Stakeholders, Synergies, and Sustainability: The Secret Sauce to Climate Neutrality Through Tucson’s 2030 District

Guests enjoying a Tucson 2030 event hosted by Hotel Congress.
Photo by David Eisenberg

By Trevor Ledbetter

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius in October 2018, and it paints a bleak picture for humanity. Without novel technologies and collaborative, concerted approaches to reducing carbon emissions, global warming and climate change will impede economic growth, increase poverty and public health crises, and irreversibly alter regional and global ecosystems.

An Innovative Approach

One innovative approach to addressing these issues is the establishment of 2030 Districts across the country. The 2030 Districts are private-public-nonprofit partnerships comprised of local property owners, industry professionals, and community stakeholders. The goal of each district is to achieve 50 percent reductions in energy use, water consumption, and transportation-related carbon emissions by 2030. These goals are modeled after the 2030 Challenge for Planning, issued by Architecture 2030, whose objective is to transform our built environment in order to accelerate the transition to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. Through 2030 Districts, local property owners and building managers gain access to the tools and resources necessary to measure the performance of their building(s), as well as the knowledge of how to reduce resource use and achieve cost savings.  

Tucson recognized as a 2030 District

Tucson recently became one of 22 cities across North America to adopt this novel way of combating climate-altering emissions, while simultaneously encouraging economic growth and saving local businesses money. The Tucson 2030 District was recognized as an Established District by the national network of 2030 Districts in December. The commitments from the University of Arizona (UA), the City of Tucson (CoT), and Pima County to become members of the District were significant to this achievement. This brought the total committed building space within the District to nearly 18 million square feet. The addition of these three major community organizations, along with a growing number of private sector members, considerably enriches the collaborative effort to navigate the complexities of mitigating climate change and increasing community resilience. By convening these diverse partners, sponsors, and technical experts, challenges and best practices can be openly shared in a collaborative, iterative manner, helping to overcome some of the major barriers to greater operational sustainability.

Notably, the goals of the Tucson 2030 District align closely with those of the University. As part of the UA Strategic Plan released in November, the University has committed to a significant decrease in natural resource use, as well as a carbon neutrality date of 2040 or earlier – a full decade sooner than the original target date of 2050. The University also recently joined the University Climate Change Coalition, a network of top research institutions across North America dedicated to leveraging each university’s environmental research enterprise and international best practices to accelerate climate solutions, a clear point of connection and strength the University will bring as a 2030 District member.

Flagship educational program helps businesses and students

The Tucson 2030 District has already helped to foster unique programming. Through its partnership with Local First Arizona, UA, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Community Investment Corporation (CIC), the flagship educational program SCALE UP (Sustainable Communities Accessing Lending and Expertise Upon Performance), was born in March 2018. Open to 11 locally owned, independent businesses, SCALE UP was a holistic series of workshops that offered education across six topical areas including energy efficiency and water conservation, giving these businesses the tools and resources necessary to create their own actionable sustainability plans. To incentivize the implementation of these plans, exclusive incentives and benefits were put together, including access to a Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund, courtesy of the CIC, giving businesses access to loans between $500 and $10,000 at below-market interest rates to finance improvements to and within their buildings.

Benefit of SCALE UP

SCALE UP has already allowed many of these businesses to meet the 2030 District’s goals, with plans in place for additional utility and cost savings, proving that environmental goals can align with the bottom line. SCALE UP also provided valuable career-based, experiential opportunities for seven UA students. As Program Ambassadors, these students were educated on how to benchmark buildings using EPA’s ENERGY STAR  Portfolio Manager, and then assigned to participating building owners to assist in data collection and the development of recommendations for each business’ unique sustainability plan.

Growth in Coming Years

With the additions of UA, CoT, and Pima County, the Tucson 2030 District is poised for even more growth in 2019 and beyond. Plans include a continuation of the SCALE UP program, increased involvement by the University and its students, and access to new resources through an expanding portfolio of professional partners and grant procurement. The Tucson 2030 District is just one piece to the puzzle that is meaningful climate action; however, through this network and its engagement with all sectors, we can all work to build a more sustainable, resilient Tucson together.


Trevor Ledbetter is the Director for the University of Arizona’s Office of Sustainability and serves on the Tucson 2030 District Board of Directors. Please feel free to contact him at 520-621-1760 or tledbetter@email.arizona.edu if you are interested in collaborative partnerships with the University in the sustainability space.

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