When we learn about sustainable economics and the economies of different countries, the discussion often focuses on the big picture, the higher level. What is the government doing? What is the political climate? What is the overall environmental situation? How are the natural resources being used or misused? Are big businesses moving in and impacting the greater economy?
All of those things, certainly, are vital to understanding the overall condition of the economy and determining sustainability. But we can also look at things from a different perspective—that of the local communities. The health and economic sustainability of a community will directly influence the greater sustainability of the community. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that make for a sustainable community.
You’ll quickly recognize that there’s a lot of overlap between community sustainability and country-level sustainability. And that’s not by accident. The principles are the same, but it’s looking at things on a more micro level. When looking at the community level, the Stafford Borough Council describes a sustainable community as a place where:
“The needs of everyone in the community are met and people feel safe, healthy and ultimately happy; [the] environment is appreciated, protected and enhanced and damage to the environment is minimized; [the] economy is vibrant, employment opportunities are improved and our working lives are more rewarding.”
Put another way, the factors that determine what a sustainable community is can be grouped into three categories:
Protecting the environment – Protecting the natural resources of a society are vital to a healthy and sustainable economy because usually once they’re gone, there’s no going back. That means using the resources responsibly and carefully, minimizing waste, recycling whenever possible, limiting pollution and overall honouring those resources. When the resources are abused and treated as being limitless and disposable, problems will arise. When greed becomes entangled with natural resources, problems will begin to filter into every aspect of a society.
Protecting the people – One of the greatest resources of a culture is their people. Protecting the people and doing things with their greatest interest in mind will enhance a society and promote investment, interest and growth. This means safety and security on every level of their need (think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) beginning with the basics: food, water, shelter and fuel. Access to reasonable health care. A responsible work environment, a voice in the greater decision making process, and providing access to local resources or solutions. Worker exploitation is discouraged or squashed when it does show up.
Protecting economic success – This is a more holistic approach to the community. Protecting economic success involves protecting the growth and success of those in the economy. The local economy is healthy, competition is healthy and unpaid work is valued. People are given the opportunity to succeed and grow. The structure and tools are in place to foster success. If citizens are forced to worry about their health, food, water, and housing, battle corruption and politics and all that is wrong over focusing on their success and growth, the overall community will suffer.
See the common denominator here? Protection. Giving the safety and security to provide protection at every level of the culture will help boost the overall economy and provide that sustainability that will help a society thrive. If protection is absent, energies cannot possibly focus on the greater prize of a healthy economy and overall success because they’re focused on base survival.