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The term “sustainability” has become a frequently-used buzz word.  Sometimes it is even used in an attempt to “green wash” a project or a proposal. Because sustainability is such a fundamental value in Bainbridge Island's design standards, a clear definition is needed. In common parlance, sustainability is defined as follows:

The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. Common examples are: “the sustainability of economic growth”; “the long-term sustainability of the project.”

In the realm of ecology and the survival of the planet and all its inhabitants, sustainability is best defined in the context of living systems. Thus, “sustainability” means, simply, “to align with natural forces, or at least not to defy them,” and is about everything we do as humans. To use the phrase “environmental sustainability,” for example, or “sustainable agriculture” or a “sustainable economy,” while grammatically correct, does not exemplify the true definition of, nor foster application of the real meaning of, sustainability. Sustainability, properly used, is about the entire planet as a living system, including all life forms.

Viewing a community as a living system recognizes that the “rules of the house” are non-negotiable biophysical principles and the elements of sustainability rest upon those principles.

To further understand this approach to community, it helps to know that “ecology” and “economics” have the same root: eco from the Greek oikos, or home. Ecology is the knowledge or understanding of the house, and economics is the management of the house—and it is the same house. Therefore, understanding our community as a living system—an ecosystem—will give us not only a new understanding of “economy” and “economics,” but also will foster a vision of the future, along with strategies for its realization, that focus on resiliency, adaptability, and attunement with nature.

If we perceive ourselves and all we create as part of an ecosystem, it is easy to understand that our community is a living system within which there are nodes of wealth: social, natural and financial. All interact as a system and are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows, and the maintenance and health of these networks is essential to the overall health and prosperity of our community.


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