Since 1974, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has been working to enable communities with tools to increase economic effectiveness, reduce wastes, decrease environmental impacts and provide for local ownership of the infrastructure and resources essential for community well-being.

“leading practical thinkers in the area of
sustainable economic development.”

Senator Paul Wellstone, 1993

  • In 1974, ILSR was the first organization to systematically apply the concept of local self-reliance to urban areas.
  • In 1978 and 1980, ILSR economic studies showed that 85 cents of every energy dollar spent leaves the community, a far higher rate than from any other household expenditure.  Because of this, ILSR was a leading group advocating that energy conservation was a better alternative to building new energy supplies.  ILSR was one of the first groups to testify before a utility regulatory commission in favor of investing in conservation as a cheaper and more responsible alternative to new energy.
  • Also at this time, ILSR tracked the dollar flows of a neighborhood McDonald’s and found that almost two-thirds of every dollar spent there left not just the neighborhood; it left the entire metropolitan area. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this study showed that every time a national food chain opened a franchise in a neighborhood, the number of jobs in the community actually went down (as dollars spent there went to corporate shareholders around the world.)
  • In 1979, ILSR’s publication titled Decentralized Applications for Photovoltaics (done for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment) concluded that decentralized PV was cost-competitive with the centralized applications that conventional wisdom of the time asserted were the only viable future of PV.
  • In the late 1970s and early 1980s, ILSR was the primary national group providing assistance to grassroots organizations opposing garbage incineration in their communities.   We helped to stop more than a dozen proposed incinerators with the argument that they were expensive and destroyed valuable materials that could be recycled and reused.  Across the country this movement defeated 300+ trash incinerators; those communities that failed to defeat these are today lamenting this, as they are during 2008 in Detroit.
  • In the early 1980s, ILSR was hired to design the principles for an economic development policy that emphasized getting the most from resources within the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota.   The Homegrown Economy: A prescription for Saint Paul’s future, written by David Morris, was published in 1983, and stated: “The goal of the Homegrown Economy is to extract the maximum amount of useful work from each local resource.”  The development of the Saint Paul District Heating System, the largest hot water district heating system in the nation, was one result from this project.
  • In 1983, after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld federal law requiring electric utilities to purchase power from independent producers, ILSR published Be Your Own Power Company, the first, and, to this day, only popular how-to book for small scale power producers.   You can find this book online here.
  • In 1988, ILSR’s pro-recycling publication, Beyond 40 Percent, became a bestseller among activists and policymakers.  It offered concrete evidence that recycling and composting could become the primary waste handling strategy for both urban and rural locations.
  • In 1990, ILSR produced a publication titled: The $6 Billion Solution:  Making Minnesota Energy Self-Reliant.  It provided Minnesota policymakers, business and citizen organizations with the first assessment of the potential for substituting homegrown fuels for imported energy, including strategies to achieve that goal.
  • In October 1992, our work on plant derived plastics and other materials led to our co-hosting the first International Workshop on Biodegradability.  Some forty scientists from around the world discussed the elements of a common definition and testing protocol for biodegradable materials.  The proceedings were published in Toward Common Ground.  This work continues today through our Sustainable Plastics Initiative.
  • In 1994, ILSR played a key role in a statewide coalition that persuaded the Minnesota state legislature to mandate the construction of up to 825 megawatts of wind electricity and 125 MW of biomass electricity.  This legislation dramatically accelerated wind energy development in Minnesota.
  • In the mid 1990s, ILSR published a series of innovative reports under the theme of Recycling Means Business.   These reports presented factors affecting the efficiency of recycling, reported on cost-effective programs, and related how scrap-based manufacturing, reuse operations and a host of other strategies can create jobs and add value when community recycling is joined with other economic development programs and strategies.
  • Between 1996 and 2000, ILSR developed a U.S. EPA-sponsored Waste Reduction Record-Setters project that greatly expanded our work to identify and share the experience of model recycling programs. This project produced a report and a series of fact sheet packets on record-setting recycling programs.  In 2000, we developed a series of case studies for the California Integrated Waste Management Board, and, in 2002, released a booklet on Alameda County, California’s record setting, comprehensive waste reduction and recycling programs.
  • In 2000, ILSR staff wrote Wasting and Recycling in the United States, a report detailing the many environmental and economic benefits of recycling.  Published by the Grassroots Recycling Network, an organization ILSR co-founded in 1995, this report introduced the concept of Zero Waste Planning and outlined an agenda to achieve a Zero Waste future.
