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Newly proposed system of measurement could help determine community sustainability

April 18, 2019

BINGHAMTON, NY - A newly proposed system of measurement known as the community sustainability assessment system, or CSAS, could be used to define what it means to be a sustainable community as well as evaluate the impact of individual communities on global sustainability, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

An interdisciplinary team that included Pamela Mischen, associate professor of public administration, Carl Lipo, professor of anthropology, and George Homsy, assistant professor of public administration reviewed existing literature about current sustainability assessment systems, and found that a clear definition of "sustainability" was lacking.

"This lack of definition makes it difficult to measure the extent to which communities are sustainable or compare sustainability across communities, and then implement proper actions or legislation," wrote the researchers. "Current sustainability assessment systems generalize the sustainability efforts of communities and do not recognize each specific need, thereby making it impossible to deliver a full evaluation."

The researchers felt a need to develop a classification system that can be used to comprehensively assess how different factors influence sustainability and determine communities' specific strengths and weaknesses. This led them to their proposal of CSAS to more clearly define sustainability and establish criteria for selecting a set of metrics to measure community sustainability.

According to this research, the definition of sustainable communities must address three pillars: economic vitality, environmental quality and social equity. A sustainable community is one that shares resources strategically among its citizens and institutions to support the community's well-being, while not negatively affecting the use of these resources by future generations or other communities, wrote the researchers.

A multi-level approach is suggested for measuring sustainability, beginning by looking at the neighborhood, then the region and then continuing up through greater levels. This tiered approach allows researchers and policymakers to determine an appropriate plan of action for each community's specific needs, within the context of their living situation. The team's next steps include working on a specific set of metrics and typology for sustainable communities to be applied within the United States.

"Most people have heard the saying - 'Think Globally, Act Locally.' This research helps bridge the gap between the global and local and emphasizes that action needs to occur at many scales," said Mischen. "Once we have a sustainable communities typology, we'll be able to engage in discussions about appropriate sustainability policies. Different communities have different sustainability challenges. Communities need to invest in sustainability policies and programs that make the most sense for the challenges they have."
Other Binghamton researchers from the following disciplines were involved: environmental studies, geography, geology, biology, economics and electrical engineering. These include: Robert Holahan, Valerie Imbruce, Andreas Pape, Weixing Zhu, Joseph Graney, Ziang Zhang, Louisa M. Holmes and Manuel Reina.

The paper, "A Foundation for Measuring Community Sustainability," was published in Sustainability.

Binghamton University

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