What is a Sustainable Community?

Education for Sustainability The home of ISC's headquarters, Montpelier, Vermont.

What is a Sustainable Community?

A sustainable community is one that is economically, environmentally, and socially healthy and resilient. It meets challenges through integrated solutions rather than through fragmented approaches that meet one of those goals at the expense of the others. And it takes a long-term perspective—one that's focused on both the present and future, well beyond the next budget or election cycle.

As a result, a sustainable community manages its human, natural, and financial resources to meet current needs while ensuring that adequate resources are equitably available for future generations. It seeks:

  • A better quality of life for the whole community without compromising the wellbeing of other communities.
  • Healthy ecosystems.
  • Effective governance supported by meaningful and broad-based citizen participation.
  • Economic security.

A sustainable community's success depends upon its members' commitment and involvement through:

  • Active, organized, and informed citizenship.
  • Inspiring, effective, and responsive leadership.
  • Responsible, caring, and healthy community institutions, services, and businesses.

ISC views the concept of a sustainable community as a framework to guide action, and here we offer some examples from our experience:

A Healthy Climate and Environment

  • Protection and enhancement of local and regional ecosystems and biological diversity.
  • Conservation of water, land, energy, and nonrenewable resources.
  • Utilization of prevention strategies and appropriate technology to minimize pollution.
  • Use of renewable resources no faster than their rate of renewal.
  • Infrastructure that improves access to services and markets without damaging the environment.

Social Wellbeing

  • Satisfaction of basic human needs for clean air and water and locally sourced nutritious, uncontaminated food.
  • Affordable provision of quality health prevention, care, and treatment services for all community members.
  • Safe and healthy housing accessible to all.
  • Equitable access to quality education services, formal and informal.
  • The basic human rights of all community members are respected and defended against injustices including exploitation and psychological and physical harm.
  • Protection, enhancement, and appreciation of community manifestations of cultural diversity, treasures, customs, and traditions.

Economic Security

  • Community members equitably benefit from of a strong and healthy community-centered economy.
  • Diverse and financially viable economic base.
  • Reinvestment of resources in the local economy.
  • Maximization of local ownership of businesses.
  • Meaningful employment opportunities for all citizens.
  • Responsive and accessible job training and education programs that enable the workforce adjust to future needs.
  • Businesses that enhance community sustainability.

The President's Council on Sustainable Development published ISC's Elements of a Sustainable Community in its 1997 Sustainable Communities Task Force Report.