Barriers to Sustainability

Barriers to Sustainability is a subject that, in our opinion, has not received the attention that it’s importance merits.

Below is a composite summary of Barriers drawn from the work of Jennie Lynn Moore, and Chris Lindberg, “Assessment of Sustainability Barriers in Governance and Decision-making Systems”.

The examples below are intended to provide sustainable community planners with an initial understanding of barriers they MAY face and hopefully provide a catalyst for planning how barriers can be overcome.

“We used to see physical and financial capital as the critical inputs and constraints to development, now we see human and social capital as the limiting factor.” (Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe {REC})

• Multi-jurisdictional systems reduce the capacity to act and dilute ownership of key issues
• Short term emphasis of political cycle
• Existing, entrenched systems
• Counter-productive rewards and incentives
• Marginalizing sustainability
• Silos and performance incentives
• Lack of integrated structure for planning and decision-making
• Sustainable community development frameworks not practical (too complex/resource intensive)
• Leaders are hesitant to share power and take risks
• Weak linkages between government and constituents

• Debate instead of dialogue
• Over reliance on technical expertise and consultants
• Existing decision-making tools insufficient
• Difficultly maintaining momentum (inertia)
• Lack of clear vision of community future
• Lack of leadership and political will

• Lack of understanding about the issues.
• Overwhelming complexity of the issue.
• Lack of knowledge/information: “We don’t know enough” or “we’re not really sure” are too often (as in the case of global climate change) convenient excuses for inaction.
• Uncertainty.
• Competing issues.
• Differences in perception.
• Acceptance of the status quo.
• Perceived lack of empowerment.
• Attention pressure. When two interests compete directly, those of local concern and immediate results win more often than not.
• Disjunction between verbal support and willingness to take action. Policies that are verbally supported by the public often fail because in practice citizens do not comply.
• Inertia of the built environment: The physical fabric of a community – its buildings, streets, and infrastructure does not change readily or quickly
• Lack of sustainability literacy and capacity
• Failure to understand that sustainability is about economics
(NB Material from both Jennie Lynn Moore & Chris Lindberg used under common themes)