If everyone on the planet lived like Tulsans then we would need four to six earths to provide for them.[1] There is no good reason why Tulsans should not strive to reduce our ecological footprint by conserving energy, managing natural resources, and eliminating waste.[2] Doing so will also likely improve our health, increase the quality of the environment and preserve resources for our children. Achieving a more sustainable economy will take time and effort but we can get there by setting goals to start the transition.

According to the Green Building Council, buildings consume 72% of all electricity consumption and 40% of raw materials used.[3] The city should incorporate high performance building standards for energy efficiency and resource use into its building codes for all new and renovated buildings. This is something the State of Oklahoma now requires for all public buildings.[4]

Tulsa should make energy efficiency a priority. Tracking and analyzing energy use is a necessary first step.[5] A goal to reduce electricity by a significant percentage in the next ten years would be a good start. We should also demand that our utility companies offer additional alternative energy procurement programs, especially wind energy which is plentiful in Oklahoma.[6] Transportation needs consume large amounts of  liquid fuels and another set of goals should aim to reduce the amount of vehicle miles traveled and increase transit ridership while reducing air pollution.[7]

Water usage is yet another area to challenge ourselves. A significant reduction in potable water use should be an objective. For instance, less turf should be planted, more efficient irrigation systems required by ordinance and gray water or rainwater collected for landscape use.[8]

In the area of solid waste, Tulsa has embarked on a successful city-wide recycling program for plastic, paper, glass, and aluminum.[9] A system for salvaging and recycling construction waste is also needed to reduce landfill needs.[10] Composting of organic wastes should be encouraged.[11]

Tulsa is recognized nationwide for its flood control measures, but much more could be done for storm-water control.[12] The city should set a goal to reduce paved areas drastically.[13] New buildings with flat roofs should be required by code to use extensive green roofs. Wetlands and flood zones should be reclaimed where possible and restored as wildlife habitat and recreation areas.

Locally grown agriculture products reduce transportation costs and arrive at the table fresher. Northeast Oklahoma has a long agricultural history and the capability to produce a wide range of foodstuffs from sweet corn to peaches to pecans. Tulsa should have a goal to consume a meaningful percentage of its food from its rural hinterlands. Residents should be encouraged to grow their own food at home or in community gardens.[14]


[1] There are a number of ecological footprint calculators available that calculate the amount of land used for different lifestyles. The figures quoted above are for typical values for Tulsa using the Global Footprint Network Calculator: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/calculators/.

[2] The City of Tulsa has some nascent environmental programs but most focus on city operations and do not address the greater community: http://www.cityoftulsa.org/Environment/.

Many cities have or are in the process of adopting sustainable city plans with broader goals. The City of Santa Monica, California has an ambitious and thorough one: http://www01.smgov.net/epd/scp/pdf/SCP_2006_Adopted_Plan.pdf.

Fayetteville, Arkansas has established an office of sustainability with full-time staff:


Denver’s Greeprint program is another initiative: http://www.greenprintdenver.org/.

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability have developed the STAR Community Index to track sustainable indicators. The program is set to be launched next year: http://www.icleiusa.org/sustainability/star-community-index.

[3] According to Green Buildings by the Numbers available from the USGBC at their website: http://www.usgbc.org/articles/green-building-facts.

[4] The Oklahoma High Performance Green Building Act of 2008 requires all state funded buildings over 5,000 square feet to meet the LEED silver standard. Follow the link below for the full text of the statute:


[5] Santa Monica tracks a variety of environmental indicators including energy use: http://www01.smgov.net/epd/scpr/ResourceConservation/RC3_EnergyUse.htm.

[6] Much of the western third of Oklahoma is rated as good with wind power densities from 400 to 500 watts per square meter. An interactive map is available on the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative website:


[7] Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory produces energy and water flow charts available at its energy and environment site: https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/.

[8] Florida has model conservation ordinance for landscape irrigation: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/nonpoint/docs/nonpoint/SJR05mlo.pdf.  Tucson adopted a xeriscaping ordinance in 1991. The University of Georgia Extension has published “Xeriscape: A Guide to Developing a Water-wise Landscape”: http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.cfm?number=C895-1.

[9] San Diego has a city-wide recycling ordinance and program with curbside pick-up:

http://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/. They also have a household hazardous waste transfer facility: http://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/miramar/hhwtransfac.shtml.

[10] The Environmental Protection Agency has extensive resources available about construction and demolition material recycling including factsheets, case studies and applied research: http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/imr/cdm/bytype.htm.

[11] Many cities encourage backyard composting. San Francisco’s waste hauler Norcal Waste Systems actually has curbside pick-up for composting materials with their green cart program: http://www.recologysf.com/.

[12] An excellent history of Tulsa’s flood problems and hazards mitigation program is available on the Smart Communities Network: http://www.smartcommunities.ncat.org/pubs/harmsway/index.shtml.

[13] The Low Impact Development (LID) Center has information about reducing paved areas and design practices that maintain pre-development levels of stormwater drainage: http://www.lowimpactdevelopment.org/. San Diego County has adopted a LID Handbook which is intended to become the basis of a new ordinance after a trial period: www.co.san-diego.ca.us/dplu/docs/LID-Handbook.pdf.

[14] Tulsa Master Gardeners is an excellent resource for growing your own food locally: http://www.tulsamastergardeners.org/index.html. Community gardens are common throughout the country; visit the American Community Garden Association website for additional information: http://www.communitygarden.org/. Portland has an established community garden program administered by the Parks and Recreation Department: http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/index.cfm?c=39846.

Editor’s Note:

This series of articles by Shawn Michael Schaefer was originally published in March, 2009 on his Places LLC WordPress Blog site under the heading Ten Strategies for the City of Tulsa’s Future Planning and Growth then revised June, 2014 and reprinted here with permission from the author.


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