Sustainable Development and Resilience in Public Agencies: Sustainability Planning-In Cape Cod, Alberta, and Other Regions-Helps Organizations Meet Their Goals and Benefit the Surrounding Systems

By Leuenberger, Deniz | The Public Manager, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Sustainable Development and Resilience in Public Agencies: Sustainability Planning-In Cape Cod, Alberta, and Other Regions-Helps Organizations Meet Their Goals and Benefit the Surrounding Systems


Leuenberger, Deniz, The Public Manager


Public agencies create and follow sustainable development plans to manage scarce environmental resources, environmental impact, and organizational efficiency. In Massachusetts, Governor Mitt Romney has mandated that all state agencies initiate sustainable development and smart-growth plans. In California, cities such as Santa Monica and San Francisco have undertaken city-wide sustainability initiatives. Federal and international organizations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Departments of the Interior and Housing and Urban Development, and United Nations Division for Sustainable Development, are strongly promoting sustainability planning. Although sustainable development planning has gone from being a fad to a movement in public administration, finding information on practical application of the concept at the organizational level continues to be difficult. Organizations can benefit from examples of sustainability planning applied to overall agency planning and success in meeting sustainability and comprehensive organizational goals.

What Is Sustainable Development?

What do sustainability and sustainable development mean in public administration? Sustainability has been defined as "resilience--ability to maintain structural integrity, form, and patterns of behavior in the midst of disturbance." It requires consideration of human welfare, balanced with environmental renewal and natural systems maintenance. Sustainable development is action by a system that maintains the integrity of other systems, preserving environmental and resource integrity for future generations and considering both human and environmental consequences and welfare. Intergenerational equity is a component of sustainable development actions. Sustainable development emphasizes both human and environmental welfare.

Sustainable development and sustainability are rooted in systems theory. Equilibrium between biological, economic, and social systems is critical. This means that goals such as genetic diversity, resilience, biological productivity, efficiency, equity, social welfare, citizen participation, social justice, and generational impact are considered in the planning process. Sustainable development aligns with ecological theory and differs from smart growth, which tends to emphasize short-run human welfare objectives at the expense of environmental and intergenerational goals.

Sustainable development means that we leave the world in as good or better shape than we found it. It means that organizations manage their resources for maximum benefit and efficiency, two standards long established as important in public administration. Sustainable development, however, considers market and nonmarket consequences of agency action, concentrating on the long run more than traditional planning.

Integrating Sustainable Development in the Planning Process

Because sustainable development is an increasingly popular concept in public administration, agency or political leaders often mandate sustainability planning for agencies. The deadlines for these hastily created plans may not align with those for other, established planning processes. This lack of synchronization is a problem because a sustainable development plan cannot succeed in isolation or when limited to a few environmental goals in the overall agency plan.

Agencies seeking to make sustainability part of their daily actions must fully integrate sustainable development into their planning process. This integration requires a design for action, such as a strategic or master plan, in which goals are tied to resource allocations, timelines, and responsible parties. Sustainability must be included in every goal of the comprehensive plan at the point of resource allocation.

The issues involved in integrating measurable sustainable development into an agency's planning process include the following:

* The organization must have or be willing to invest in a comprehensive agency plan. …

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