What makes a community sustainable?

Neighborhood illustration

A sustainable community can persist over generations, enjoying a healthy environment, prosperous economy and vibrant civic life. It does not undermine its social or physical systems of support. Rather, it develops in harmony with the ecological patterns it thrives in.

A sustainable community is one that:

  • Acknowledges that economic, environmental and social issues are interrelated and that these issues should be addressed "holistically."
  • Recognizes the sensitive interface between the natural and built environments.
  • Understands and begins to shift away from polluting and wasteful practices.
  • Considers the full environmental, economic and social impacts/costs of development and community operations.
  • Understands its natural, cultural, historical and human assets and resources and acts to protect and enhance them.
  • Fosters multi-stakeholder collaboration and citizen participation.
  • Promotes resource conservation and pollution prevention.
  • Focuses on improving community health and quality of life.
  • Acts to create value-added products and services in the local economy.

Sustainable development

Sustainable development is the process in which a community develops attitudes and ongoing actions that strengthen its natural environment, economy and social well-being.

The Minnesota Legislature defined sustainable development as development that maintains or enhances economic opportunity and community well-being while protecting and restoring the natural environment upon which people and economies depend. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The Minnesota Round Table on Sustainable Development developed five principles that lay out broad guideposts along the path to sustainable development:

  1. Global interdependence. Economic prosperity, ecosystem health, liberty and justice are linked, and our long-term well-being depends on maintaining all four. Local decisions must be informed by their regional and global context.
  2. garden-mulchStewardship requires the recognition that we are all caretakers of the environment and economy for the benefit of present and future generations. We must balance the impacts of today’s decisions with the needs of future generations.
  3. Conservation. Minnesotans must maintain essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life-support systems of the environment; harvest renewable resources on a sustainable basis; and make wise and efficient use of our renewable and non-renewable resources.
  4. Indicators. Minnesotans need to have and use clear goals and measurable indicators based on reliable information to guide public policies and private actions toward long-term economic prosperity, community vitality, cultural diversity and healthy ecosystems.
  5. Shared responsibility. All Minnesotans accept responsibility for sustaining the environment and economy, with each being accountable for his or her decisions and actions, in a spirit of partnership and open cooperation. No entity has the right to shift the costs of its behavior to other individuals, communities, states, nations or future generations. Full-cost accounting is essential for assuring shared responsibility