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Sustainable communities

  • Introduction
  • Activity 1
  • Activity 2
  • Activity 3
  • Activity 4
  • Reflection


The kind of change required by sustainability implicates each community, each household, each individual. Successful solutions to problems at this level of society will need to be rooted in the cultural specificity of the town or region if the people are to be supportive of and involved in such change.

Source: UNESCO (1997) Educating for a Sustainable Future: A Transdisciplinary Vision for Concerted Action, paragraph 114.

In the end, sustainable development will be made at the local community level. All the other changes in favour of sustainability – by business, by national governments and by international agencies – help create the conditions that facilitate action for sustainable development at the local level by individuals, families, schools, hospitals, workplaces and neighbourhoods.

As a result, all over the world people are working together to build a sustainable future at the local level. The focus of this module is on the actions being taken by citizens, local communities and governments to create towns and communities that are more sustainable. The sustainable communities movement has diversified since Local Agenda 21 initiatives were being promoted after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. These ‘new’ approaches to local community sustainability include Transition Towns, Eco-villages, Neighbourhood Renewal programmes, Low (or Zero) Carbon Towns, One Planet communities, local currency initiatives and many others.

The urban focus of this module complements the focus on rural communities in other modules, e.g. Module 8 on local village health projects and Module 15 on sustainable agriculture.

The module provides examples of ways in which communities around the world are addressing local problems such as poverty and loneliness, unemployment and economic decline, pollution and traffic congestion. This focus on solutions helps establish several principles for sustainable community building that can be integrated into educational programmes.


  • To appreciate the scale of urbanisation around the world and the opportunities and problems that this brings;
  • To identify characteristics of a sustainable community and principles of sustainable community development;
  • To use these characteristics and principles to analyse case studies of sustainable community development around the world; and
  • To recognise the different approaches in sustainable community movement and their contribution to sustainable community development and local citizenship.


  1. The urban transformation
  2. What is a sustainable community?
  3. Local solutions to global problems
  4. Approaches to sustainable communities
  5. Reflection


Barton, H. (2000) Sustainable Communities: The Potential for Eco-neighbourhoods, Earthscan, London.

Condon, P. (2010) Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities: Design Strategies for the Post Carbon World, Island Press.

Desai, P. (2009) One Planet Communities: A Real Life Guide to Sustainable Living, John Wiley & Sons.

Girardet, H. (2006) Creating Sustainable Cities (Schumacher Briefings), Green Books.

Hopkins, R. (2008) The Transition Handbook: from oil dependence to local resilience, Green Books.

McCamant, K. and Durrett, C. (2011) Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island BC.

O’Meara Sheehan, M. (2001) City Limits: Putting the Brakes on Sprawl, Worldwatch Paper No.156, Worldwatch Institute.

Register, R. (2006) EcoCities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island BC.

Roseland, M. (2005) Toward Sustainable Communities: Resources for Citizens and Their Governments (3rd Edition), New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island BC.

UNCHS State of the World’s Cities Reports (2010/11, 2008/9, 2006/7), UNCHS, Nairobi.

UNEP (2000) Urban environmental management, Industry and Environment, 23(1-2).

UNESCO (2000) Cities of Today: Cities of Tomorrow, United Nations CyberSchoolBus, New York.

United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (2001) Cities in a Globalising World: Global Report on Human Settlements 2001, Earthscan, London.

Internet Sites

Green Communities Guide

International Council for Local Environment Initiatives

Sustainable Cities

United Nations International Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat)

United Nations International Conference on Human Settlements (Istanbul+5)

We the Peoples: 50 Communities

Transition Network

Sustainable Communities Network

Sustainable City Visualisation Tool

Global Ecovillage Network

One Planet Communities


This module was written for UNESCO by John Fien and Clayton White, in part, utilises resources of the International Council for Local Environment Initiatives and a teaching module on Sustainable Communities prepared by World Resources Institute.

The urban transformation

Community Survey

What is your community like?

Is it located in the middle of a large city, or is in it a remote rural area? What is the quality of environmental health? Is it well serviced with public transport, schools, hospitals and parks? Do people have satisfying and enjoyable work? Is there religious and ethnic harmony? Do people feel that their voice is heard by key decision makers?

