Provo is not known for it’s sustainability scores.

When it comes to air quality, water conservation, energy consumption, open space preservation, smart growth, and wise resource management, Provo is near the bottom of the national lists.


In 2005, Zach Cuttler, a Political Science student at Tufts University,  wrote a paper called  “An Analysis of Elected Officials and Sustainable Cities: Individual Backgrounds and their Impact on the Pursuit of Sustainability.” It’s a fascinating read, since it uses Provo as one of the examples.

Cuttler asked the questions,  “Why is it that some cities take…sustainability seriously, and others do not? (Why are ) some cities…on the track of smart growth and conservation… (while) others remain in the fixed mindset of traditional economic growth and planning even in this time of rising gas prices, increasing pollution, and burgeoning populations.”

Those are excellent questions.

Cuttler proposed an answer. He suggested that the determining factor was the backgrounds of the elected officials.

He used the terms “traditional” and “alternative” to describe the education and occupations of both mayors and Council members.  Traditional backgrounds included various types of “business people.”  Alternative backgrounds meant jobs and schooling in non-business fields — teachers, social workers, designers, engineers, medical workers, scientists, artists,  lawyers, writers, architects, etc. — any of the service professions.

Says Cuttler,  “city council members and mayors are very good indicators (of) whether or not a city is on the track towards sustainability… The impact of elected city government officials on the direction of their cities, (is determined by) their backgrounds, occupations, education, and interests… Cities whose council members and mayor have alternative backgrounds are more likely to take sustainability seriously than cities whose elected officials are from traditional business backgrounds.”

The study goes on to look at the backgrounds of Provo’s Mayor and Council, at that time. And guess what? All had traditional business backgrounds.

That was eight years ago. We actually have an educator and an attorney on the Council, now. But most of this season’s candidates are still hardcore “businessmen.” Their priorities, like the mayor’s, is Provo’s business environment. There are alternative sensibilities, people!

If we want better sustainability scores, perhaps we need to start electing different people.

  • Christian_F

    In Cuttler’s analysis, he mislabels almost every Provo council member. Most of the council members at the time had “alternative” backgrounds based on his definition, but he labeled them as traditional. The goal of sustainability is a worthy one, but Cuttler’s paper is terrible and his conclusions are not supported by his arguments.