Today’s communities are facing concerns about climate change, environmental degradation, human health, loss of biodiversity, poverty, global working conditions, and the impact of multi-nationals on local communities. In response they are gradually shifting their thinking to favor environmentally and socially responsible actions in a system’s thinking format as described in last week’s posting on this Blog.
Sustainability is one of the key platforms for value creation in the future community environment. Community groups taking the lead in proactively developing more sustainable strategies, technologies, products, and relationships are positioning themselves to survive and thrive in the changing world. Further, they are stepping up to the leadership challenge of the 21st century, using sustainable development in community advancement to address their most pressing problems in a system context. In order to accomplish this daunting task guidance from some type of framework is required to guide decision-making and strategic action as well as to keep everyone on the same page in advancing resiliency and improvement of community systems.
Carrying out the complicated design and implementation of a sustainable community development (SCD) strategy is helped immensely by reference to and guidance from a framework. One or more (a combination) frameworks can serve as a light house beacon to direct stakeholders in the community to continually move forward, addressing specific questions to keep them on track and possessing indicators telling them they have arrived at a certain sustainability goal.
Sustainable development frameworks are underlying templates consisting of guidelines and policies used to support a wide variety of actions. These frameworks are important factors in promoting change because they offer strategic direction and guidance. They provide known “conditions” and “issues” that need to be addressed systemically and concurrently. A framework will provide rules governing our interaction with natural systems and identify specific tools and organizing characteristics to help us take actions. A framework offers a practical structure for a group considering sustainable community development (SCD). The guidance from frameworks can be the difference between failure and success. One of the early steps a practitioner should encourage of a client community is their selection of a framework to employ in providing them guidance.
The 3-overlapping circle model offers a framework that simply looks at the positive and negative effects and interactions among the 3 different elements of sustainability – ecologic, social, and economic outcomes. This framework helps users to understand the different interconnected relationships of a specific issue, decision, and/or potential action by expanding the Venn diagram into a “Project Map.” Development of this map acknowledges that there are ecologic (environmental), social, and economic objectives that only collectively advance sustainability. When we avoid simply examining “types of undertaking” without attention to their interconnected ecological and socio-economic contexts, we end up examining singular types of activities which neglects the potential amplified collective significance of undertakings that by themselves are individually inconsequential.
There are sector objectives in acting sustainably. We should be able to map the potential positive and negative impacts of a project across these different sectors. This process can provide reasonable awareness of the relevant conditions and influences of the project on sustainability criteria. For example, pattern mapping provides a conceptual, diagrammatic method of group brainstorming to systemically identify the “drivers and influences” that impact a particular project, as well as the outcomes of acting on that project. Analysis can also be guided by application of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and/or Ecological Footprint evaluations. For example, the systems approach of LCA can quantify the level of materials and resources used, wastes produced, and socio-economic issues influencing objectives at every stage of a project, identifying environmental and socio-economic effects before they happen.
Project mapping essentially summarizes the sustainability scope for any project or program by asking:
- Does this activity provide environmental benefits? What are they?
- Does this activity offer equal benefits to all elements of society? What are some?
- Does this activity provide economic benefits? What are they?
- Was this activity agreed to through the participation of all people (stakeholders) impacted by the activity?
If the answer to anyone of these questions is NO, then the project or program should be re-designed to address the unsustainable components.
Bob Gibson promoted another form of framework delineating a proposed project’s impacts on each sector to develop a better understanding for the connections or relationships intrinsic to the planned operation. He provides a set of 12 questions as an example of sustainability-based criteria for evaluating a project’s potential effects.
- Could the effects add to stresses that might undermine ecological integrity at any scale, in ways or to an extent that could damage important life support functions?
- Could the effects contribute substantially to ecological rehabilitation and/or reduce stresses that might otherwise undermine ecological integrity at any scale?
- Could the effects provide more economic opportunities for human well-being while reducing material and energy demands and other stresses on socio-ecological systems?
- Could the effects reduce economic opportunities for human well-being and/or increase material and energy demands and other stresses on socio-ecological systems?
- Could the effects increase equity in the provision of material security and effective choices, including future as well as present generations?
- Could the effects reduce equity in the provision of material security and effective choices, including future as well as present generations?
- Could the effects build government, corporate and public incentives and capacities to apply sustainability principles?
- Could the effects undermine government, corporate or public incentives and capacities to apply sustainability principles?
- Could the effects contribute to serious or irreversible damage to any of the foundations for sustainability?
- Are the relevant aspects of the undertaking designed for adaptation (e.g. through replacement) if unanticipated adverse effects emerge?
- Could the effects contribute positively to several or all elements of sustainability in a mutually supportive way?
- Could the effects on any element of sustainability have consequences that might undermine prospects for improvement in another?
The result of this impact mapping process and/or asking of strategic questions will identify the potential positive and negative effects of the proposed effort on the ecologic, social, and economic sectors if the project is implemented in its present design. In other words, project mapping should provide an in-depth understanding of what the project is all about. With this greater awareness of the potential project outcomes, its design can be re-evaluated to explore alternatives in design that will eliminate negative impacts.
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