Sustainability Planning & Processes: Principles
Today the word “sustainability” encompasses a variety of perspectives with a number of different purposes. However, sustainability most commonly means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (Brundtland Report, World Commission on Environment and Development, commissioned by the UN, 1987).
Perhaps it is less important to define sustainability than to understand that sustainability, in practice, reflects the intersection of three areas of concern for local governments: economy, environment, and equity (inclusion of social concerns)– often referred to as the “triple bottom line” or “the three E’s.” While acknowledging the basic definition as well as the triple bottom line, local governments must also determine what sustainability means to the citizens of their community.
Dedicate sustainability staff
The presence of dedicated staff provides the necessary leadership for a successful municipal sustainability program. This staff fosters inter-departmental cooperation and accountability, spearheads planning, identifies needed resources, and advocates for sustainability goals within departments. Perhaps most importantly, within an atmosphere of highly competitive municipal issues, sustainability staff maintains focus, drives initiatives, and inserts sustainability goals into policies and processes.
Set Sustainability Goals
Establish short-, mid- and long-range goals. Documentation can vary with some cities simply listing goals and others establishing extensive plans with implementation strategies. Regardless of the documentation method, identify appropriate measures for tracking progress toward adopted goals.
For example, in March 2006 the City Council of Evanston, Illinois adopted a strategic plan placing sustainability at the forefront of its municipal attention. Within each plan category, a vision statement set forth the “idea and aim” behind the identified goals and objectives.
The success of a sustainability program can best be measured through comparison with past performance. Therefore, establish an effective system to monitor and collect target data.
A performance measurement system should be used to justify additional investments in sustainability initiatives. For example, energy savings from high efficiency lighting could be used to purchase more efficient heating and cooling equipment.
Take a holistic approach
Seemingly independent and disparate problems often reveal interconnected causes or solutions when considered as parts of a larger system. Seek to understand and improve the interaction between economic systems, ecological systems, and societal needs. Taking a holistic view of all the systems necessary for a sustainable city often indentifies opportunities to increase efficiencies, lessen impacts, and provide greater livability.
For instance, cities may co-locate complementary recycling and manufacturing facilities where the recycled waste becomes the raw material for new products (e.g., a city repository for organic waste adjacent to a bio-diesel manufacturing plant).
To ensure enduring support for sustainability initiatives, build partnerships among city departments and outside organizations such as non-profits, trade associations and educational institutions. These partnerships may provide resources for wider initiatives and expanded influence, as well as identify previously unforeseen opportunities and methods for overcoming limited municipal funding of sustainability efforts.
In 2008, the Corvallis (Oregon) Sustainability Coalition included more than 135 partner organizations leading to adoption of a comprehensive Community Sustainability Final Action Plan.
As sustainability efforts mature, transparency, communication, and education among colleagues, citizens, and community leaders will ensure the next generation of leadership has the necessary tools to guide and support future sustainability initiatives.
The collection, reprocessing, marketing, and use of materials that were diverted or recovered from the solid waste stream.The ability or potential of a physical body to do work. The most common forms of energy are heat, light, mechanical (moving parts), and electrical.