The theoretical framework presented in this paper proposes a method for determining which practices will inform a set of key indicators provide a ‘snapshot’ sustainability assessment of U.S. urban water utilities. It describes the method used to gather data via two qualitative research approaches to inform a sustainability index: semi-structured interviews with an external advisory committee of 12 U.S. urban water utility leaders, and online surveys of water professionals using the freelisting technique. The utility leader interviews revealed public education and communication as the most frequently cited sustainable practice, followed by asset management, community return on infrastructure investment, financial management, green infrastructure, and resource recovery practices. The water professionals survey revealed resource recovery as the most frequently cited sustainable practice, followed by water conservation, asset management and financial management, and energy efficiency. A consensus did not emerge about what is needed to drive more widespread adoption of sustainability indictors. The most frequently cited barriers to more widespread adoption were the absence of a definition of sustainability, lack of incentives, and resource requirements.

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