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Ten Steps to Sustainability

The task of launching a sustainable community initiative, whether in a city or countryside, can seem daunting at the outset. The U.S. Department of Energy has helped simplify the task of launching a community sustainability endeavor by breaking the process down into 10 individual steps. Each step is described below, with links to related websites that provide further
information, tools, or examples useful in carrying out that step. If you have additional insights into launching successful sustainability programs, or know of additional resources, write to the staff of this website.

Step 1: Conduct a local "sustainability" assessment
Gather baseline information on such subjects as key environmental problems in your community; what you pay for energy; key economic, environmental and social issues, etc. This information provides a baseline for measuring progress later, and can help identify the key goals of a sustainability campaign.

From Global Ecovillage Network comes the Community Sustainability Assessment.This site offers three checklists -- ecological, social and spiritual -- to gauge a community's sustainability.

Extracted from the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Communities Assistance Kit, Where Are We Now? offers advice and resources on assessing community sustainability.

The Energy Yardstick: Using Place3s to Create More Sustainable Communities (PDF file), was developed by the California Energy Commission, the Oregon Department of Energy, and the Washington State Energy Office. This document provides tools for identifying existing conditions and then developing integrated, sustainable, and efficient regional and neighborhood comprehensive plans.

Although perhaps more international in focus, Sustainability Progress Assessment features concepts, tools and cases studies on assessing sustainability. The site is a joint project of the International Development Research Centre and the World Conservation Union.

Step 2: Get "stakeholder" concurrence on launching a sustainability program
Using the assessment from Step 1, build local support for a formal sustainability program, involving all people in the community, including elected officials; neighborhood, environmental and business groups; the media; churches; government agencies; foundations, etc.

Environmental Defense has created an Environmental Sustainability Kit, which includes information on the stakeholder process, as well as sections on project planning and indicators development.

Sustainable Communities Network's section on Creating Community includes a Civic Engagement topic area that offers organizational resources, additional reading, and case studies on citizen participation and involvement.

Step 3: Designate a local sustainability champion
To be successful, your community will need to designate at least one individual to become the champion of and conscience for sustainable development. This person should be sanctioned by the local elected leaders.

The Heartland Center for Leadership Development offers resources, primarily focused on rural development.

Step 4: Create a vision
Engage the entire community in a "visioning exercise", defining where your community would like to be 20 years from now. The vision should be specific and idealistic, but achievable.

Where do we want to be? That's one of the questions posed in the EPA's Green Communities Assistance Kit. The section describes the visioning process, one which will yield a vision statement.

An interesting historical overview and case study is found in Community Visioning: Planning for the Future in Oregon's Local Communities, a paper from the 1997 American Planning Association conference.

Step 5: Develop a roadmap for reaching the vision
With the help of all stakeholders, identify what steps your community will need to take to achieve its vision. Assign who will have to do what.

Measuring Community Success and Sustainability: An Interactive Workbook features a section on action planning and offers questions to serve as guidelines. The Workbook is offered through the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development.

An Approach to Assessing Progress Toward Sustainability provides tools that act as a barometer of sustainability. It aims to measure and communicate wellbeing and sustainable development, and outlines the steps necessary to move from assessment to implementation.

Step 6: Develop sustainability indicators
Based on your vision and roadmap, identify the "indicators" or yardsticks your community will use to measure progress.

Sustainable Measures describes the concept of sustainability indicators and provides a searchable database of example indicators indexed by keyword and topic area. The site includes an indicators workshop curriculum that can be downloaded for free.

The Community Indicators Network (CIN), a project of Redefining Progress has a number of publications on indicators, including The Community Indicators Handbook: Measuring Progress Toward Healthy and Sustainable Communities. The site also features a list of on-line community indicator projects.

Redefining Progress and the International Institute for Sustainable Development merged their online databases on indicator initiative to create a Compendium of SD Indicator Initiatives. Initiatives and example indicators from the international, national and state levels can be searched.

Step 7: Incorporate sustainability into local policy
Conduct a thorough "audit" of local policies to determine which advance sustainability and which stand in the way of progress. Remove policy barriers, and create policy incentives.

The National Association of Counties About Counties section provides examples of local codes, ordinances and policies related to sustainability. These model codes may be tailored to meet the needs of local jurisdictions. The database is searchable by subject, state and county, and includes numerous subject areas.

The New Rules project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance offers a comprehensive resource for policymakers, organizers and activists looking for innovative public policies adopted around the world to make communities vibrant and strong. Local policy tools are organized and presented by sector.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is a Midwest public advocacy organization that believes economic development and environmental progress can be achieved together. Their projects put that policy belief in practice, addressing transportation, energy, land use and community quality of life.

An Executive Order by the governor of Oregon provided the state with a directive to develop and promote policies and programs that would help the state meet a goal of sustainability. A Sustainable Oregon website documents that order and progress toward the goal.

Step 8: Identify sources of help
Determine what State, Federal and private programs are available to assist your community in implementing its sustainability roadmap. Apply to those programs that advance your local goals.

ICLEI presents Tools for a Sustainable Community, a One-Stop Guide for U.S. Local Governments, which offers a section on funding sources that lists federal funding opportunities, with regional contact information.

Resource Renewal Institute is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to catalyze the development and implementation of green plans-- long term, comprehensive strategies for sustainability. RRI's main role is to promote the implementation of green plans through evaluating existing and emerging green plans, educating government, business and public interest leaders about green plans, and inspiring the planning process.

Additional sources to tap for assistance can be found at the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) website and the Smart Communities Network database.

Step 9: Carry out projects
Start with "early success" projects to begin implementing your sustainability program, and involve the public in them. Celebrate successes with public events and recognition. Then take on more difficult goals and projects as public support and confidence builds.

EPA's Green Communities Assistance Kit features a section on implementation, called "Let's Go!" with tools for implementing community action plans. A community that has begun implementation can be designated as an EPA Participating Green Community.

Step 10: Check your progress
Using your indicators, evaluate your community's progress every two years or so, and make adjustments as necessary.

The Sustainability Reporting Program has compiled Indicators of Community Sustainability that not only includes reporting frameworks and indicators, but also includes various links to North American and International Resources for comparison.

San Francisco adopted its Sustainability Plan in 1997. The Sustainable City organization and website gather information on the development of the plan, and the many facets of its implementation since adoption.

Last updated: November 10, 2003

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