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Eco-Municipalities with Sarah James

On Thursday I attended a presentation on eco-municipalities by Sarah James at the (beautiful) Cambridge Public Library. I expected more detailed case studies of specific eco-municipalities in Sweden, so I was a little disappointed that it was more of a sales pitch for the eco-municipalities framework. However, the broad principles of it were applicable for any sort of community organizing (including at colleges), something I’m interested in but not particularly good at.

She calls this a systems approach to creating sustainable communities, and to me it seems like a nice way to create an umbrella for all of the work that people are already doing or might want to do in the future.

Henrietta Davis and Sarah James

First off, the group needs to define exactly what it means by sustainability. All the towns who participate in the eco-municipalities program agree on the following four objectives, from the American Planning Association’s Policy Guide on Planning for Sustainability (which is really useful, by the way!).

Sustainability Objectives

  1. Use approaches that reduce dependence on fossil fuels, underground metals, minerals
  2. Use approaches that reduce dependence on synthetic chemicals and other unnatural substances
  3. Use approaches that reduce encroachment upon nature
  4. Use approaches that meet human needs fairly and efficiently

(Sarah points out the #4 is what differentiates the sustainability movement from the environmental movement.)

Then, in order to get as much buy-in as possible from all involved parties, they go through a strict planning process, in which they get official endorsements from their highest officials, educate employees and citizens, and then encourage employee/citizen participation in developing strategies to implement the sustainability objectives.

Strategic Planning Process

  1. Awarenesss/education
  2. Baseline analysis
  3. Creating the vision
  4. Developing action plan

I feel woefully ignorant when it comes to any sort of strategic planning, so I’d really like to read James’s books, The Natural Step for Communities and Open Planning for Sustainability. Maybe you’ll see reviews of them in the near future.

Thanks to the Cambridge Energy Alliance, CREATe, and Cambridge city councilor Henrietta Davis for sponsoring this talk!

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