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Helping local governments deal with the impacts of climate change

In 2023, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation awarded a three-year, $600,000 grant to the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network (SSDN) to support expanding the network’s state policy and federal funding programs. SSDN connects local government sustainability professionals throughout the Southeastern U.S. to accelerate, scale and implement sustainable best practices so that communities can adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Growing Membership and Reach

SSDN was formed in 2012 as a peer-to-peer learning organization to bring city and county governments together to share best practices related to sustainability. SSDN now has members from more than 110 cities and counties across its 10-state region of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. SSDN policy staff are based in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

Measuring Success and Strategic Pillars

Peer learning is at the heart of SSDN’s network model and is why the network has grown from 35 local governments in 2016 to more than 120 today. SSDN’s peer learning model provides a virtual and in-person space for local government practitioners to share ideas, challenges and solutions. This model also helps communities better understand trends in the region and local impact, from setting greenhouse gas emission targets to implementing high-impact practices focused on buildings and transportation to addressing immediate climate threats like heat, flooding and more.

The success of SSDN’s work is measured by membership engagement, the development of trusted relationships and collaboration that scales sustainability and resilience best practices regionwide. To achieve these goals, SSDN’s strategic plan revolves around five pillars:

  1. Grow the Field
  2. Build Member Capacity
  3. Address Systemic and Cultural Barriers
  4. Grow and Sustain a Strong Organization
  5. Maintain a Strong, Trusted and Connected Network

Maintaining a Member-Driven Approach

“SSDN was established as a member-driven network, and we plan to stay that way as we continue growing and becoming more diverse. Through this approach, SSDN maintains a trusted space that allows for the open and honest sharing of information and lessons learned,” said Meg Jamison, SSDN Executive Director.“ The support from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation will help SSDN expand the support it currently offers members and also strengthen efforts to pursue and implement impactful sustainability projects.”

Expanding Access to Federal Funding

Since 2021, SSDN’s Southeast Sustainable Recovery Center has spearheaded support for local governments to access federal funding, including an EPA-funded Environmental Finance Center and direct grant writing support. SSDN has seen that communities from across the region using its direct support have had a 100% success rate in their applications. Opportunities are emerging for communities that have never been able to leverage climate-friendly funding.

City and county governments also play important roles in shaping state policy issues related to energy. SSDN has supported various activities, allowing members to push for changes that open up new local and statewide pathways for climate action. SSDN has helped members better understand and influence how policy works in their own government, how policy and regulations on energy and climate happen at the state level and how they can get involved as key stakeholders.

Addressing Challenges and Inequities

As the SSDN network grows, so do members’ needs and opportunities to provide deeper state policy and federal funding support. Local governments continue to encounter challenges that threaten progress toward sustainability goals, such as limited autonomy and preemption, conflicting energy regulations at the state level, competing priorities and a lack of resources. The additional capacity SSDN was able to secure with support from the foundation will help mobilize local communities and bolster their influence as they navigate these challenges.

SSDN’s work aligns with the foundation’s Energy strategy of accelerating renewable energy deployment in the Southeast by influencing utilities and advancing government commitments. This is particularly relevant over the three-year grant with the unprecedented federal funding opportunities and growing interest from municipalities in state-level clean energy policy.

SSDN is leading the way in creating and implementing climate strategies that address the systems contributing to climate change. These conditions perpetuate existing inequities, climate change’s effects, and their distribution.

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