A climate action plan is a detailed and strategic framework for measuring, planning, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and related climate impacts. Municipalities and companies use climate action plans as customized roadmaps for making decisions and understanding where and how emissions reductions align with other goals. Climate action plans typically include an inventory of existing emissions, reduction goals or targets, analyzed and prioritized reduction actions, and an implementation strategy that identifies required resources and funding mechanisms.

Simply put, the goal of state- or enterprise-level climate policy initiatives is to reduce carbon emissions to target levels estimated to do no harm city-by-city or by the company. Underlying this policy initiative is the assumption that there are enough incremental changes to business-as-usual to deliver on the carbon target.

The standard approach to climate action planning has been to collect information on scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and set a reduction target that can be achieved; document the incremental changes required; and publish those required changes to the community/company in hopes of achieving outcomes.

The incremental formula of climate action plans has been the standard for well over a decade. And yet emission levels are not dropping fast enough to reverse climate change impacts. In fact recent news reported that carbon in the atmosphere is at the highest level in human history.

We’ve reviewed the scopes of work for several city-level climate action plans, and they follow a sensible process that is hard to argue with. But the results aren’t there. We’re seeing adjustments in timelines come faster than adjustments to climate approaches. 2020 commitments became 2030. And now we are starting to see the commitments push out to 2050.

Hacking the CAP – Climate action plans are broken, so we broke climate action planning.

The goal of a hackathon is to create a forum for exchange of ideas and resources to create an innovative solution to a pressing and complex problem by the end of the event.

Paladino recently hacked the standard Climate Action Plan to liberate the ways we talk about sustainability.

The CAP hackathon teams had one hour to hack the CAP process, and five minutes to present their solutions. We captured the ideas and work-in-progress, so we could share, learn from, and build on the ideas generated.

Team 1: Make Nashville More Nashville

Team one shifted the focus of the Climate Action Plan from carbon reduction to city amplification. The process starts by assessing the unique characteristics and values of the city, and then prioritizing sustainability and carbon strategies that celebrate the city. Rather than using climate action planning to evoke austerity and scarcity, the climate action plan is designed to make more of what the city wants.


For example, Nashville’s climate action plan might include guitar-shaped green roofs. The point is to brainstorm with community leaders, find metrics that are meaningful to them, present case studies for strategies to achieve those metrics, and catalog ideas that stick with the leaders.

What can everyone learn from this approach?

Whether you are a city, government entity, or private organization, climate action planning is all about your community or organization. We can learn from other frameworks to establish the scope of the plan, but the output must resonate with the desired future of the various stakeholders required to achieve climate commitments.

Team 2: Never finish the plan

Team 2 addressed a common challenge with climate action plans: They are developed based on historical data, and then put on a shelf to be referenced at key check-in points. They fail because they don’t reflect today (and tomorrow’s) reality, and don’t capture the attention and energy of champions.

Team 2 recommended that the climate action plan have more frequent updates, include real-time crowd-sourced data, and be used as a rallying cry by champions who are active in the community.


Rather than release the plan and then provide updates every 5 years, the city or organization should release a dashboard with real-time updates on progress toward each goal, presented through visualizations.

What can everyone learn from this approach?

Collaboration in stakeholders is not just useful when designing the plan – those stakeholders need to become the champions that bring the plan into action. Progress toward goals needs to be easier to update and provide more immediate input on progress. The results need to be transparent and easy to understand.

Team 3: Abundance

Team 3 wants to bring Paladino’s Abundance Thinking to the Climate Action Plan process. Our driving philosophy is that “you have everything you need to get everything you want.”

Climate-action-planTeam 3 proposed that cities and organizations inventory everything that they have, and then leverage those treasures to get more of what they want. The key is to map those resources and then think creatively about how they can be used to reduce the carbon footprint.

What can everyone learn from this approach?

The solution to the climate challenge is not another checklist. The solution comes from an improved process and way of acting on the issue. Find your city or organization’s unique value proposition and use that to drive the solution.

Team 4: Break a few eggs (using sticks and carrots)

Team 4 recognized that climate action plans are expected, but not exciting. Many cities put in the effort to develop a climate action plan, but it fails to capture the imagination of the people and companies that are needed to actually make the change. So Team 4 recommended that the climate action plan focus on Big Hairy Audacious Goals. The advantage of a plan like this is that it would attract progressive businesses and motivate consumers.


A few key elements of Team 4’s approach include: Eliminate practices like grandfathering in businesses. Provide a grading to businesses along the lines of a food safety grade so that consumers could name and shame the poor performances and support high performing businesses. The city could further incentivize performance by providing tax incentives to high performers. FAR bonuses for creating urban forests were discussed. The city would go all-in on carbon emissions by shifting to an EV vehicle fleet, Net zero on all new buildings, Tune-ups of existing buildings. Urban forestry, water balance studies and code overhauls would be early steps. At the consumer level, we’d see utility competitions, HOV access for electric cars, annual events celebrating top achievers, and incentivized rain-wise landscaping.

What can everyone learn from this approach

If you don’t want business-as-usual results, you can’t take a business-as-usual approach. Incentives alone won’t get businesses to work, so disincentives are also important. Climate action plans need to motivate action, and no one will act if they aren’t paying attention. Capture their attention and make it impossible to look away.

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