Building sustainable communities

Promoting sustainable community development
Enabling communities to sustain themselves

Achieving a truly sustainable community implies (according to the Global EcoVillage Network): a) development and practice of conscious awareness of the inter-relatedness of all life and the cyclic sustainable systems of nature; b) understanding and supporting cultural, social and spiritual values of this awareness and how humans can live ecologically balanced lives; and c) using viable technologies that do not further harm, but rather help to heal the planet. A sustainable community integrates human activities harmlessly into the natural environment, supports healthy human development, and can be continued into the indefinite future.


Living sustainably may depend upon the beliefs and commitment of individuals, but it is through their communities that many people best express their commitment. People who organize themselves to work for sustainability in their own communities can be a powerful force. The process by which communities organize themselves, strengthen and satisfy their environmental and socio-economic needs has been termed (by certain practitioners) Primary Environmental Care (PEC). Sustainable communities care for their own environment and do not damage those of others. They meet their own needs as far as possible, but may need to work in partnership with other communities to function effectively. Internal and external obstacles need to be overcome to ensure community sustainability.

A sustainable community is one which: a) Recognizes that growth occurs within some limits and is ultimately limited by the carrying capacity of the environment; b) Values cultural diversity; c) Has respect for other life forms and supports biodiversity; d) Has shared values amongst the members of the community (promoted through sustainability education); e) Employs ecological decision-making (e.g., integration of environmental criteria into all municipal government, business and personal decision-making processes); f) Makes decisions and plans in a balanced, open and flexible manner that includes the perspectives from the social, health, economic and environmental sectors of the community; g) Makes best use of local efforts and resources (nurtures solutions at the local level); h) Uses renewable and reliable sources of energy; i) Minimizes harm to the natural environment; and j) Fosters activities which use materials in continuous cycles.
As a result, a sustainable community: (1) Does not compromise the sustainability of other communities (a geographic perspective); and (2) Does not compromise the sustainability of future generations by its activities (a temporal perspective).


This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.

A project of the New Economics Foundation and others has been to produce a menu of indicators of sustainable development for use by local authorities and their communities. The starting point was the definition: "A sustainable community lives in harmony with its local environment and does not cause damage to distant environment or other communities -- now or in the future. Quality of life and the interests of future generations are valued above immediate material consumption and economic growth". The two main elements of the definition – "quality of life" (human needs) and "carrying capacity" (environmental functions) provided thirteen themes which were developed into "key sustainability factors" (101 indicators in all). The thirteen themes are: (a) resources and waste; (b) pollution; (c) natural diversity; (d) local needs met locally; (e) access to food, water, shelter and fuel; (f) work; (g) health; (h) access and transport; (i) crime; (j) skills, knowledge and information; (k) participation; (l) culture, leisure and recreation; (m) beauty and utility.


Individual sustainability is a step towards community sustainability, which is a step in turn towards ultimate global sustainability.


Type Classification:
C: Cross-sectoral strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal