Smarter Sustainable Dubuque: A New Standard for Sustainability

ARTICLE | Mar 29, 2013


Sustainability has been a growing focus for local government, but measuring it has remained elusive. Smarter Sustainable Dubuque was initiated in September 2009 when the City of Dubuque and IBM announced their intentions to make the city one of the first “smarter” sustainable cities in the U.S.

Smarter, Sustainable Dubuque has its beginnings in Sustainable Dubuque, a community-led initiative to create a more sustainable legacy for generations to come. After Mayor Roy D. Buol ran on a platform of sustainability in 2005, and every year since, the City Council has identified becoming a more sustainable city as one of their top priority. They have done this after a forty-member community task force defined the vision that “Dubuque is a viable, livable and equitable community. We embrace economic prosperity, social/cultural vibrancy, and environmental integrity in order to create a sustainable legacy for generations to come.” The grassroots approach that was taken to develop this vision ensures that today, public/private partnerships involve the entire community in an ongoing quest for sustainability.

The first $30,000 in “seed” money was provided by the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation. It has grown into a collaboration that includes over two dozen industries and eight state and federal agencies. Smarter Sustainable Dubuque is the development of new “smarter” technologies coupled with community outreach and implementation strategies to create a replicable, international model of sustainability for communities of 200,000 and under, where over 40 percent of the U.S. population resides. The model will integrate community engagement and education, more energy-efficient ways of operating municipal services and buildings, decrease carbon emissions, inspire new job creation, increase financial savings, promote resource conservation, and a promote a higher quality of life for the entire community. It will also document the improvement to competitive opportunities that comes through “smarter” resource utilization.

How is Dubuque getting Smarter?

 With the support of public and private partners, Dubuque is exploring and using new “smarter” technologies and strategies to deliver or better utilize vital services such as water, energy, and transportation to its citizens while reducing the community’s impact on the environment. These new technologies digitize and connect city systems; sense, analyze and integrate data; and allow Dubuque to respond intelligently to the needs of citizens. It also provides consumers and businesses the information specific to their households or businesses that they need to make informed decisions about how they can reduce consumption and improve their economic bottom lines. Collecting and analyzing this information is giving consumers and city policymakers new insights on how to conserve Dubuque’s resources, become more sustainable, and improve their opportunities in an increasingly competitive world economy.

Smarter Water

 Dubuque’s Smarter Water pilot study was conducted in conjunction with the City’s community-wide water meter replacement project. It was a unique partnership of local, state, and federal funding partners and private sector vendors to implement innovative technologies and empower citizens and businesses with the information and tools needed to reduce water costs and use. IBM technology interfaced with the City’s system to process water consumption data and provide near real-time visibility into the overall city water consumption. More than 300 households participated in this 12-month study which helped reduce water utilization by 6.6 percent and increased leak detection and response eight-fold among participants. The Smarter Water Portal provides a customer-specific, integrated view of water usage. The data is collected hourly and transmitted daily. Usage data can be displayed in gallons, cost, or by carbon footprint. The portal also provides leak detection and notification, historical usage data, and comparative data.

Smarter Electricity

Working in partnership with IBM, Alliant Energy, and the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, the community conducted a multi-million dollar Smarter Electricity pilot study. Involving nearly 1,000 volunteer households, Alliant Energy installed new Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) meters and provided anonymous customer electricity usage data to the City and IBM for analysis. IBM used the data to develop a consumer interface system, or portal, enabling study participants to better understand their electricity use in real-time so they could consider changes to save energy, reduce costs, and reduce carbon emissions. With time current data and by analyzing the opportunity for energy savings through the Smarter Electricity pilot, IBM Research has determined that roughly 26 percent of average household usage in Dubuque is presently “phantom power” (electricity which is being consumed by appliances when not in use). The savings opportunity is significant.

Smarter Travel

Dubuque, along with several national and local companies, is conducting a Smarter Travel pilot through IBM’s City-In-Motion project. The innovative research enabled over 1,000 volunteers to provide data on how, when and where they travel within the community. This was accomplished by the deployment of unique radio-frequency identification devices (RFID) and a smart phone application developed by IBM Research. The anonymous data collected is being analyzed to identify ways to save money, conserve resources, and improve the environment through travel choices. Lastly, the aggregate data will be used by the City and its transit partners to implement policies that incorporate lower impact options sought by citizens. One component of the Smarter Travel pilot was the deployment of newly created IBM smart phone technology that was easily downloaded at no cost to volunteers and used to provide data to the supporting Cloud computing environment for analysis.

Smarter Health and Wellness

In addition to saving money, conserving resources, and improving the environment, Dubuque residents are also interested in improving their quality of life and health outcomes for themselves and their families. Incorporating data on how an individual’s health and wellness is affected by their interaction with resources is also a critical vision. For example, how does reduction in vehicle miles traveled through biking or walking improve personal health outcomes? How does incorporating local foods decrease carbon footprints and improve key health indicators? How does the adoption of Green and Healthy Homes programming not only improve energy efficiency, but also reduce chronic childhood health conditions? The link between income, environment, and health is undeniable.

How do these smarter processes become a smarter system?

Smarter Sustainable Dubuque is providing Dubuque residents and businesses what they need (information and tools specific to their circumstances) to do what they want (save money, conserve resources, and improve the local economy and environment). Dubuque is integrating all the individual resources or “silos” of energy into an Integrated Sustainability System. Giving citizens the power to use real-time water information to help reduce their electricity consumption is new. Giving citizens the ability to use their travel and data to improve their health and wellness outcomes is new. This ability to view all personal energy interactions within the community is unique. Dubuque is providing a model for how municipalities can tackle sustainability using a data driven approach to address sustainability needs now and in the future.

For more information, visit, or contact: Sustainable Community Coordinator Cori Burbach, 563-589-4110 or


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