Articles

Weighing the Value of Green Outcomes

"The goal of a clean environment is laudable. But public health benefits and costs have to be part of the equation." -- Stephen Goldsmith

by / March 16, 2011
Stephen Goldsmith

"The goal of a clean environment is laudable. But public health benefits and costs have to be part of the equation." --  Stephen Goldsmith, deputy mayor of operations for the city of New York and former mayor of Indianapolis

Even a decade later, I still recall a conversation I had as the mayor of Indianapolis with a regional Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official about the challenges of dealing with combined sewer overflows (CSO). I asked him if the measure of our success would be how clean the river was or how much money we had spent reducing the overflows. He admitted it would be the latter.

While citizens today care about a green, sustainable environment more than ever, too often regulators pursue unthinking enforcement without regard for the level of public health risk and cost. City officials have quite a different perspective. Every day we have to deal with competing risks and public needs with limited tax dollars.

Today, as deputy mayor of New York, it is my job to execute Mayor Michael Bloomberg's commitment to going green. We pay attention to everything that impacts the environment -- how we build, how we make transportation decisions, how we produce clean water and dispose of waste.

Green is not free, however. We have to make public decisions with an eye toward how to accomplish our environmental goals in a way that compliments and does not threaten essential services. If we prematurely commit to expedite expensive school renovations in order to mitigate against "risks" that aren't risky at all, that $1 billion expense would result in layoffs for teachers. View Full Story

Stephen Goldsmith

Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He previously served as Deputy Mayor of New York and Mayor of Indianapolis, where he earned a reputation as one of the country's leaders in public-private partnerships, competition and privatization. Stephen was also the chief domestic policy advisor to the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, the Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the district attorney for Marion County, Indiana from 1979 to 1990. He has written The Power of Social Innovation; Governing by Network: the New Shape of the Public Sector; Putting Faith in Neighborhoods: Making Cities Work through Grassroots Citizenship; The Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban America, and The Responsive City: Engaging Communities through Data-Smart Governance.