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What is Sustainability?

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What kind of a community do we want to leave for future generations? Finding an answer to that question is the foundation of becoming a "sustainable community". Most people want to leave behind a more liveable, healthy, and thriving community for their children and grandchildren.

"Sustainability" is a goal, a future where our community is living within the Earth’s means, while continuing to grow and thrive, and provide people with their basic needs. Few people would disagree that they want a future for their children that is just as good, if not better, than the one that exists today. But creating that desired future is not that simple, because of a number of global and local problems that are undermining our ability to create that future. These include:

  • environmental concerns such as climate change, the destruction of wildlife habitat, and the pollution of air and water
  • social concerns such as access to basic services such as health care, food, shelter, and education
  • cultural concerns such as a maintaining community bonds, fostering a sense of community identity, celebrating culture & diversity, and protecting our heritage
  • economic concerns such as ensuring decent living standards for all, high levels of good employment, and encouraging learning and innovation

environment_society_economy_smallSustainability acknowledges that these issues are a very real threat to our community. Through recent consultations with the Bridgewater community, members of our town made it clear that we want to live in a community that is clean, vibrant, and a good place to live and work. We want to have a community that meets today’s needs, and the needs of future generations. In other words, a “sustainable” community: one that can support an attractive economy, serving a healthy and equitable population, all living within the Earth’s means.

In our sustainable planning process, we have selected a scientific definition for what we mean when we say "sustainability", which is called The Natural Step. The Natural Step is a science-based framework that will assist us in analysing the sustainability of our community. The Natural Step consists of the following 4 components:



We are polluting and displacing nature in various ways. Renewable resources are being used up at such a rate that nature does not have time to build new ones. At the same time, there are more and more people on earth in need of these resources, and per-capita consumption is increasing.

It’s as if all of civilization is moving deeper into a funnel whose narrowing walls demonstrate that there is less and less room to maneuver with fewer options in order to avoid “hitting the walls”


Scientists agree that human society is capable of damaging nature and altering life-supporting ecological structures and functions in only three major ways. Based on this scientific understanding, The Natural Step has defined three basic system conditions for maintaining essential ecological processes.

In addition, The Natural Step recognizes that social and economic dynamics fundamentally drive the actions that lead to ecosystem changes. Therefore, the fourth system condition affirms that meeting human needs worldwide is an integral and essential part of sustainability.

tns_backcasting_small The Natural Step Framework uses a planning approach called “Backcasting from Principles.” Backcasting is a methodology for planning that involves starting from a description of a successful outcome, then linking today with that successful outcome in a strategic way: what shall we do today to get there?
tns_abcd_small The four-step “A-B-C-D” process provides a systematic way of guiding this process:

(A)wareness: Understanding sustainability and the Framework as a shared mental model.

(B)aseline: An assessment of “today” is conducted by listing all current flows and practices that are contributions to violations of the four System Conditions, as well as considering all the assets that are in place to deal with the problems.

(C)ompelling Vision - Opportunities for Innovation: Possible solutions and innovations for the future are generated and listed and scrutinized through the System Conditions.

(D)own to Action: Priorities from the Compelling Vision list are made, and smart early moves and concrete programs for change are launched.



For more information on The Natural Step, visit www.naturalstep.ca



Sustainability News & Updates

Bridgewater won $5 million through the national Smart Cities Challenge competition!  The money will be used to fund energy poverty reducction strategies in the community.  Learn more about the Energize Bridgewater program.

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