Community-based Sustainability

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On the rise in towns and cities across the globe, community-based sustainability groups respond to the urgent environmental, social, and economic challenges of the day through the collaboration of local businesses, non-profit organizations and governmental institutions.

Taking their lead from various sources, sustainability groups look to such organizations as the Ecological Footprint, Willits Economic Localization, the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies and Transition Towns, to name a few. Others go it alone and pave the road as they walk, taking the best of what they learn from various sources and utilizing the capital within their communities.

While each locale must build initiatives based on their particular needs, values, beliefs, and the assets of the leadership group, this definition specifically addresses three areas of research that should be considered as foundational for community-based sustainability groups: asset mapping, inventories, and indicators.

Separately or together, asset mapping, inventories, and indicator projects raise the level of awareness within the community; build critical collaborative relationships; provide data that help people think strategically about prioritizing actions; flatten ideological differences that often get in the way of positive, forward looking thinking; and, lay the groundwork for policy change.


Asset mapping

Described and put in to practice in a variety of ways, asset mapping is about identifying and locating resources that already exist within the community, and then leveraging those assets to support actions. The asset map for community-based sustainability groups is one that identifies the informal and formal organizations, institutions, groups, associations, and individuals already working on sustainability projects.

Asset mapping serves a number of important purposes:

  • Gives groups an opportunity to introduce themselves to many segments of the community and begin the critical work of relationship building, collaboration and networking.
  • Demonstrates successful sustainability efforts and initiatives.
  • Connects existing efforts and builds bridges between different types of work.
  • Develops a clear educational tool for those wanting to contribute their time and talent to sustainability projects.


Inventories are analytical studies that help communities identify opportunities for economic localization, a key element of building a resilient, sustainable community. Economic localization is the process by which a region, county, city, or even neighborhood frees itself from an unhealthy dependence on the global economy and looks inward to produce a significant portion of the goods, services, food, and energy it consumes from its local endowment of financial, natural, and human capital.[1] Inventories serve to help quantify the potential for local production and inform policies that set sustainable, self-reliance targets in key sectors.


Indicators are the qualitative and quantitative signs of a community’s overall health and long-term sustainability in order to track measurable change in social, economic and environmental systems over time. Indicators spur critical thinking, examine priorities, and leverage actions that will ensure a community’s long-term health. The most successful indicator projects are developed by a diverse cross-section of residents, stakeholders, and experts; reflect community values; illuminate linkages among multiple issues; considers a community’s’ carrying capacity (relative to the four types of community capital: natural, human, social, and built), and focus on long-term future change. Category examples include: economy, education, environment, government, health, housing, population, public safety, recreation, resources use, society, and transportation.

Research and passion - keys to community-based sustainability

Research projects are often the most over-looked aspects of creating sustainable communities, and for good reason, they take an enormous commitment of time and energy and require the best in democratic practice. These important research projects don’t need to preempt educational opportunities, “shovel-ready” projects, and other initiatives common to community-based sustainability groups. The most enduring and successful groups go with the energy and passion of the people who show up to get the work done.

See also


Author: Neva Welton