17 Rules for Building a More Sustainable Local Community

Is our world coming unglued? With so much violence escalating around the globe,  how can we pull ourselves together and focus on building a more sustainable local community for all?

A quiet voice tells me to have hope. Everything will be alright. Applying healthy doses of positive efforts in our communities are called for now more than ever.  Fortunately there are lots of efforts around the globe working towards creative solutions for a more peaceful and compassionate society.

What is a community anyway? It’s not a place, building, or organization. Community is about people, a sense of trust, belonging and caring for each other and the environment.

What does it mean for a community to be sustainable? Are there a set of rules we can follow?

For ideas we can revisit Wendell Berry’s 17 rules to sustain a local community. These simple rules suggest ways to help local communities unite, flourish, and endure. We can refocus our efforts on creating social, economic, and environmental value within the community for the common good.

Some countries have been moving in this direction for decades (such as the Netherlands and Sweden). For countries where focus on the common good is foreign to our individualist indoctrination – such as in the U.S –  it’s going to take a little more effort.

Delivered on November 11, 1994 at the 23rd annual meeting of the Northern Plains Resource Council, here are the 17 rules for building a more sustainable local community:

1. Ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?

2. Include local nature — the land, the water, the air, the native creatures — within the membership of the community.

3. Ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting their products, first to nearby cities, and then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products in order not to become merely a colony of the national or the global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm or forest economy.

8. Strive to produce as much of their own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community, and decrease expenditures outside the community.

10. Circulate money within the local economy for as long as possible before paying it out.

11. Invest in the community to maintain its properties, keep it clean (without dirtying some other place), care for its old people, and teach its children.

12. Arrange for the old and the young to take care of one another, eliminating institutionalized ‘child care’ and ‘homes for the aged.’ The young must learn from the old, not necessarily and not always in school; the community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs that are now conventionally hidden or ‘externalized.’ Whenever possible they must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Be aware of the economic value of neighborliness — as help, insurance, and so on. They must realize that in our time the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, leaving people to face their calamities alone.

16. Be acquainted with, and complexly connected with, community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. Cultivate urban consumers loyal to local products to build a sustainable rural economy, which will always be more cooperative than competitive.

building a more sustainable local community

Author: Kathryn Thomsen

Founder of Hundredgivers, a nonprofit endeavor supporting and accelerating sustainability initiatives benefiting local and global communities. In addition to social entrepreneur, Kathryn is a consultant, researcher, writer, communicator and urban farmer. She collaborates with individuals, organizations, and businesses to evaluate and develop climate change solutions, clean energy, and sustainability strategies and programs.


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