Questions such as these are a guide to monitoring how sustainable your community is.

Assess the progress your community is making to a sustainable future.

Urban Growth

While the human population will double over the next 50 years, our consumption of energy and other resources is growing even faster. The amount of land required to produce the food, fuel and fibre to sustain the average person in the North with their present lifestyles – their Ecological Footprint – is nearly three times their share of the productive land available on Earth.

This is especially the case in cities. For example, the ecological footprint of London is 120 times the area of the city itself. This has grave consequences:

Since most of us spend our lives in cities and consume goods imported from all over the world, we tend to experience nature merely as a collection of commodities or a place for recreation, rather than the very source of our lives and well-being.

Source: Wackernagel, M. and Rees, W. (1996) Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, Canada, p. 7.

Cities have grown remarkably in recent years. See for example a table which shows the population of the world’s mega cities, their projected populations, and change in ranking by 2025.

Tracking the social, economic and ecological problems that arise from urban growth, the World Resources Report for 1996-97 stated that:

The world is in the midst of a massive urban transition unlike that of any other time in history. Within the next decade, more than half of the world’s population, an estimated 3.3 billion, will be living in urban areas – a change with vast implications both for human well-being and for the environment As recently as 1975, just over one third of the world’s people lived in urban areas. By 2025, the proportion will have risen to almost two thirds.

The most rapid change is occurring in the developing world, where urban populations are growing at 3.5% per year, as opposed to less than 1% in the more developed regions. Cities are also reaching unprecedented sizes – Tokyo, 27 million; Sao Paulo, Brazil, 16.4 million; Bombay [Mumbai] , India, 15 million – placing enormous strains on the institutional and natural resources that support them.

Historically, cities have been driving forces in economic and social development. Urbanisation is associated with higher incomes, improved health, higher literacy, and improved quality of life. Other benefits of urban life are less tangible but no less real: access to information, diversity, creativity, and innovation.

Yet along with the benefits of urbanisation come environmental and social ills, some of staggering proportions. These include a diversity of problems, from lack of access to clean drinking water, to urban air pollution, to greenhouse gas emissions. Although urban environmental problems defy easy categorization, they can be grouped into two broad classes: those associated with poverty and those associated with economic growth or affluence. The two often coexist within the same city.

Source: World Resources Report, 1996-97: The Urban Environment.

Read a summary of the State of the World’s Cities 2001 which provides an overview of urban growth in Africa, the Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the world’s industrialised countries.

Read a national report on cities in your country provided to a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in June 2001.

Investigate the problems in several of the world’s largest cities:

Compare the impacts of urban growth in cities in the South and the North.

What is a sustainable community?

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

A sustainable community is far-seeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough to maintain its natural, economic, social, and political support systems.

This is how the city of Olympia in the USA defines a sustainable community. The people of neighbouring Thurston County define it this way:

A sustainable community continues to thrive from generation to generation because it has:
  • A healthy and diverse ecological system that continually performs life sustaining functions and provides other resources for humans and other species
  • A social foundation that provides for the health of all community members, respects cultural diversity, is equitable in its actions, and considers the needs of future generations
  • A healthy and diverse economy that adapts to change, provides long-term security to residents, and recognizes social and ecological limits.

Source: Sustainable Community Roundtable.

State of the Community Reporting

Olympia and Thurston County are members of the Sustainable Community Roundtable in South Puget Sound in Washington, USA. Each year, the Roundtable produces a State of the Community report based on thirteen indicators of a sustainable community.

