Why is community engagement central to achieving sustainability?

15 June 2009 at 2:38 pm



Sustainability Fatigue


I’m getting the feeling that our communities are being engulfed in a wave of “sustainability fatigue”.
“Don’t talk to me any more about climate change,” a friend says over coffee in the Village. She cradles her coffee and mumbles, “I’ve had a gutful of all that pessimistic talk!”


Two small Aboriginal children are playing in the courtyard of the Rainbow Cafe. I look past them to the mountains, the landscape, our home”¦



Deep breath. I turn back to my friend.


“I mean it, Wendy,” she groans. “A gutful!”


Breathe again and think”¦ I’m worried that her response will translate into wider community overwhelm, frustration, even apathy.


We cannot afford to have that happen!


So why is community engagement central to achieving sustainabilty – and the other way around? We write about this quite a bit in Chapter 3 of KTS. Here’s a short summary:


First good reason


First are ethical and practical reasons: in a democratic society, those whose livelihoods, environments and lives are at stake should be engaged and involved in decisions that directly affectthem. Community-initiated projects and processes empower people to take action in local community development. Canadian planning academic and practitioner, Peter Boothroyd, recently reminded Nancy, his student, `To participate is to be human’.


Second good reason


Second, community engagement provides opportunities for developing a holistic sense of sustainability, where people make decisions using local wisdom, values, information and knowledge.


Third good reason


Third, community engagement contributes to the efficiency of a project or program. Targeting local needs and preferences always saves time and money.


Fourth good reason


Fourth, by addressing local social and cultural needs, community engagement processes can help develop micro-scale policy approaches that fit the community and its particular resources, skill sets and preferred approaches.


Fifth good reason


And finally, community engagement helps to build local accountability. (1)


Perhaps these arguments will be helpful when you are encouraging communities to engage with sustainability.


And sustainability practitioners to engage with communities.


I am sure there are lots of other good reasons.


Please tell me your ideas. I welcome your comments.




Sarkissian, W., Cook, A. and Walsh, K. (1997) `Core Practices of Community Participation in Practice’, in Community Participation in Practice: A Practical Guide, Murdoch University, Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Perth, pp. 33-82.