Institute for Local Self-Reliance

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Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Institute for local self reliance.gif
TypeNon-governmental organization
FocusCommunity development, sustainability, Community Banking, Broadband, Energy, Waste, Composting, Independent Business
Area served
United States
MethodAdvocacy, research, technical assistance
Key people
Stacy Mitchell and Brenda Platt, Co-Directors

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance or ILSR is a nonprofit organization and advocacy group that provides technical assistance to communities about local solutions for sustainable community development in areas such as banking, broadband, energy, and waste through local purchasing. The organization was founded in 1974. ILSR has two main offices, one in Washington, D.C., and the other in Minneapolis, MN.[1]

The 1990 edition of the Whole Earth Catalog summarized ILSR's mission as follows: "ILSR specializes in urban community economic development that isn't dependent on welfare handouts. Unlike many similar organizations, they develop clever technical solutions to problems – they've been particularly successful in material recovery and other schemes to reduce waste. Their experience and thoroughly professional demeanor, together with a Washington DC location, has enabled them to be influential in policy decisions."[2]



ILSR was founded in 1974. Waste to Wealth became the organization's first focus, supporting job creation, technical assistance and research and analysis of methods to reduce waste and create economic development through recycling and composting. The organization systematically applied the concept of local self-reliance to urban areas.

In 1978 and 1980, ILSR economic studies showed that 85 cents of every energy dollar is spent outside the community, a higher rate than from any other household expenditure. ILSR testified before a utility regulatory commission in favor of investing in conservation as a cheaper and more responsible alternative to buying 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 (because dollars spent there went to corporate shareholders around the world.)

In 1979, ILSR's publication titled Decentralized Applications for Photovoltaics (PV), prepared 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 1980s, ILSR worked with community organizations to halt a plan for six waste incineration plants in Los Angeles. With ILSR's assistance, the Los Angeles groups then formed a coalition throughout Southern California that campaigned to have 15 additional mass burn plants cancelled between 1985 and 1988 in favor of recycling technologies.[3]

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, ILSR was a national group providing assistance to grassroots organizations opposing garbage incineration in their communities. ILSR attempted to stop the creation of 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 prevented the creation of many trash incinerators.

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 outcome 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."

In 1988, ILSR's pro-recycling publication, "Beyond 40 Percent," 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 an assessment of the potential for substituting homegrown fuels for imported energy, including strategies to achieve that goal.

In October 1992, ILSR's work on plant derived plastics and other materials led to 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 ILSR's Sustainable Plastics Initiative.

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 identified and shared 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, 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.[4]

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.

In 2005, ILSR's 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."[5]

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 directory was recognized for its excellence, receiving the internal COG award for Best Publication in 2006.

In 2007, ILSR helped write and support the passage of the "Informed Growth Act" in Maine. The new law requires economic impact analysis for any retail developments over a certain size.[6]

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, 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.[7]

In April 2008, ILSR program Healthy Building Network, was spun off as an independent nonprofit organization. HBN is a 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.[8]

In 2008, ILSR 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, bringing together national and international experts and 115 key representatives of environmental and energy organizations as well as state officials, businesses and utilities.[9]

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, on behalf of RE-AMP, a coalition of 120+ environmental organizations and foundations in 8 Midwest states, ILSR 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 ILSR published in 2003, "A Better Way to Get From Here to There."


In May 2010, ILSR published "Municipal Energy Finance: Lessons Learned" examining existing Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing programs and identifying stumbling blocks and offering lessons about program design and possible strategies for addressing obstacles.

In May 2010, ILSR 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.[10]

Primary program areas[edit]

New Rules Project[edit]

ILSR started the New Rules Project in 1998 to research, analyze and promote sustainable public policies for communities. The new rules project's web site has more than 300 local and state policies across nine broad sectors. The program offers e-bulletins, podcasts and policy reports. The project's main sectors of focus are decentralized energy, community broadband and supporting locally owned business networks.[11]

ILSR's work supporting locally owned businesses has helped dozens of cities to enact public policies like size caps and mandatory impact reviews to prevent or limit large chain stores from negatively impacting their local businesses and downtowns. ILSR has published two books[citation needed] on the subject: The Home Town Advantage: How to Defend Your Main Street Against Chain Stores and Why It Matters (2001)[12] and Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses (2006).[13][failed verification]

Carbohydrate economy[edit]

ILSR researches and analyzes the consequences of converting from an economy based on petrochemicals and industrial materials to a carbohydrate-based economy, based on plant matter materials. Their current focus is on the creation of a bioplastics future.[14]

Waste to Wealth[edit]

Wa Foundation has said of ILSR, "Removing citizens and neighborhoods from a dependent relationship on government is a conservative cause. But involving and empowering ordinary citizens in the decisions that affect their commonwealth is part of the classic liberal agenda. Thus, ILSR has remained important and respected regardless of the political and philosophical winds of the moment."[15]


  1. ^ Walljasper, Jay. David Morris: A strong-willed optimist who promotes a vision of local self-reliance. Utne Reader. November–December 2001.
  2. ^ Baldwin, J., ed. The Whole Earth Catalog. New York: Harmony Books, 1990. 45.
  3. ^ Baldwin, J., ed. The Whole Earth Catalog. New York: Harmony Books, 1990. 45.
  4. ^ "Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000" (PDF). Grassroots Recycling Network. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  5. ^ "National Main Street Leadership Awards, September 2005". National Main Street Center. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  6. ^ Loring, Daphne. "Community Impact Reports". Living Wage Sonoma. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  7. ^ "Forty Under 40: Stacy Mitchell". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  8. ^ Grist staff. "Bill Walsh, founder of the Healthy Building Network, answers questions". Grist. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  9. ^ Bly, David. "Update on the ILSR Conference". Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  10. ^ "Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities are Building the Networks They Need" (PDF). New Rules Project. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  11. ^ New Rules Project: Designing Rules as if Community Matters. Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
  12. ^ The Home Town Advantage: How To Defend Your Main Street Against Chain Stores ... and Why It Matters. Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
  13. ^ Mitchell, Stacy. Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses.
  14. ^ The Carbohydrate Economy Clearinghouse. Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
  15. ^ Baldwin, J., ed. The Whole Earth Catalog. New York: Harmony Books, 1990. 45.

External links[edit]