Natural Environment Natural Environment
In a sustainable community, people acknowledge the interconnectedness of all life, put the needs of the ecosystems and the human spirit above special interests, and accept responsibility for creating a healthy, sustainable environment.
Population Population
In a sustainable community, the population is stable and within the ‘carrying capacity’ of the land, water, and air.
Water Consumption Water Consumption
In a sustainable community people use water no faster than it can be naturally replenished. This means that consumption can be no greater than the maximum sustainable yield of the water supply.
Food Production Food Production
In a sustainable community, farmland is preserved for local food production, farmers and workers earn a living wage, non-toxic and humane practices are utilized, and soil and water are protected for future generations.
Use of Raw materials Use of Raw Materials
In a sustainable community, people use materials efficiently, producing little or no waste that cannot be reused, reprocessed, or reabsorbed by the Earth.
Transportation Transportation
In a sustainable community, most daily needs can be met by foot, bicycle or public transportation. Public and private vehicles are powered by clean, renewable fuels.
Housing Housing
In a sustainable community, structures are designed and built in ways that meet human needs and support social and environmental health. Housing is safe, affordable, energy and resource efficient, and available to all.
Economy Economy
In a sustainable community, a diverse local economy supports the basic needs of everyone through satisfying, productive work, while making efficient use of materials and energy.
Social Equity and Justice Social Equity and Justice
In a sustainable community, human culture holds a high standard of equity and justice in the relationships among people and in their relationship with the natural world. People honor and uphold the well-being of the whole community.
Governance and Participation Governance and Participation
In a sustainable community, everyone is involved in community affairs and there is a high level of co-operation, collaboration, and consensus at all levels of governance: neighborhood, city and region.
Education Education
In a sustainable community, everyone is engaged in lifelong learning – developing the self-esteem, knowledge, skills, and wisdom to live in ways that support personal, social, and environmental health.
Health Health
In a sustainable community, people take responsibility for their individual well being and co-operate to nurture social and environmental health.
Spirituality Spirituality
In a sustainable community, people appreciate their unique potential for growth, invention becomes a daily event and random acts of kindness become the norm. It means showing by your actions what your true beliefs and values are. A safe, caring community comes about with work, interaction, communication, and planning.

Read the 2006 State of the Community report for South Puget Sound.

The 2006 Report is the most recent in a series of updates of a original survey (baseline) published in 1995.

Sustainable Community Indicators

State of the Community reports such as these are based upon indicators of sustainability.

Indicators are criteria that can be monitored regularly in order to identify trends in a community. Monitoring progress on different indicators can help a community prioritise their needs and define objectives for community planning and action.

Indicators are of value to all the stakeholders in a community, including:

  • Residents
  • Business, industry and trade unions
  • Community organisations
  • National and provincial governments
  • Mayors, councillors and city planners

The 1996 United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) identified seven categories of indicators for community sustainability:

  • Background data
  • Environmental management
  • Socioeconomic development
  • Local government
  • Infrastructure
  • Housing
  • Transport

These indicators are currently being used in many cities around the world to prepare reports on local community sustainability.

Review other indicators of local sustainability.

Prepare a State of the Community report for your community using the thirteen indicators used by the South Puget Sound Roundtable.

Q1: What six aspects of a sustainable community are most important to you? Why?

Q2: How did you rate your community on these six aspects? Explain your rating by identifying the relative strengths and limitations of your community on each of these factors.

Q3: Identify the policies and actions being undertaken by your local government to address these six aspects.

Note: A search of your local council’s Internet site will be useful for answering Question 3. If it does not have an Internet site, print the page of your learning journal and use it as a guide in library research.

Local solutions to global problems

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Four communities that are making plans and moving towards local sustainability are explored in this activity. The four case studies are located in North, Central and South America and were prepared by the Environmental Education Project of the World Resources Institute.

Each case study is presented in two parts.

Part 1 summarises a local problem – and invites you to take the role of a member of that community. Your task is to analyse the problem and then use principles of sustainable community development to suggest possible solutions.

Part 2 describes what the real community actually did to solve the problem.

The case studies are on three themes:

Water Supply – Guatemala City, Guatemala

Part 1 – The Problem

In Guatemala City, capital of the mountainous nation of Guatemala in Central America, a unique engineering masterpiece is displayed. Built in 1904 by Francisco Vela, it models in detail the topography of this rugged country. A hydraulic system brings the rivers, lakes and oceans to life for the visitor.

Hydraulic systems of a different sort, or their lack, are at the centre of one of Guatemala City’s most troublesome problems, that is, the lack of access by all of its residents to a clean, safe water supply.

Like other developing country cities, Guatemala City grew very quickly during the 1980s. Its population almost doubled in under 40 years, from 477,000 in 1955 to 946,000 in 1995, and the metropolitan region is even larger, comprising approximately 3 million people.

