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Municipal Sustainability in Concord

By Bob Andrews

With Concord Town Meeting just around the corner, it is time for all of us who are committed to sustainability to brush up on the four sustainability principles for municipal decision-making that were adopted by the town in July, 2011 through a BOS vote. These principles are based on guidelines of the American Planning Association, and are similar to principles widely followed in Europe, known as “The Natural Step.”

ConcordCAN! applauds our town’s commitment to sustainability and is pleased to observe that there is now a “Sustainability in Action” page on the Town of Concord website describing the ways that that commitment is being translated into action.

Nonetheless, citizen voices and votes are important. Why not take a look at the Warrant with the four sustainability principles in mind and ask yourself how well the printed articles appear to take these principles into consideration?

The four principles the BOS adopted in 2011 are as follows: •Reduce dependence upon fossil fuels, extracted underground metals, and minerals. •Reduce dependence on chemicals and other manufactured substances that can accumulate in Nature. •Reduce dependence on activities that harm life-sustaining ecosystems. •Meet the hierarchy of present and future human needs fairly and efficiently.

The first two principles are about reducing toxics in the environment, including the excess carbon that causes climate change. The third principle is about protecting the important ecosystems that we rely upon to sustain life. The fourth principle reminds us that meeting human needs fairly is crucial to a sustainable society, that future needs are to be considered along with those of the present, and that efficiency in satisfying those needs will put the least stress on the environment.

There are a number of articles on the warrant that appear, at face value, to have been framed with sustainability in mind. The Town is moving aggressively toward a solar installation, targeting the old landfill site and the Walden Woods. There are also articles that reflect a continuing effort to protect and preserve open spaces and historical agricultural lands; to expand public access to conservation land; and to make it easier for local farming to survive and thrive. All of the articles addressed to these issues are highly relevant to sustainability. But have all the important questions implied by the four sustainability principles been asked and weighed? Does putting a solar installation at the landfill site, for example, threaten any life-sustaining ecosystems? What kinds of toxic substances may be injected into the earth or air? These are complex questions that deserve thoughtful discussion before we vote.

Some Town meeting articles do not so obviously relate to sustainability, but nonetheless are extremely relevant when looked at more closely. In fact, there are sustainability issues raised by just about anything we do. The four principles listed above, when applied thoughtfully, require us to engage in a delicate balancing act, always bearing in mind that what we are concerned about, at core, is the future we are creating by our decisions for future generations.

Again, if you want the town to plan and act more sustainably, study the warrant and use the principles to guide you in thinking about how you will be voting. If that seems a bit complicated and challenging to do all by yourself, come to the Sustainable Concord Coffee on April 17, 7:30-9 AM, at the Harvey Wheeler Community Center. The topic is “Town Meeting Articles and Sustainability.” Join us in discussing articles that will do the most, or least, to make us a truly healthy and sustainable community.

Bob Andrews is a Concord resident and a member of the ConcordCAN! Steering Group.