Magazine article Public Management

Reframing the Sustainability Conversation from What to How

Magazine article Public Management

Reframing the Sustainability Conversation from What to How

Article excerpt

In an early 1980s music video, the still popular U2 rock group from Dublin, Ireland, prefaced the live version of an early megahit with singer Bono saying, "There has been a lot of talk about this next song., maybe too much talk." The same can be said about the national discourse and the water-cooler conversations on the meaning of sustainability.

Thoughts and Expectations

Some of today's critics present sustainability as a dangerous philosophy that promotes a not-too-distant future in which freedom, liberty, and the timeless aspirations of leaving a better life for our kids are trampled by a new world order outlined in a United Nations document known as Agenda 21. Yet others suggest that sustainability is the green pathway to our harmoniously converged future, where the lion lies down with the lamb.

Neither extreme seems to frame the issue of sustainability accurately.

So what is sustainability? Simply put, sustainability is the ability of communities to consistently thrive over time as they make decisions to improve the community today without sacrificing the future.

Although the term sustainability is often associated with the environment, this is only one aspect of building a sustainable community. In fact, we've been asked more than once why we didn't align this issue of Public Management (PM) magazine with World Water Day (March) or Earth Day (April). Doing so would have suggested that sustainability was exclusively an environmental or "green" issue.

Communities need clean air and water, jobs that pay living wages, and a social compact within which people of all religions, political persuasions, races, and age groups live and work together safely.

Viewed comprehensively, sustainability can provide an organizing framework for building better and stronger communities. Building sustainable communities is at the core of the leadership responsibilities of local government leaders. …

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