There are as many different ways to work on sustainability as there are
communities and organizations working on it. Some communities have open meetings to start
dialogues about where residents think the community should be going. Some communities have
included indicators in their Master Plan or Comprehensive Plan.
Creating a map of a community is one way to get people to begin to see
the links among the economic, environmental, and social parts of a community.
These tools can be low tech or high tech. In a low income neighborhood in Boston,
the staff at the Bowdoin Street Health Center started with a paper map and the sneakers on
their feet. They walked around the neighborhood and marked environmental and social
hazards on the map. They included vacant lots where garbage was being dumped, nail
salons, and auto body shops. The map was useful in explaining to the general public
the variety of public health issues as well as in communicating with local
city officials concerning areas that needed the most attention.
On the other end of the mapping spectrum, a planning consultancy firm,
Criterion, Inc. in Portland, Oregon, has developed a computerized
geographic information system (GIS) that allows a city or
town to see how proposed changes will affect a number of different aspects of the
community, from the number of cars at a given intersection to potential energy use
and CO2 production.
There are also computer games and models for understanding how day-to-day decisions affect
sustainability. The Institute for Policy and Social Science Research at the University of New
Hampshire distributes a program called Fish Banks where participants take on the role of fishing
companies and learn how their decisions affect the overall sustainability of the Georges Bank
Ken Meter has written a number of income statements for communities. Community income
statements look at the amount of money flowing into and out of an area in much the same way
that an income statement for a business shows the income and expenses of the business. For a
community, knowing how money is leaving the community is an important first step in keeping
local money circulating within the community as much as possible. This type of study provides
good baseline data for economic development efforts, allowing a community to know its current
status, set future goals, and evaluate successes.
Some communities have also developed their own local currency in order to boost the local
economy. The community of Ithaca, New York is a leader in the area of local currency
For individuals and households, Global Action Plan has developed a
workbook for groups of measure and work on lessening their individual
household's impact on the earth's ecosystem.
The Global Eco-village Network has developed an Eco-village
Audit for measuring the sustainability of villages and
communities. Their web site includes examples of how two existing
eco-villages rated themselves. They also have a personal audit for
individuals based in part on the Global Action Plan's work.
A number of organizations have developed checklists for communities to use
to start thinking about how to measure sustainability. Two of these
are the Izaak Walton League and the Northwest Policy Center.
I have already discussed using Ecological Footprints as a measure of
sustainability. The book "Our Ecological Footprint" is available from
New Society Publishers. In addition, Dick Richardson, a professor at
the University of Texas, has developed a course on Ecological Footprints
and has an excellent web site on the subject.
Information on contacting these organizations can be found on the
of Maureen Hart's Indicators of Sustainability web site.