How are They Working on it?
  • Visioning
  • Community Forums
  • Community Profiles
  • Master Plans
  • Location (Special Place) Mapping
  • Resource Mapping
  • Community Income Statements
  • Neighborhood Eco-Teams
  • Local Currency
  • Sustainability Evaluation
  • Indicators

Talking Points
  • Many different ways to approach sustainability
  • Use what works best for your community
  • Indicator reports may be difficult for small communities
  • Indicators still useful for education

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 fishing grounds.

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 Resources page of Maureen Hart's Indicators of Sustainability web site.
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Copyright © 1998 Maureen Hart. All rights reserved.