That is a question researchers at an American university are working hard to answer.

The team from Binghamton University, State University of New York, found no systems currently being used that had a clearly defined definition of what sustainability is. To remedy this, it proposes the community sustainability assessment system, or CSAS.

“Current sustainability assessment systems generalise the sustainability efforts of communities and do not recognise each specific need, thereby making it impossible to deliver a full evaluation,” the researchers wrote. They said three pillars must be addressed to achieve this: ‘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.


The inter-disciplinary team conducting the research advocate a tiered approach, starting at the neighbourhood level, through regional levels – and so on. Next, the team will focus on formulating 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 emphasises that action needs to occur at many scales,” said  Pamela Mischen, associate professor of public administration. “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.”