Community sustainability is a buzz term that can mean many things. Fundamentally, it is about creating communities where there is a resilient economy fostered by a vibrant community and supported within a healthy environment.

One approach to community sustainability planning is what’s become known as ‘integrated’ community sustainability planning. Since sustainability problems are often complex and overlapping, they cannot be solved in isolation, and are best addressed using a comprehensive, systems-based approach that addresses the root of the problem, rather than only the symptoms. For example, toxic effluent in rivers affects fish health (environmental), which affects people (social) and financial prosperity (economic). All of these elements and their connections must be considered to arrive at effective solutions.

An Integrated Community Sustainability Planning (ICSP) is as much a process as it is a plan. The end result is more than a document: it is in fact an on-going process of engaging stakeholders in the community in co-creating and updating a vision of a sustainable future and linking that to realistic planning and collaborative action today. ICSPs emphasize long-term thinking, collaboration between departments and between sectors, engaging community stakeholders, creating partnerships, and continuous monitoring and evaluation.

Keys to Successful Community Sustainability Planning:

* An ICSP should be guided by a vision of a community in a sustainable society, and be created by all those whose actions it is meant to guide.
* At the heart of this sustainability planning approach is a commitment to a bottom-up participatory process that engages those affected by decisions and those who will be responsible for implementing parts of the plan. Just as important is to design the process so that the time and energy that participants put into the project benefit both themselves and the wider community.
* The planning process should combine planning and action by implementing easy first actions (low-hanging fruit). Often these first actions are efficiency improvements that generate savings that can be invested in more challenging measures later. Sometimes it is even effective to begin implementing these actions while the planning process is still underway. This parallel action/planning process can create buy-in among a diverse group of stakeholders and increase their enthusiasm for the planning process.
* The approach to planning is holistic, systems-based, and integrated as opposed to addressing issues in a fragmented, case-by-case basis. This requires a focus on building capacity among the participants to see the planning process from a big picture perspective.
* Ongoing education and training programs, monitoring the effectiveness of actions with indicators, all guided by the vision and sustainability principles, help institutionalize change and keep adopted practices going over time.

Stay tuned for our next blog about the basic steps to creating a community sustainability plan…