Another important term when talking about sustainable communities is
community capital. Although we tend to think of money or equipment
when someone says the world "capital," in fact, there are three kinds
of capital in a community: natural capital, human capital, and
financial or built capital.
Natural capital is all the things that nature provides for us, such as
raw materials to make clothing, buildings, and food. It also includes
the services that nature provides such as air to breathe, protection
from UV light, rain to water our crops, and wetlands to filter water
and prevent flooding.
(It helps at this point to stop and ask participants to name some
elements of natural capital that the community has.)
Human and social capital are the people that make up a community:
friends, neighbors, coworkers. An important part of human capital is
the connections among people, the way people work together to solve
problems or run a community. It includes volunteer efforts and the
community's governing structure. Other parts of human capital are the
skills and education of the community members and their health.
(Again, ask participants to give some examples of human capital in
Financial and built capital are the built structures like roads,
bridges, and buildings in the community. It also includes the
manufactured goods, the information resources, and the credit and debt
in the community.
All three types of capital are equally important to a
community. All three types of capital need to be managed with care in
order to ensure that the community does not deteriorate.
Imagine that someone gave you a million dollars. You could spend that
money quickly, or you could invest it at 5% interest per year, earn
$50,000 per year for life, and still have a million dollars to pass on
to your children and grandchildren. A sustainable community is one
that nurtures its natural, human and financial capital so that the
community continues to improve. A sustainable community lives off the
interest of its community capital instead of using up that capital.