Why We Do it

The sustainability of our region is threatened.

Charlotte ranks the least walkable of 74 cities studied, the lowest in upward economic mobility among the 50 largest U.S. cities, and the source of our drinking water, the Catawba River, ranks one of the ten most endangered rivers in America twice in the last decade.

Did you know that an average of 44 people move to Charlotte every day, and we’re projected to become the second fastest growing large U.S. city through 2030?

But how do we ensure that Charlotte remains an attractive place to live and work as we prepare to welcome 400,000 new residents over the next 25 years without continuing the development pattern of sprawl?

The answer: Smart Growth.

Smart growth means building urban, suburban and rural communities with housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools. This approach supports local economies, protects the environment, and furthers opportunities for all.

Sustain Charlotte is the voice for smart growth strategies in the region because we believe that this proven approach to development is critical for our community’s sustainability.

To learn more about Smart Growth and its benefits, visit sustaincharlotte.org/smartgrowth.


Sustain Charlotte works on nine priority issue areas to advance region-wide sustainability and pursue our mission to educate, engage, and unite residents across the Charlotte metro area to inspire choices that lead to a healthier, more vibrant community for generations to come.

Learn more about our key issue areas and recommendations below:  


Air Quality

Mecklenburg County currently exceeds the federal limit for ground-level ozone – primarily due to tailpipe emissions. Providing more safe, affordable, and convenient alternatives to driving, and replacing suburban sprawl with more compact, walkable, and transit-oriented development are critical steps to improve our air quality. Read more



Residential electricity consumption in Mecklenburg County is 21% higher than the national average, while residential natural gas consumption is 4% lower than the national average. To meet our long-term energy needs, it will be important to set ambitious and achievable goals for increasing local renewable energy use and provide information to citizens and businesses to help meet those goals, as well as work with federal and state governments to ensure that tax credits for renewable energy and energy efficiency are continued. Read more


Equity + Empowerment

The cost of transportation as a percentage of income is growing, with the average Mecklenburg household spending 26% of income on transportation. A key step towards increasing equity in our sprawling metro area is to give existing communities priority for economic development dollars to encourage infill development, reuse or improvement of existing structures, and compact mixed use development that offers opportunities for pedestrian-friendly economic growth supportive of affordable housing and commuting options. Read more



Although a lower percentage of Mecklenburg residents live in food deserts (defined as urban areas more than 1 mile from a supermarket, or urban areas more than 10 miles) than the national average, past land development decisions and our low population density have created sixty food deserts in the county. Incentives such as reduced permitting fees to reduce the up-front construction cost of full-service grocery stores as infill development in food deserts, and zoning for the use of city and county properties for temporary farmers’ markets would increase access to nutritious foods. Read more


Jobs + Income

While unemployment figures have improved since 2009, local unemployment is still three times higher than in 2000.  Wages and employment rates could be improved locally by identifying the existing skills mismatch between the pool of unfilled jobs and unemployed workers, then working with local businesses and educational organizations to develop workforce training for unemployed workers in order to meet employer needs. Read more


Land Use

The Charlotte metro area was recently identified as the fifth most sprawling large metro in the US. Mecklenburg has more developed acreage per capita than the national average, and the local trend is worsening. Planning future land use strategically by developing policy documents that set specific measurable goals rather than vague aspirations -- and adhering to them -- will be critical to improving land use. Read more



While more workers are commuting by biking, walking, or taking public transit than in the past, we still lag far behind the national average for these modes, and the majority of workers (83% in 2011) commute in single occupancy vehicles. We recommend increasing the level of current transportation spending for transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure by decreasing spending for expanding road capacity in outlying areas, as the latter encourages further sprawl and more driving. Read more



Mecklenburg County’s increased collection of yard waste, dramatic decline in construction and demolition debris, and significant decline in commercial waste have led to a decrease in the overall amount of waste being sent to local landfills. However, our per person rate of recycling processed by the county and the amount of residential waste landfilled per person have remained nearly unchanged since 1999. Enacting a “pay as you throw” pricing system for residential waste pickup is recommended to discourage waste generation and incentivize waste reduction strategies such as recycling and composting. Read more



The population size of Mecklenburg County is growing rapidly, yet our water resources are limited. Average annual residential water consumption in Mecklenburg County is decreasing and we use less water per household than the national average. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department should continue comprehensive water audits, benchmarking, and incorporating the projected impacts of climate change into long-term plans to target consumption reductions and meet the water needs of a growing population. Read more


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Foundation Supporters:

Our work is generously supported by the foundations and businesses below.

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation • Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation • Wells Fargo • TransitCenter  • OrthoCarolina • Duke Energy Foundation • Parsec Financial • Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation • People For Bikes  • Blumenthal Foundation

We are a proud member of the 1% for the Planet Network.


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