Case Study: Charlotte 2030: A Sustainable Vision For Our Future

Shannon Binns, founder and executive director of Sustain Charlotte, a local nonprofit organization to benefit the Charlotte, North Carolina, region and its citizens
Project Title
“Charlotte 2030: A Sustainable Vision For Our Future” brochure
Two months

The Charlotte region in North Carolina has lagged behind other metro areas in terms of sustainability, and when this project began, there was no entity taking a long-term, regional perspective and leadership role in this important area.

There was a need to develop a plan to engage public, business, government, nonprofit and academic communities to embrace sustainability, develop a tangible vision, set goals for Charlotte and commit to becoming advocates for our region’s sustainable growth.

To achieve that goal, our task was to design a brochure that encompassed feedback from several local sustainability experts and reflected the ten key aspects of urban sustainability: air, buildings and homes, economy, energy, food, parks and green space, waste, social equity, transportation, and water. Each of these is important because together they determine the quality of our lives.


This brochure was a milestone for the Charlotte region and the product of more than 100 sustainability experts and stakeholders from broad disciplines using a collaborative and consensus-based process, drawn from government, nonprofits, private sectors and academia. First steps were to create a tangible vision and framework for sustainability with the help of community leaders and citizens, starting with asking each one simple question: “Twenty years from now, what do you envision for the Charlotte region?”

We also did extensive research to see what other cities and businesses have done for their sustainability reports, but ultimately we ended up taking an alternate approach.


Distinct from the reports that we came across in our research, “Charlotte 2030” uses beautiful and bright imagery, clean typography, blocks of color and quick-and-easy positively driven points to create a sense of hope, enthusiasm and motivation for our region. Insights from the community and experts are coupled with vibrant photography, and sections are broken out by color to make them easier to understand. Each section also includes a current stat that supports the need for a vision and at least 12 “goal statements” offering a glimpse into the future for each of the sustainability initiatives.


After holding a workshop with several small working groups to brainstorm about one of eight topics—air, water, green building, waste and recycling, green economy, land use and green space, clean energy, and transportation—the information had to be edited down. We had to make it more tangible, to engage public citizens to take ownership over the sustainability vision and enable the city and the county to implement goals in a phased approach.


Based on the metrics and feedback laid out below, we consider this project a success across the following areas of impact:

Economy: With the nicely designed brochure containing a clear vision and concrete action items under each of the aspects of urban sustainability, more businesses and stakeholders from broad disciplines have come to the table to take part in the plan and embrace Sustain Charlotte’s mission, offering support, partnerships, funding and publicity. Going forward, this will become “the way” of doing business in the region and ultimately drive more revenue for a green economy.

People: The brochure was unveiled at a public launch event in November 2010 in the center city of Charlotte with Mayor Anthony Foxx, the County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts, numerous city officials, community leaders and citizens and was immediately adopted by the city and county to use as a framework in making decisions to build a sustainable region. With the goals presented in this brochure, citizens embraced taking action and Sustain Charlotte, as well as several other nonprofit organizations, saw a spike in volunteers. There has also been an increase in attendance at city council meetings by the public to advocate for certain environmental topics that affect our region.

Environment: The 500 quantity 16-page locally printed brochure was designed sustainably in various ways: keeping its size compact size (8.5” x 5.5”); using a full press sheet, which eliminated waste; and printing on FSC-certified, process chlorine free paper, which was made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled fiber and manufactured entirely with Green-e certified wind-generated electricity. The brochure also has a saddle stitch binding so it is completely recyclable, but readers were encouraged to return the brochure to Sustain Charlotte or to share it with a friend. An electronicPDF version of the brochure is also available online.

Culture: Since the launch of this brochure, several other groups and initiatives have hatched, including a drive for Charlotte to become a green leader in the United States and a leader in clean renewable energy. City council has even developed an “Environmental Committee” using the guidelines of this brochure as its framework. Mecklenburg County’s 2011 Environmental Policy Action Plan also includes many of the key aspects of the vision laid out in the brochure.

Several press and news stations attended the public launch event, where the brochure created excitement for the public as well as business and nonprofits working together for a common goal. The piece ultimately has helped to champion sustainable public policies, business practices and individual choices.

Press links: 

Pro bono

Eighty-five percent of the design for the “Charlotte 2030: A Sustainable Vision For Our Future” brochure was donated by Rachel Martin Design with 15 percent of it paid with the help of a sponsor.

This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.