A sustainability strategy is a distinctive pattern in an organization’s sustainability programs that are designed to encourage individuals and organizations to behave in more sustainable ways. Local governments worldwide have increasingly pursued sustainability strategies to improve their community health and environment by adopting sustainability programs that span a variety of environmental issues and use a diverse set of policy instruments. Despite increasing prevalence of sustainability efforts at the local level, as yet, there has been little understanding of variation in their sustainability strategies and its relationship with environmental performance outcomes. Prior research has mainly focused on the number of programs that local governments adopt and assumed that local governments with more sustainability programs are more likely to improve the environment than local governments with fewer programs. However, local governments’ sustainability strategies require more nuanced understanding about variations in their sustainability programs, in particular across their program design in that a sustainability strategy relates to both quantity and design aspects of programs.
I address these research gaps in three essays that explore the research question of (1) how design features of sustainability programs vary across US local governments, (2) which factors influence variations in program design, (3) how these factors are related to environmental quality outcomes in communities. By assessing US local governments’ sustainability programs, I found that even for local governments that adopt a same number of sustainability programs, they design their programs differently, especially across the breadth of environmental issues that local governments address in their sustainability programs and the breadth of policy instrument that are used in their programs. Findings suggest that pressures from external stakeholders and variations in local governments’ organizational capacities are related to local governments’ decisions to purse different types of sustainability strategies. Finally, I find that local governments that design their programs more comprehensively are likely to have greater environmental performance outcomes in their community. My dissertation expands existing research in a significant way by focusing on the importance of program design and its link with improved environmental performance, thereby providing important implications for distinguishing among local governments’ sustainability strategies.