“Sustainable Development is a broad concept that recognizes the linkages between actions and their impact on economic development, the environment, and social well-being. While it is generally accepted that development should be sustainable in all three of these dimensions, practical application of the concept is complex and challenging.”

from “Sustainability Assessment for West Virginia”

Sustainable communities are communities of any size, from large metropolitan areas to college campuses and rural villages, that are dedicated to using natural resources in the most efficient and beneficial way possible. The goal is to be able to create a community that provides for all the needs of every member while maintaining a healthy balance with the environment, reducing the carbon-footprint, and cleaning up existing resources like air, water, and soil. Government regulations on factory emissions, farming education programs, and the use of “green” energy sources such as solar power are just some of the various means to sustaining healthy communities.

Sustainable development was first introduced as a global concept by “Our Common Future,” a report prepared by the United Nation’s Brundtland Commission in 1987. It presented a number of growing global issues such as population increase, urbanization and industrial development, endangered species, and ecosystem imbalances. The 1987 report was the first global request for governments at every level to begin assessing their capabilities for change towards a more sustainable community model. The central idea behind sustainable community building is to create a community in which environmental and social responsibility is integrated into every aspect of that community. This means creating more local jobs, allowing less industrialization, and encouraging people to take active roles in their own communities. Ownership and education are key. People are encouraged to develop their own solutions instead of waiting for someone to do it for them, which gets ordinary people involved in problem-solving in conjunction with their local government and non-profit organizations.

Many small communities around the globe are working towards sustainability, and are reducing their negative impact on the environment. For example: the village of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire is aiming to become the first carbon neutral village in England; the EcoVillage in Ithaca, NY employs all organic farming and has restored more than 80% of its land to green space; and the small village of Gaviotas in Columbia, South America farms using wind and solar energy and has planted extensively, reviving acres of indigenous rainforest. These communities, and many like them, employ a variety of resources made available by non-profit organizations such as the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the Global Development Research Center, and ICLEI’s Local Governments for Sustainability. These and other organizations provide tools such as community planning guides, environmental studies, education programs, technical expertise, and leadership training.

Further Resources

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