A large portion of the residents live in precarious and illegal squatter settlements. These have grown up because there is not enough housing for all the new arrivals to the city in the legal neighbourhoods. The residents of the squatter settlements have no legal rights to the land, pay no taxes, and receive no city services. Their homes are without water or toilets. Most residents obtain their water from a few public taps or from privately owned water trucks. Water purchased from these trucks is often contaminated. Because they do not own their own homes, most residents cannot obtain credit to invest in improving housing standards and infrastructure.

According to the Ministry of Planning, more than three quarters of the city’s population live on incomes that are below the poverty line, that is, less than US$100 a month.

Because of poor living conditions, including the lack of clean water and the consumption of contaminated water, people in these settlements suffer many health problems. Prime among them is the high incidence of often fatal diarrhoeal diseases. A 1990 study found that the prevalence of acute diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections in precarious settlements was more than twice as high as in the rest of the city. Infant mortality rates, which increased by 10% between 1979 and 1984, exceed 64 per thousand live births and can reach as high as 130 in many of these settlements. Many residents are not aware of the relationship between their living conditions and health problems.

Q4: If you were the mayor of Guatemala City, what would you encourage the city council to do about conditions in the squatter settlements?

Q5: How can running water be supplied even though you do not have money for standard water mains and the people do not have enough money to pay taxes? (Tip: You do not have to get water into every home. The World Health Organisation defines ‘access to water’ as having a tap for running water within 200m of each house.)

Q6: What would you do to improve health conditions in these settlements? Who might you turn to for help in these endeavours, locally, nationally, globally.

Part 2 – Solutions For Local Sustainability

After an outbreak of typhoid fever, residents of El Mezquital, a squatter settlement of 9400 families in Guatemala City, got help from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to support the installation of an emergency water supply system. Working with the French organisation, Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), and with a community association, UNICEF purchased and helped distribute the construction materials for 13 community water taps, which were installed by local volunteers. Student nurses went door to door dispensing antiparasitic medicines to children.

Soon after the pipes were laid in El Mezquital, a change in city government provided the opportunity for a more broad-based effort to address similar problems in other settlements. UNICEF, in co-operation with a local organisation called COINAP (Committee for the Attention to the Population of Precarious Areas in Guatemala City) started working with communities to help identify the best ways to provide water to the residents. Community volunteers were trained to conduct surveys to determine the extent of the health problems. Next they met with the COINAP technical team to discuss the volunteers’ ideas about possible solutions. Volunteers were also taught how and why diarrhoea occurs and how to prevent children from being infected. As the community members learned more about the health impacts, they became strongly motivated to help improve their living conditions.

Two different models for improved water supply were developed: the single-source tank and the well. Both required active community involvement, outside technical help, and the institutional support of COINAP.

In Chinautla (one neighbourhood of Guatemala City), residents asked the city to install the single-source water tank. Such units are usually installed only on a temporary basis at construction sites. From this single source, the community created a supply network to reach individual residences. UNICEF provided the funds for the pipes and other materials, and each family provided its own home connection. The local community association receives the bill from the water company, and it collects payment from residents for the water they have used. A resident chosen by the community from residents is set aside for maintenance, and any surplus will go toward other local infrastructure needs such as drains and sewers. Although the cost of the water is more than the cost of households connected to the city water system, it is still far less than the exorbitant rates the private trucks had charged.

Q7: Summarise the principles of sustainable community development that were followed in Guatemala City.

Housing – Cali, Colombia, and The Bronx, New York, USA

Part 1 – The Problem

Cali, home to 1.7 million residents, is Colombia’s second largest city. Located in a rich agricultural valley, Cali is an industrial and commercial centre for the South American country.

In another part of the Americas, far to the north of Cali, 16.5 million residents call New York City home. Because housing issues are so different in developing versus developed countries, this case study concentrates on a neighbourhood in each of these cities: the squatter settlement of Aguablanca in Cali and the downtrodden Melrose Commons neighbourhood in South Bronx.


Although the overall environmental quality in Cali is good, many residents live in extreme poverty in illegal squatter settlements. Because these communities have sprung up on government-owned or privately owned land without the required permits, they lack basic services such as water, sewage, electricity, roads and garbage collection. Schools and primary health care are also lacking.

