You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure: Why Tracking Sustainability Progress Is Key

Sustainable San Mateo County (SSMC) is a local nonprofit organization that was founded in 1992. Its goal is to build awareness around sustainability issues and accelerate sustainability adoption on the ground. The organization is dedicated to driving impactful action on economic, environmental, and social equity issues. These “three E’s” of sustainability all need to be in balance to achieve true sustainability. SSMC offers the following  three main programs:

  1. Indicators Report, which tracks sustainability progress in local cities and the county
  2. Awards Program, which celebrates local sustainability champions and, in partnership with AIASMC, Green Building award recipients. 
  3. Sustainability Ideas Bank, which compiles and shares successful policies and programs implemented by local governments and businesses to accelerate sustainability.

Indicators Report 2020

Sustainable San Mateo County’s Indicator Report (IR) Program has been in existence since 1997. Christine Kohl-Zaugg, Executive Director of SSMC, says that the report was started with the recognition that one cannot manage what one can’t measure. 

“If you want to make any progress, you need to come up with a set of data and metrics so that you can see how you are making progress over time.”

The IR Program tracks and measures progress that has been made across a variety of key issues in the field of sustainability. 

“Every year, the Indicators Report focuses on a key theme or topic, called the “Key Indicator”. In the past, we have covered topics including sustainable food systems, affordable housing, and air quality.”

Because there are a plethora of topics around sustainability that are important, SSCM tries to focus on different areas each year. 

“We have an Indicators Report committee that is made up of board members, SSMC staff and volunteers. The committee is in charge of picking a theme or topic for each year.”

“As an organization, we look at what’s current, what topics are being most talked about, and what’s important in terms of actual sustainability impact at a county level when making the final decision.” 

The 2020 report focuses on renewable energy and energy efficiency measures in San Mateo County. Specifically, how these measures apply to buildings, water use, waste management, land use, transportation, financing, and community outreach. 

“Since I joined in 2018, we have increasingly focused on climate change as an organization. The reason for this is that climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time,” Kohl-Zaugg said. 

While the report is geared towards cities, local governments, policy makers, and the business community, it is available to the general public. 

“In the report, we highlight actions that are being taken by local jurisdictions and businesses. Our goal for the report is not only to track and measure progress, but also to serve as a source of inspiration for companies and local governments.”

Kohl-Zaugg shared that Sustainable San Mateo County does not collect data. Rather, the organization uses publicly available data and statistics from credible sources to create the report. The report is created by the Indicators Report committee and by SSMC’s volunteers. 

“This year, we had over 20 volunteers that helped with the research, writing, and editing of the report.”

Part of the organization’s Indicators Report Program includes a launch event to unveil the report. The event brings together a panel of experts and a keynote speaker on the topic of the year. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event was hosted virtually and public policy innovator and social entrepreneurJosh Becker was the featured keynote speaker. 

Asked about key takeaways and highlights from this year’s report, Kohl-Zaugg said the following: 

“While there has been a lot of progress in terms of policy and technical advances and innovation, we definitely can use innovation and tools around financing models for advancing energy community solutions which are equitable and geared towards the long-term.”

Sustainable San Mateo County joined the All Good Work Foundation in February 2019 at GSV Labs (now OneValley) in San Mateo.  If you’re part of the San Mateo County community and would like to get involved you can find information here.