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What is Local Sustainability?

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  • Written By: L. Burgoon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2016
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Local sustainability is an integrated approach of community design that protects natural resources while promoting economic growth. Local sustainability is not a single initiative, but rather a collection of ideas to help communities meet their needs close to home. This may include everything from housing to food to energy consumption. The concept stresses that community needs should be met locally and with civic solutions that help municipalities become self sufficient. Advocates believe that doing so protects the environment and encourages area reinvestment.

Sustainable development is a primary component of local sustainability. Such development works with the natural resources of an area and encourages growth that does not jeopardize future generations’ ability to use the land. For example, sustainable development might call for banning shopping malls that require deforestation and huge energy consumption in favor of developing a downtown shopping district with locally owned businesses. Another strategy may involve a comprehensive public transportation system that discourages individual car use for commuting to work. These approaches may encourage economic growth without depleting natural resources.

Food production and consumption also figure largely into local sustainability. Sustainable communities typically establish farmers markets that feature locally grown and produced food, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, bread, and meats. This allows consumers also to avoid foods that have been shipped in and use excessive amounts of energy in the transportation process. The markets also help communities know exactly where their food comes from and support local businesses.

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Even energy consumption, typically thought of as corporate domain, has become important in the local sustainability movement. Communities can maximize natural resources to help provide energy in a more sustainable way. For example, solar panels or wind turbines that generate power produce cleaner energy compared to oil-based corporate power companies. After the initial equipment investment, these alternative strategies may even provide free energy, which helps residents and businesses save money.

Local efforts toward sustainability shuns large corporate involvement. Residents are encouraged to buy local and support small businesses over corporate chains. Supporters believe that this non-corporate philosophy allows economic growth to benefit the community as opposed to a far-flung corporate entity that may not reinvest profits locally.

Sustainability requires establishing a new mindset that needs can be met close to home, therefore necessitating cooperation between residents and the government. Initiatives may fail if, for example, residents desire a walkable merchant area but government officials instead approve plans for big box stores. Similarly, officials who seek a local transportation system should work with residents to devise one that will be of the most use. Collaboration may help ensure that elected officials and residents each know the community’s needs and what is feasible to meet those needs when the goal is local sustainability.

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