas such as water, transportation, energy, and material use makes communities more equitable and resilient while lowering the cost of living.

As economic and environmental volatility becomes the new normal, CNT’s Sustainable Economic Development program is focused on recovery from these related crises. Sustainable Economic Development is a national initiative built on local economies’ unique assets to address their individual challenges and provide quantifiable real-world benefits. It is a practical, implementable toolkit that tailors strategies to work for local people, businesses, and institutions.

Elements of an anti-poverty program may be common from place-to-place, but solutions must be grounded in the political, social, and economic reality of a location if they are to create real change. The Sustainable Economic Development framework identifies a city’s specific needs and untapped opportunities, using these to lift people out of poverty and bolster economic and environmental resilience. These solutions are designed to raise incomes and decrease household costs by increasing resource efficiencies, improving access to jobs and services, and creating new employment opportunities.

How does this affect you? Our work has shown that:

  • Targeting the benefits of location and resource efficiency initiatives can help cities create jobs and help put people on track to a lower-poverty, higher-wage future.
  • Making these efficiency upgrades creates jobs, both temporary and ongoing.
  • When people can participate in the economy on more than a subsistence level, they are able to fully contribute their talents to the workforce and community.
  • The benefits of Sustainable Economic Development impact more than just those in poverty. For example, reducing energy use and expanding public transit options leads to less air pollution, which can improve asthma and heart conditions. Efficient homes and businesses will be more comfortable and safer. Reduced dependence on individual auto travel will make streets less congested, saving drivers time and money, and enhancing overall livability.


“The cost of living is going up faster than income. The majority of people, particularly those without long-term assets, are exposed to the ups and downs of living costs. It’s hard to save money in a situation like that. If your community gives you transportation choice, you’re less exposed to those ups and downs. ”

Scott Bernstein
President and Co-Founder, CNT

Research + Further Reading

Equity Express Fact Sheet

by CNT
April 5, 2018

Equity Express Financial Education Workshops give participants the information and support they need to decrease household expenses, increase savings and reduce environmental impacts. They respond to two major crises of our time- economic and ecological- by increasing the wealth of asset-poor households through consumer choices that are both financially smart and promote sustainable living.

Learn more about Equity Express here.


Industrial EcoDistricts: Primer

June 27, 2017

This paper presents CNT’s recent research on a range of innovations for Industrial EcoDistricts in the areas of energy, water, transportation, and waste. Our work looks at district-scale interventions through the lenses of: What is it?, Why do it?, and What does it cost? with practical, real world examples and financing strategies to help implementers and decisionmakers create next-generation industrial districts in their communities. 

This paper examines: 

  • Energy: Renewables, Storage, District Energy, Microgrids, Energy Efficiency, and Demand Management 
  • Water: Water Efficiency, Demand Reduction, and Water Reuse
  • Transportation: Urban, Transit-Served Locations, Goods Transportation, and Logistics
  • Waste Systems 

We also discuss the several essential implementation factors, including site selection, governance, engagement, financing, policy, and documenting benefits. 

While all of the strategies and technologies we have looked at are being tried in one form or another, for the most part they have yet to be brought to scale. As we begin to reimagine what infrastructure means in our communities, Industrial EcoDistricts present a way to create jobs while saving energy and water, addressing climate change, and creating an economic benefit for businesses and communities.

Listen in to the July 2017 Industrial EcoDistricts webinar as CNT's Jen McGraw and Scott Bernstein presented on research on a range of innovations for Industrial EcoDistricts in the areas of energy, water, and transportation. CNT looks at district-scale interventions and asks What is it?, Why do it?, and What does it cost? with practical, real-world examples and financing strategies to help implementers and decision-makers create next generation industrial districts in their communities.