  • On March 12, 2002, the New York Times published an extensive article by ILSR staff titled: “Recycling Means Big Money in the Big Apple: Bloomberg Puts Doing Well Ahead of Doing Good.”   Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had proposed to dramatically reduce the City’s recycling program because of the expense. Those who wanted to save and expand the program wanted to talk about values.  ILSR argued that both value sets could be met with increased recycling (which would reduce the per ton costs), waste reduction, and improved collection and processing methods.
  • In 2005, ILSR helped plan and supported the Grassroots Recycling Network’s Second National Zero Waste Action Network Conference (held in May, in New York City).  ILSR’s Vice President, David Morris, was a keynote speaker at the event.
  • In September 2005, ILSR President, Neil Seldman, presented “The International Dialogue on Zero Waste,” an approach to Zero Waste planning and implementation before the Recovery, Recycling and Re-Integration Conference, held in Beijing, China.  Our work in this field has been recognized through invitations to present keynote addresses and workshops in Kobe, Japan; Dehli, India; and Patras, Greece.
  • In 2005, the New Rules Project received the 2005 National Main Street Civic Leadership Award.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized the New Rules Project for its “efforts to educate communities on how to revive their commercial districts through policy change, and to help local, independent businesses gain a competitive advantage.”
  • In 2006, ILSR produced the Buyers’ Guide to Reuse and Recycling: A Directory on Construction and Demolition Materials in the Metropolitan Washington Region for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG). This widely acclaimed directory was recognized for its excellence, receiving the internal COG award for Best Publication in 2006.
  • In 2007, we helped write and support the passage of the groundbreaking Informed Growth Act in Maine. The new law requires economic impact analysis for any retail developments over a certain size. The law will help inform the public on the true costs of big box development patterns.
  • In October 2007, Booklist named ILSR Senior Researcher Stacy Mitchell’s book, Big-Box Swindle as one of the top ten business books of the year.  Reminiscent of ILSR’s early work on the economic impact of fast food chains (such as McDonald’s) this book details the largely negative economic and environmental impacts of big box stores and how ILSR is helping dozens of communities around the county buck this trend.“In the muckraking tradition of Fast Food Nation, this is a searing indictment of the impact of behemoth retailers. It illuminates a stunning collection of business outrages, government favoritism, environmental damages, hidden economic and societal costs, debunked myths and a rising swell of consumer activism against big-box blight . . . Big-Box Swindle takes mega-retailers to task in convincing fashion. But Mitchell also provides inspiring lessons from places that are turning the tide.”
    —John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who included Big-Box Swindle in his Top Ten List.
  • In April 2008, ILSR’s highly successful program, the Healthy Building Network, was spun off as an independent nonprofit organization. HBN is a nationally recognized network of green building professionals, environmental and health activists, socially responsible investment advocates and others who promote healthier building materials as a means of improving public health and preserving the global environment.
  • In 2008, we published Feed-in Tariffs in America: Driving the Economy with a Renewable Energy Policy that Works, and in January 2009, ILSR convened a Midwest conference on the subject, a standing room only gathering brought together national and international experts and 115 key representatives of environmental and energy organizations as well as state officials, businesses and utilities.
  • In mid 2009, ILSR published Energy Self-Reliant States, an atlas of renewable electricity capacity that showed at least 60 percent of states could meet all their internal electricity needs from renewable energy harnessed inside their borders. The report was updated in March 2010.
  • In 2009, at the request of REAMP, a coalition of 120+ environmental organizations and foundations in 8 Midwest states, we developed a report on electric vehicles to guide future initiatives in the region. Electric Vehicle Policy for the Midwest: A Scoping Document, was published in December 2009. The report builds on one of the first comprehensive reports on plug in hybrid and electric vehicles that we published in 2003, A Better Way to Get From Here to There.
  • In May 2010 we published Municipal Energy Finance: Lessons Learned examining existing Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing programs and identifying stumbling blocks and offering valuable lessons about program design and possible strategies for addressing obstacles.
  • In May 2010, we published the most comprehensive report to date on municipally owned broadband activities. The paper, Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities are Building the Networks They Need, highlights the benefits and challenges to communities of building out state-of-the-art broadband service when the private sector fails to deliver.
  • In September 2010, ILSR published a comprehensive analysis of community solar power.  The report, Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities, provides detailed case studies of the nation’s most prominent community solar projects and has been a definitive resource on the limitations of existing policy for community solar.
  • In January 2011, ILSR energy researchers provided the most comprehensive analysis of the jobs and economic impact of feed-in tariff policies in North American.  Maximizing Jobs From Clean Energy: Ontario’s ‘Buy Local’ Policy suggests that U.S. states could do much more to marry their clean energy agenda with economic development.
  • In January 2012, in anticipation of the forthcoming Rooftop Revolution report, ILSR published an animated map of the coming of solar grid parity.  The map went viral and was viewed over 30,000 times, helping viewers see how 100 million Americans could get cheaper electricity from rooftop solar than from their utility by 2020.