One such district is Aguablanca, a settlement of 350,000 residents covering 3700 acres (1500 hectares). Aguablanca attracted large numbers of people looking for a better place to live after a series of natural disasters and political upheavals in the 1980s.

Most of Aguablanca’s housing consists of illegally constructed shacks by the residents, most of whom had no home-building skills. Building a house or even improving an existing structure was very expensive because middlemen had inflated the prices of the only construction materials available locally.

Q8: If you were the mayor of Cali, what practical steps would you take to address the housing problems in Aguablanca?

Q9: As mayor of Cali, what do you think the role of the Aguablanca residents should be in solving their problems?

Q10: Besides the residents themselves, who else (people or organisations) might need to be involved in these efforts? What would they do?

Q11: What obstacles might you encounter? How would you deal with them?

The Bronx

Many areas of the Bronx present alarming scenes of urban environmental deterioration. The crime rate is high in these depressed surroundings. The neighbourhoods cry out for redevelopment.

In 1992, residents of Melrose Commons in the South Bronx discovered that the city was planning to revitalise their neighbourhood, which is home to some 6000 people, primarily of African-American and Latino descent. But the City Planning Department had been working on the plan since 1985 and had sought almost no community participation.

Residents learned that the ‘revitalisation’ would displace many community members from their homes, apartments, and businesses. A few residents were outraged that people who had stayed in the community through thick and thin would be rewarded with the loss of their homes. They were also frustrated that the plan was developed by people who did not live in or know the neighbourhood.

Q12: If you lived in Melrose Commons and were one of the people concerned about the city’s plan, what would be the first thing you would do to be heard?

Q13: If that did not work, what else would you try?

Q14: As a Melrose Commons resident, what would you like to see your community become? What sorts of residential and commercial buildings, parks and streets would provide an environment that is enjoyable to live in?

Part 2 – Solutions For Local Sustainability


The mayor of Cali worked with the Carvajal Foundation, a local philanthropic organisation, to develop a program to help the people of Aguablanca help themselves. The Foundation provided the leadership for the program and co-ordinated the efforts of government, private business, and the residents of the community.

The Foundation built a warehouse in the middle of the squatter area and encouraged manufacturers to sell building materials to residents at wholesale prices.

Because few of the residents understood basic building concepts, they often purchased the wrong types of materials or used them incorrectly. So the Foundation invited architecture students to come up with plans for a sound, simple, modular house design that residents could use. Residents could start with a single space and a bathroom and then expand into a fully developed house as resources allowed. The basic starter house was 183ft² (17m²); the fully developed house was 968ft² (90m²). Designs for a house with a workshop and a house with a small store were also developed. The Foundation also got the city to approve building plans and set up an office at the warehouse where residents could get building permits.

A government-owned bank opened an office where residents could start savings accounts and obtain construction loans. The bank helped families evaluate their financial resources and decide how much space they could afford initially. They were taught how to read blueprints and how to build foundations, walls, and roofs and install plumping and wiring. They could make a down payment of ₱50,000 (US$600) and then take out a 10 year loan. The monthly payment for a basic single-space house with bathroom was ₱20,000 (US$250), which is less than the nominal rent in the district.

The success of the original program has inspired similar developments in other parts of the city.

Q15: Identify the principles of sustainable community development that were followed in Cali City.

The Bronx

At a series of public forums held by the Bronx Centre (a community-based volunteer planning effort), long-time residents angrily denounced the city’s plan. They organised the Nos Quedamos (‘We’re Staying’) Committee, with help from two community organisers from the Bronx Centre and two architects.

In one year, the group had 168 meetings, and each week it sent out about 250 faxes to city officials. The original plan was withdrawn by the city, and the Nos Quedamos Committee became the focal point of a revised plan.

The residents’ insights produced many significant changes. The original plan called for a 2 acre (8000m²) park in the middle of the project, but residents thought that such a park would become a haven for drug addicts and criminals. The revised plan includes many varied spaces that cater for different ages and different purposes that are more easily kept safe.

The original plan proposed a middle-income community with 4000 units of small, attached houses over 30 blocks. The plan developed by the Nos Quedamos Committee envisioned a low-to-mid-rise mixed-income residential community with about 1500 new dwelling units, 80 rehabilitated units, 174,000ft² (16,250m²) of space in community structures.

