Action Planning and the Sustainable Community
"If our development strategies aren't sustainable they will be
The Economic Renewal Guide - The Rocky Mountain Institute
The action planning process will lead to the development of a community that is ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable. Let's look at several definitions of a sustainable community.
A "sustainable community" seeks to maintain and improve
the economic, environmental and social characteristics of an area so its
members can continue to lead healthy, productive, enjoyable lives.
Maureen Hart, "Guide to Sustainable Community Indicators"
In a sustainable community, resource consumption is balanced by
resources assimilated by the ecosystem. The sustainability of a community
is largely determined by the web of resources providing its food, fiber,
water, and energy needs and by the ability of natural systems to process
its wastes. A community is unsustainable if it consumes resources faster
than they can be renewed, produces more wastes than natural systems can
process or relies upon distant sources for its basic needs.
Sustainable Community Roundtable, Olympia, Washington
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of
the present without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs.
UN World Commission on the Environment and Development
Sustainable is the long-term, cultural, economic and environmental
health and vitality with the emphasis on long-term, together with the
importance of linking our social, financial, and environmental well-being.
The sustainable community should establish goals and a vision by developing more efficient and effective ways in which to live and grow. It also will involve the participation of the entire community in creating a vision of the community's future that balances economic, environmental and social needs.
Principles of Sustainability
Now that we have defined sustainability we need to look at some general principles which are sensitive to the principles of sustainability and can be used by the community as a basis for selecting and developing action plans. The Provincial Government of Ontario, Canada has created the Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy which has developed six guiding principles for sustainable development. It is useful to review these principles prior to commencing the task of developing action plans for the community.
- Anticipation and prevention of potential environmental degradation. The response of the past -- "react and cure" -- has proven to be economically, socially and environmentally expensive. We have had to fix problems after they occur through pollution control and regulation. We need to shift to a philosophy which "anticipates and prevents" environmental degradation at the planning stages of our development projects and when we make consumption decisions. We need to prevent pollution before it happens.
- Full cost accounting. Our natural assets -- air, water, land, soils, forests, wilderness and wildlife -- are the underlying base of all our economic activity. To prevent over-use and exploitation, all prices ideally should reflect full environmental and resource costs. For example, health costs and crop damage resulting from pollutants like acid rain would be included in the price of products whose manufacturing process contributes to acid rain. Applying this principle in all areas will provide economic incentives for wise resource use.
- Informed decision-making (environment-economy integration). Sustainable development requires the integration of environmental and economic considerations in decision-making. Consideration must be given to both the short and long-term consequences of these decisions. In addition, the decisions must be based on sound information. And those who make economic decisions must be responsible for the environmental consequences of those decisions.
- Living off the interest (doing better with less). This principle treats our limited natural resources as part of our capital wealth. Such "natural capital" must be replaced as it is depleted, or else be reused or recycled. If not, we will bankrupt ourselves just as if we had spent all our financial resources.
- Quality over quantity. Creating a sustainable society will require changes in lifestyles, attitudes, expectations, behaviors and values. An increasing focus on quality of economic development will result in smarter production and consumption patterns -- such as improved product durability and energy efficiency in the production and marketing of goods and services.
- Respect for nature and the rights of future generations. Our economy depends not only on the continued flow of resources but also on the protection and enhancement of ecosystems and habitats. The decision-making process must consider not only today's needs, but the needs of future generations by ensuring that a long enough horizon is used in the evaluation process.
Sustainability at the Local Level
What can you do at the local level to create a sustainable community? The Citizen Planner's Project of Ventura County has developed several ideas for application at the local level, which you may wish to use in your community.
- Protect, preserve and restore the natural environment. Acknowledge that undisturbed natural beauty enriches and that the natural environment is basic for a healthy world, a healthy economy and a healthy society.
- Establish true-cost pricing economics. Establish true-cost pricing as the basis for economic viability. Utilize whole-system thinking to recognize the true long-term costs and benefits of actions from an economic, environmental and social standpoint.
- Support local agriculture and local business products and services. Use community products and services for the cycling of economic wealth in the community.
- Develop clustered, mixed-use pedestrian oriented eco-communities. Clustering reduces infrastructure costs and pays for the reclamation of open space within the urban and suburban community and protects open space in the rural community. Clustering also encourages walking, bicycling and public transit use.
- Utilize advanced transport, communication and production systems. Reduce automobile dependence, traffic congestion, air and noise pollution, and operating and maintenance costs, by establishing rail centered transportation. Utilize advanced communication systems to move information in preference to people and material. Employ advanced production technologies to reduce costs, increase quality and production, and reduce pollution and energy use.
- Maximize conservation and develop local renewable resources. Maximize the use of conservation technology and practices, reduce the use of non-renewable resources, and develop local renewable energy, water and material resources.
- Establish recycling programs and recycled materials industries. Expand recycling technology and establish extensive recycling and composting programs.
- Support education for participation governance. Build educational awareness and public consensus for ecological planning and policy issues through broad-based citizen participation.
Environmental Justice in the Sustainable Community
Executive Order 12898 "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations" is designed to focus the attention of federal agencies on the human health and environmental conditions in minority communities and low income communities. EPA's Office of Environmental Justice defines environmental justice as:
"The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies."
Communities need to be sensitive to the impacts of their actions. Concerns about the impacts of environmental pollution on particular population groups has been growing. There is widespread belief that minority populations and/or low-income populations may bear a disproportionately high burden from pollution.
There are a number of initiatives that the community can take to consider environmental justice in its local decision-making.
- Implement public outreach programs and obtain stakeholder input on environmental justice issues.
- Educate elected and appointed officials on the principles of environmental justice.
- Consider siting, permitting decisions and cumulative impacts and their relationship to environmental justice considerations.
- Integrate considerations of economic development with environmental justice.
- Develop action plans that are sensitive to environmental justice policies.
Native Americans and the Environment focuses on the roles of Native Americans concerning environmental justice both in the past and present.