Living with a long-term vision

Developing a sustainable approach to the economy will require a change in consciousness. Expediency should no longer guide our lives.

Shannon Binns, Sustain Charlotte Founder, for the Charlotte Business Journal

On Nov. 1, dozens of citizens and community leaders gathered at The Square to show their support for the launch of Charlotte 2030: A Sustainable Vision for Our Region. The nonprofit organization I founded earlier this year, Sustain Charlotte, facilitated the creation of this 10-point vision. We did this by bringing together more than 100 area residents with an interest or expertise in various aspects of sustainability and asking them for ideas.

But what does it mean to aim for sustainability?

Sustainability is a word that’s bandied about quite often these days, and it’s worth defining. Simply put, it means meeting our needs today without compromising the ability of those who come after us to meet theirs. In other words, it’s about taking a long-term view.

When used in an urban setting such as Charlotte, sustainability also means making choices that consider not only economic impacts, but environmental and social consequences as well. Most of the time, our decisions — business, public policy or personal — are guided by a comparison of short-term economic benefits versus costs. Yet many have realized this approach to decision-making is overly simplistic because it fails to account for cumulative and often hard-to-measure costs and benefits that take time to become significant.

The recent collapse of our global financial system and housing market are clear examples of the danger of focusing exclusively on short-term returns and the absence of long-term thinking. The impaired status of many of our local waterways, our poor air quality and our shrinking tree canopy are other examples. On a global scale, the escalation of climate change is yet another indicator that what we believed worked so well for us — a focus on short-term economic growth — is not always in our best long-term interest.

What we need is an approach that’s best embodied by the term sustainability, and as a result this term increasingly is being used in private and public organizations. However, because this approach requires a major shift in thinking about what we do, and what we don’t, it will take time and the efforts of many to integrate sustainable thinking into our daily decisions.

This is where Sustain Charlotte can be of service. Like the nearly 100 other similarly focused nonprofits around the country, Sustain Charlotte is working to inspire, inform and advance local sustainability in important ways:

•  First, we are working to raise public awareness of what it means to be a sustainable city and making it clear why sustainability is in everyone’s interest. This is vital because if we don’t know, we won’t care, and of course caring is fundamental to changing our behavior.

•  We also are facilitating communication and collaboration among individuals and organizations that are interested in the issues that impact our sustainability, and in many cases already working to address those issues. Given all that we must do to achieve sustainability, working together toward the same goals is critical. This is why we have been focused this year on creating a sustainable vision for our region with the input of those people who are already working to advance sustainability within a public, private, academic or nonprofit organization.

•  We are working to engage citizens and organizations in taking an active role in advancing local sustainability. Research has shown cities that are the most sustainable have an informed, empowered and active citizenry. These citizens are conscious of how their daily choices impact local sustainability, and they make choices that move their community closer to this goal. They not only expect their business, government and nonprofit leaders to make sustainable choices, they demonstrate it themselves. They don’t wait for their leaders; they lead by example.

And right now, the door is open for our citizens to lead.

With the sustainable regional vision we’ve just made public, we have painted a picture of what we can become if we begin working together, and embrace sustainable decision-making. As evidenced by the many leaders from business, academia, nonprofits and government who spoke at our launch event, including Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners Chair Jennifer Roberts, our leaders have shown they believe in the need for sustainable choices. Now we must seize the opportunity to show them we do, too.

A great place to begin is by visiting our web site ( While there, you can download the vision and join our e-mail list to stay informed of opportunities to learn and work together toward making Charlotte one of the most sustainable places in the country.

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