One key to the plan was the use of six-to-eight story mixed use buildings with stores at the street level and apartments above. Residents felt that such buildings would provide enough people on the streets and in the stores to help make the neighbourhood safe. Another key was to minimise the displacement of residents. Under the original plan, about 78 families and 80 businesses were to be moved out of the area; under the new plan, about 55 families and 51 businesses would have to move, but almost all would be given top priority for new homes and stores within the community.

By mid 1994 the new plan had been approved by all the necessary parties. The first phase of the project will include all of the building types proposed for the larger development and can thus serve as a model for subsequent development.

Q16: Identify the principles of sustainable community development that were followed in The Bronx.

Environmental Justice – Minneapolis, USA

Part 1 – The Problem

Minneapolis was founded in 1852 at the site of a thundering sixteen foot waterfall on the Mississippi River. The waterfall gave the city its name, which comes from the Greek and Dakota words meaning ‘city of waters’. A model sustainable energy source, the falls powered the city’s flour mills for decades.

Just outside of the downtown area in Minneapolis lives the most culturally diverse community in Minnesota. More than 100 ethnic groups are represented in the Phillips neighbourhood. More than half of the 17,500 residents are members of minority groups, and 24% of these people are Native Americans.

Combating Environmental Racism

For over a decade, the city and county have wanted to build a large county garbage transfer station in the Phillips neighbourhood. Residents were against this project from the beginning, for several reasons:

  • They believed it was an inappropriate land use for a residential neighbourhood.
  • The site was one block away from six restaurants, a nursing home, and residential homes and two blocks away from a high school.
  • The Phillips neighbourhood had already experienced heavy environmental impacts, as evidenced by the high percentage of lead poisoning cases in children.
  • The Phillips neighbourhood could not tolerate an increase in truck traffic. Every year, several children were hit by trucks or cars because a main truck route passes through Little Earth of United Tribes, a public housing project, which was five blocks away from the proposed site.
  • The transfer station would provide only three jobs, which most likely would not be held by neighbourhood residents.

Residents attempted to negotiate with the city and county, but got nowhere. When the county began to demolish 27 homes to clear the proposed site, the residents banded together and filed lawsuits to stop the project. The people saw this as a case of ‘environmental racism’. They believed that their neighbourhood was being chosen to carry an unfair burden because of its large minority, low-income population.

A series of meetings was held in the spring of 1992 by the community group, People of Phillips, to discuss what to do next. The group could not come up with a workable plan. When an outside adviser to this group asked, “And what will you do with the land once you win the battle?”, the residents had no response.

Q17: As a member of the community group, People of Phillips, what actions would you suggest to keep the garbage transfer station out of your neighbourhood?

Q18: What would you propose be done with the garbage transfer station site if you won?

Q19: What type of use of that land would most enhance and help your community?

Q20: What processes should your community use to decide what to do with the land?

Part 2 – Solutions For Local Sustainability

Soon after the series of meetings in the spring of 1992, the community received a response to the adviser’s question in an unusual way. One of the residents had a dream in which she saw a vision of ‘windmills, banks of trees, and wildlife surrounding a glass building with solar panels on the roof’. She told the other residents about this dream, and together they began to work to make it a reality.

The dream marked a change in the community’s focus. Instead of working against something bad, they now put their energy into working for something good. They named their project the Green Institute, set up a committee to organise it under the auspices of the People of Phillips, and began to look for funding. In June 1993 they opened their office in rented space.

Community members decided that the Green Institute would be an eco-industrial park with a number of components, including: an ‘incubator’ for new environmental businesses, a job training site, a research and development centre for environmentally sound technology, an environmental learning centre, and a place where new ideas for the Phillips neighbourhood could be generated.

In all of its endeavours, the Institute would be committed to the principle of sustainability. Its design would include “energy conservation systems, solar technology, wind turbines to demonstrate the harnessing of wind for energy, and environmentally friendly materials and design principles.” And because of the community’s diverse population, the work of the Institute would be guided by the values, principles, and processes of the ethnic groups involved.

Six months after the Green Institute opened its office, the county gave up on its plans for the garbage transfer station. Instead, it decided to add on to the existing garbage incinerator located in downtown Minneapolis.

