Sustainable Planning for Communities

What is sustainability and how does it apply to a community? The word sustainability is being used a lot these days, but it tends to mean many different things to many different people. The original, most widely used definition states that sustainability is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".1 This applies to not only the traditional ideas of "being green" but also to economic and social sustainability - all of which directly relate to the goals of community governance and planning. Whether your "community" is a small neighborhood or a large metropolitan area, securing a sustainable future is within your reach.

As you look forward to what your community will be like in 10, 20, or 50 years, it is likely that you envision it prosperous, safe, and healthy with citizens and businesses that love the community and actively support its future. As we face new and ever-growing environmental, social, and economic issues from affordable housing, to clean air, to crime, it is imperative that our communities build and grow on a solid foundation. That foundation is sustainability planning. Planning that is rooted in environmental stewardship, smart growth policies, economic fecundity, and social equity.

How will sustainability planning help my community?

• Improved Quality of Life -

Clean air and water, walkable streets, a reduction in commute-time, interaction with nature, citizen participation, economic prosperity, and cultural diversity, all help provide communities with a liveliness and longevity that instills a sense of pride and a feeling of security in its inhabitants.

• Growth Management -

Communities struggle with issues of both growth and decline. By creating a sustainable community plan that uses natural capital efficiently, values its inhabitants, and provides companies with a stable workforce due to improved quality of life, a community can better weather changes in the environment-economically, socially or ecologically.

• Resource Demand Management -

Every community grapples with finite resources in one form or another. Sustainable communities operate, grow, and structure their communities to maximize existing infrastructure and resources whether those resources are water, housing, or police services.

• Economic Stability -

Having a sustainable community provides better quality of life for residents, generally drawing a more stable workforce, helping to secure new and retain existing business.

Sustainable communities also create environments where businesses can save money through energy and water savings, and reduced pollution control costs, making your community more attractive to business.

Where do I start?

As part of your commitment to creating a sustainable community, it is best to have a dedicated sustainability coordinator whether that person is a staff member, a consultant, or both working in tandem. This person will help guide the committee as well as provide needed information and tools best suited for your community.

1. Make the commitment.

This commitment can be made through a public statement and/or through financial commitments both within your community's governing system and the public as a whole.

2. Create a community sustainability working committee.

Begin discussing what the community's sustainability goals might be. Choose this committee carefully from a broad spectrum of business professionals, general citizenry, government staff, and elected officials.

3. Determine your goals and set your baselines.

Where are you now and where do you want to be? This effort should include input from the public.

4. Outline the steps needed to reach these goals.

Prioritize, educate the citizenry, and train government staff and elected officials on the goals, policies, and implementation methods identified.

5. Monitor, measure, and report your progress.

Re-evaluate your progress and your plan regularly to stay on course. Make adjustments as necessary to stay on target with your goals.

To learn more about how our sustainability planning can enhance your community, please contact Waste Management Sustainability Services at 877-441-3046 or visit our website at

About the Author

Waste Management

Waste Management, Inc. is North America's leading provider of integrated environmental solutions. We partner with our customers and communities to manage and reduce waste from collection to disposal while recovering valuable resources and creating clean, renewable energy.

Our 45,000 employees are committed to Environmental Performance — our mission to maximize resource value, while minimizing environmental impact so that both our economy and our environment can thrive. Serving over 20 million residential, industrial, municipal and commercial customers, Waste Management posted $12.52 billion of revenues in 2010.

Drawing on our resources and experience, we actively pursue projects and initiatives that benefit the waste industry, the communities we serve and the environment.

• Waste Management uses waste to create enough energy to power more than 1 million homes every year. By 2020, we expect to double that output, creating enough energy to power more than 2 million homes.

• As North America’s largest recycler, Waste Management managed more than 7 million tons of recyclable commodities in 2009. By the year 2020, we expect to increase the amount of material we manage to more than 20 million tons per year.

• By the end of 2009, Waste Management had 119 landfill-gas-to-energy projects producing 540 megawatts of power, the equivalent of powering approximately 400,000 homes.

• At the end of 2009, we had more than 800 natural gas-powered trucks in our fleet, with plans to add 200 more in 2010. During the year, we also used technology to reduce the fuel burn of every truck in our fleet. When fully implemented, this is expected to save 9 million gallons of fuel per year.

• Our wholly owned subsidiary Wheelabrator Technologies owns or operates 16 waste-to-energy plants and five independent power production facilities in the U.S. that generate enough energy to power more than 900,000 homes.

• Through a joint venture with the Linde Group, we have built a plant that converts landfill gas into liquefied natural gas for use as fuel in our trucks. The facility is currently producing 13,000 gallons per day.

• At the end of 2009, we had a total of 73 WHC-certified sites. We also set a goal to have 25,000 acres dedicated solely to nature preservation by 2020, and we have nearly reached that goal: at year-end, we had 24,000 protected acres.

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