USDN High Impact Practices

USDN’s High Impact Practices (HIPs) are the priorities in which USDN programming is helping members take impactful actions to advance equity, GHG reduction, and resilience. These are practices where USDN members are leading and counting on USDN to support their learning, collaboration, and action. 

These priorities have emerged from the work members are doing together now with support from USDN staff. They represent the nexus of member leadership and USDN’s unique capabilities for support and action. As members and staff pursue this important and transformational work in collaboration with the communities they serve, new insights and ideas will continue to emerge. As a result, the HIPs will evolve as the work (and the world) evolves. 

Working with members, USDN identified its initial set of 14 High Impact Practices (HIPs) in 2018. These practices focused on high-impact opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through energy supply, building energy demand, transportation, and waste. In 2020, USDN recognized and embraced the need to reevaluate our collective priorities as emerging opportunities arise. This process culminated with the identification of HIPs 2.0 in October 2020.

This second iteration of the HIPs is a more complete and current reflection of the way USDN members generally view their work and opportunities for transformation. While still including technical content areas (“Pathways”) largely carrying forward from the first edition identified in 2018, HIPs 2.0 now also articulates the importance of cross-cutting, equitable approaches to process (“Foundational Practices”). USDN identified these priorities through a process focused on reflecting priorities that have emerged within the work that members are doing together in the network.

Local government sustainability is a broad mandate. Members work on important projects that are not captured by the HIPs as they advance progress in the context of local community priorities and opportunities. USDN may also offer some programming that does not directly flow from the HIPs, if there is a compelling reason to do so. The goal of HIPs is to ground, focus, and prioritize the work we will do together, knowing it will not encompass all of the important work that members and their communities are doing.

USDN prioritizes programming to support the work of USDN members in these important areas.

USDN High Impact Practices (v 2.0)

Foundational Practices

  • Take a People-Centered, Equity-Focused Approach
    • Lead with race. Prioritize racial equity analysis, recognizing how the intersectionality of identities and groups also impacts outcomes.
    • Center people in the process, goals, design, decision-making, and institutionalization. 
    • Approach climate and sustainability goals in the context of community priorities, using targeted universalism in policy and program design.
  • Build Relationships and Collaborate with Community Partners
    • Acknowledge and shift power to the community, and particularly to low-wealth and BIPOC communities, in setting priorities, designing solutions, and leading engagement.
    • Value and invest in accountable relationships between community partners and local government.
    • Create transparency in communicating with and listening to communities openly, accessibly, clearly, and often.
  • Institutionalize Sustainability Goals and Resources
    • Foster alignment, commitment, collaboration, and accountability across local government departments, other public agencies, community partners, and outside organizations.
    • Build political capital to advance change in locally relevant ways (e.g., through community-inspired initiatives, government operations and high-visibility projects).
    • Work toward large, durable funding mechanisms and policy tools to sustain investment necessary to achieve community priorities.
    • Prioritize diversity and inclusion within member offices and in partner agencies.
  • Influence Key Leverage Points Beyond Local Authority
    • Engage in collective influence efforts to shift state or federal policy or programs, regional markets, or utility and industry priorities.
    • Recognize underlying goals and local government leverage points in planning and strategy development. 
  • Take an Interdisciplinary Approach and Work Across Borders of Geographies, Institutions, Levels of Government, and Fields
    • Look for and work across the intersections of issues, programs, and goals, including adjacent disciplines such as public health and economic development. Seek to break down silos, recognize connections between human systems and ecosystems, and draw on universal fields, like arts, culture, and communication.
    • Explore opportunities to work within others’ framing of issues--such as housing, mobility, or workforce development--and participate in others’ programs, plans, and processes.
    • Recognize systems and in particular the long-lasting harm of historically oppressive governance and systems. Work to undo and avoid perpetuating harm and trauma in future government decisions.
  • Build Personal and Professional Competencies and Capacity
    • Spend time and resources gaining skills (e.g., technical, leadership, change management), deepening personal practices (e.g., equity analysis, power analysis, and emotional intelligence), and exploring problem diagnosis and interdisciplinary connections.
    • Invest in the leadership and professional growth of staff who are Black, indigenous, and people of color to build their individual leadership and skills in a culturally relevant manner so that they have resources and tools needed to engage confidently with their peers, within their organization, and USDN. 


  • Manage Climate and Environmental Risk and Reduce Exposure Disparities 
    • Assess exposure disparities and incorporate community-informed, equity-centered mitigation of risk through the development and implementation of comprehensive and general plans, hazard mitigation plans, housing plans, community health improvement plans, budget and capital improvement processes, and code development processes.
    • Establish community-prioritized facilities, programming, and infrastructure to serve as resilience hubs. 
  • Accelerate the Transition to Clean, Accessible, Resilient, and Equitable Mobility Systems
    • Invest in clean mobility solutions that support the needs (e.g., transportation, economic, health, quality of life) of people of color, immigrants and refugees, low-income residents, people with disabilities, and other traditionally underserved communities.
    • Electrify transit, freight, delivery, and passenger vehicles, and invest in bicycle, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure and services.
  • Catalyze the Construction and Retrofit of Healthy, Resilient, Zero-Carbon Buildings
    • Require all buildings to measure energy use, achieve performance targets, improve efficiency and resilience, add on-site generation, and/or electrify through policy, programs and codes.
    • Integrate efficiency, resilience and renewables retrofits through major retrofit/renovation projects and integrated funding and programs.
    • Measure energy burden and target policies to reduce costs for households, expand tenant protections, preserve housing affordability and avoid displacement.
  • Accelerate an Equitable Transition to Clean and Resilient Energy Sources
    • Procure renewable electricity at scale through applicable local authority (e.g., community choice aggregation, large-scale power purchase agreements, green tariffs, etc.).
    • Invest in and reduce barriers to community adoption of renewable, resilient, and distributed energy resources.
    • Use local government’s influence to drive positive outcomes in utility, state and regulatory decisions.
  • Invest in Ecosystem Regeneration and Access
    • Expand, maintain, and protect local forests, parks, vegetation, and healthy soils to strengthen buffer systems, sequester carbon, and provide benefits for heat, flooding, and air and water quality, particularly for environmentally stressed communities.
    • Utilize the organic resources that grow in (e.g., trees and vegetation) and come to (e.g., food) communities to support land-management practices such as organics to compost or biochar.
While USDN members will continue to collaborate on a much broader range of issues, USDN will prioritize the selected HIPs when cultivating new partnerships, investments, and member learning opportunities.