The Green Institute made a commitment to eliminating garbage from the waste stream by opening a building materials exchange, called the ReUse Centre, to handle construction materials that otherwise would have ended up as garbage.

By the end of 1996, the Reuse Centre had eliminated over 50 tons (45 metric tons) of garbage from the waste stream and created 12 new jobs with a commitment to hiring neighbourhood residents.

Today, the Green Institute has over 40 staff and a $3.3 million budget. A combination of public and private funding has established a $6 million eco-industrial park which has won many business, social and environmental design awards. It has the potential of adding 200 jobs in the Phillips neighbourhood.

Q21: Identify the principles of sustainable community development that were followed in Minneapolis.

Approaches to sustainable communities

The achievements of Guatemala City, Cali City, The Bronx and Minneapolis show that community action for local sustainability can be very successful. However, you may have noticed that the way each community focused on a limited range of problems meant that a comprehensive plan for sustainable community development was not possible.

This activity describes three initiatives that have the purpose of making such a plan – and acting on it.

Transition Towns

The Transition Towns ‘movement’ began in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland in 2005. And in a relatively short period of time, the movement has grown into a global phenomenon with Transition Towns now located in countries ranging from the US and New Zealand through to Chile and Italy.

A Transition Initiative (which could be a town, village, university or island, etc.) is a community-led response to the pressures of climate change, fossil fuel depletion and increasingly, economic contraction. There are thousands of initiatives around the world starting their journey to answer one crucial question:

For all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly rebuild resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil and economic contraction) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?

The community self-organises to respond in three phases.

First, it self-organises in groups in all the key areas such as food, transport, energy, housing, education, textiles etc., and creates practical projects in response to that big question (such as community supported agriculture, car clubs, local currencies, neighbourhood carbon reduction clubs, urban orchards, reskilling classes).

Second, when the initiative is sufficiently competent with these concepts and practices, it embarks on an EDAP (Energy Descent Action Plan) process. This is a community-visioned and community-designed 15-20 year plan that creates a coordinated range of projects in all these key areas, with the aim of bringing the community to a sufficiently resilient and low CO₂-emitting state. A very small handful of Transition Initiatives have embarked on this phase.

Third, they begin implementing the EDAP, sharing successes and failures with other Transition Initiatives that are travelling the same path. As of March 2010, no initiative has yet embarked on this phase.

Investigate the 12 steps that a community can follow to navigate their “transition”.

Explore Transition Iniatives around the world.

One Planet Communities

The One Planet framework was devised to help communities think holistically about sustainability and create places where living and working within a fair share of our planet’s resources is easy, attractive and affordable.

Specifically the framework helps communities to tackle two, related sustainability challenges:

  1. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level sufficient to avert dangerous climate change; and,
  2. The need to reduce resource consumption to a sustainable, one planet, level.

The key strength of the framework is its use of the 10 One Planet principles as a guide towards appropriate solutions.

One Planet Principles

Explore One Planet communities around the world.

Local Agenda 21

The Local Agenda 21 concept was developed by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) to help local governments implement the recommendations in Agenda 21 that:

By 1996 most local authorities in each country should have undertaken a consultative process with their populations and achieved a consensus on a ‘local Agenda 21’ for the community.

Through consultation and consensus-building, local authorities would learn from citizens and from local, civic, community, business and industrial organizations and acquire the information needed for formulating the best strategies. The process of consultation would increase household awareness of sustainable development issues. Local authority programmes, policies, laws and regulations to achieve Agenda 21 objectives would be assessed and modified, based on local programmes adopted.

Source: Agenda 21, Chapter 28.

Sharing practical experiences between towns and cities is one of the most effective strategies for sustainable community development. This has been facilitated by several national and international networks. Two of the most significant networks are the United Nations (Habitat II) process and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).

Investigate how to prepare a Local Agenda 21 Plan.


Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Completing the module: Look back through the activities and tasks to check that you have done them all and to change any that you think you can improve now that you have come to the end of the module.

Q22: What can you do, as a teacher, to encourage student participation in community sustainability initives?

Q23: Which case study in Activities 3 & 4 would be the most useful for your class to study? Why?

Q24: How could a community survey be used to involve students in developing a plan for community sustainability?