Year of Publication



Martin School of Public Policy and Administration

Date Available


Degree Name

Master of Public Administration

Executive Summary

People often discuss the need to educate local officials about the environment, but little research has been done to support that need. The need to educate this group is based primarily on anecdotal evidence—green partnerships getting underway in Louisville and Lexington and similar efforts in other municipalities that are supported by local officials. Some believe that if you educate local officials about the environment they will become environmentally responsible citizens who promote and support more progressive environmental policies.

Several models exist that describe environmental responsibility. In its most basic form environmental responsibility is a function of knowledge, attitudes and behavior. However, values and interests also shape environmental attitudes. Environmentally responsible behavior has been shown to be a function of environmental values, personality traits, gender, psychological variables and the situational context.

Local Agenda 21 (LA 21), which was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil in 1992, outlines a planning process that provides an opportunity for local governments to work within their communities to adopt sustainable practices. Since then, local sustainability efforts in the U.S. have taken many forms including curbside recycling, brownfield redevelopment, mass transit and the formation of citizen advisory councils.

Researchers have found communities that adopt sustainability programs are older and less reliant on manufacturing. They are often a host to a major university and tend to have higher levels of education attainment. Kentucky communities are not among the small list of U.S. communities that have adopted LA 21 strategies. However, environmental progress is happening in Kentucky’s communities.

The purpose of this research is to better understand the relationship between environmental responsibility of local officials and local environmental policies. Two questions are answered with this research:

  1. Are local officials environmentally responsible citizens?
  2. Do environmentally responsible local officials produce environmentally progressive policies?

In this study environmental responsibility is measured by environmental knowledge, attitudes and behavior. A survey was administered to the county judge executives in Kentucky and the two mayors of merged governments to collect data on this. The data collected were analyzed with respect to:

  • respondents individual characteristics such as age and income; and

  • responses from the same survey administered to a sample of Kentuckians in 2004; and

  • solid waste management data, which serve as indicators of environmental progress, from the respondents corresponding counties.

The findings of this research are mixed. Attitudes do not appear to be a function of environmental knowledge. Behavior, though, was linked to environmental knowledge and attitudes but only in bivariate analysis.

The group surveyed is fairly knowledgeable about the environment. They answered more questions correctly than a sample of Kentuckians surveyed in 2004. They were similarly concerned about the environment as the Kentucky sample, but did report more environmentally responsible behavior.

Based on this analysis, environmental knowledge is a function of the respondents’ education attainment level. An increase in education increased environmental knowledge. Attitude is a function of political affiliation. Democrats expressed more concern and support for the environment than republicans. Finally, reported environmentally responsible behavior (ERB) is a function of the respondents’ age, number in household and years of service. All of which positively correlated to ERB.

Five indicators of environmental progress were used but only two—presence of curbside recycling and employment of a full-time solid waste coordinator—correlate to local officials’ environmental knowledge in multivariate analysis. Knowledge is inversely correlated to curbside recycling and is positively correlated to the employment of a full-time solid waste coordinator. Other variables including population density and county median household income positively correlated to these variables.

To better understand the relationship between environmental responsibility of local officials and local environmental policies, more research is needed. A larger sample including other county and city local officials should be surveyed. More research should be done to better understand the correlation between factors related to urbanization and local environmental policies. Based on the literature review, local officials need to be aware of their role in the sustainability effort in the U.S. Local governments, given that they are closest to the people and environmental problems, play a pivotal role. While other factors such as special interest groups and environmental problems may be demanding stronger environmental policies, local officials will be a part of proposing and adopting those policies.



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