Sustainable Planning for Communities

What is sustainability and how does it apply to a community? The word sustainability is being used a lot these days, but it tends to mean many different things to many different people. The original, most widely used definition states that sustainability is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".1 This applies to not only the traditional ideas of "being green" but also to economic and social sustainability - all of which directly relate to the goals of community governance and planning. Whether your "community" is a small neighborhood or a large metropolitan area, securing a sustainable future is within your reach.

As you look forward to what your community will be like in 10, 20, or 50 years, it is likely that you envision it prosperous, safe, and healthy with citizens and businesses that love the community and actively support its future. As we face new and ever-growing environmental, social, and economic issues from affordable housing, to clean air, to crime, it is imperative that our communities build and grow on a solid foundation. That foundation is sustainability planning. Planning that is rooted in environmental stewardship, smart growth policies, economic fecundity, and social equity.

How will sustainability planning help my community?

• Improved Quality of Life -

Clean air and water, walkable streets, a reduction in commute-time, interaction with nature, citizen participation, economic prosperity, and cultural diversity, all help provide communities with a liveliness and longevity that instills a sense of pride and a feeling of security in its inhabitants.

• Growth Management -

Communities struggle with issues of both growth and decline. By creating a sustainable community plan that uses natural capital efficiently, values its inhabitants, and provides companies with a stable workforce due to improved quality of life, a community can better weather changes in the environment-economically, socially or ecologically.

• Resource Demand Management -

Every community grapples with finite resources in one form or another. Sustainable communities operate, grow, and structure their communities to maximize existing infrastructure and resources whether those resources are water, housing, or police services.

• Economic Stability -

Having a sustainable community provides better quality of life for residents, generally drawing a more stable workforce, helping to secure new and retain existing business.

Sustainable communities also create environments where businesses can save money through energy and water savings, and reduced pollution control costs, making your community more attractive to business.

Where do I start?

As part of your commitment to creating a sustainable community, it is best to have a dedicated sustainability coordinator whether that person is a staff member, a consultant, or both working in tandem. This person will help guide the committee as well as provide needed information and tools best suited for your community.

1. Make the commitment.

This commitment can be made through a public statement and/or through financial commitments both within your community's governing system and the public as a whole.

2. Create a community sustainability working committee.

Begin discussing what the community's sustainability goals might be. Choose this committee carefully from a broad spectrum of business professionals, general citizenry, government staff, and elected officials.

3. Determine your goals and set your baselines.

Where are you now and where do you want to be? This effort should include input from the public.

4. Outline the steps needed to reach these goals.

Prioritize, educate the citizenry, and train government staff and elected officials on the goals, policies, and implementation methods identified.

5. Monitor, measure, and report your progress.

Re-evaluate your progress and your plan regularly to stay on course. Make adjustments as necessary to stay on target with your goals.

To learn more about how our sustainability planning can enhance your community, please contact Waste Management Sustainability Services at 877-441-3046 or visit our website at