Sarah James & Associates
Sustainability Training

Sustainable Practices for Communities and Municipalities:

Workshops, Training, Designing & Facilitating Planning Processes

Sarah James designs and facilitates workshops, training, and planning processes that enable citizens and local officials to implement sustainable practices in their own communities. Workshops and training introduce a process through which a municipality can comprehensively and systematically integrate “new playing rules” throughout the range of municipal services and activities – public facilities, infrastructure, land use, housing, economic development, natural and cultural resource protection, among others. This approach combines use of sustainability principles based upon the Natural Step framework with a carefully-designed and tested participatory planning process. This participatory process, developed and refined over many years, has resulted in over forty successfully-adopted, citizen-based plans and action proposals in New England and beyond.

Why is this important?

Communities – towns and cities – are increasingly experiencing trends that are unsustainable, such as:

– A diminishing supply of land                                            – housing priced out of range for long-term residents & their children
– Increasing scarcity and contamination of water                  – Increasing service demands & increasing taxpayer unwillingness to pay
– Increasing traffic congestion                                                higher taxes
– Increased energy and fuel costs

What’s a Way Out?

What’s needed is a different set of “playing rules” – a set that aims in a healthier, more sustainable direction. Consider the example of a sports team, with players each of whom have different roles and responsibilities within the game.  They are able to function because they share a common understanding of the rules that guide how that game is played.  Without that common understanding, there would be conflict and chaos on the field – much less a winning team.

A Different Set of “Playing Rules”

During the early 1990s, a group of scientists in Sweden, led by an oncologist, Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert, developed a consensus about how human activities needed to be altered to meet human needs without destroying the earth. Out of this process which took several years, emerged a framework of principles, based upon laws of science and nature, that has come to be known as the Natural Step framework for sustainability. Over the past several years, this framework is increasingly being used by local governments, organizations, and corporations to reorient policies and operations toward a more sustainable direction. This principles are applicable at any level of society and to any topic. Because of this, they are particularly suited as new playing rules for guiding municipal and community action toward sustainability.

In 2000, the American Planning Association adopted a Planning for Sustainability Policy Guide whose four guiding objectives are based upon the Natural Step framework. Over twenty local governments in the U.S. have officially adopted these APA sustainability objectives or the Natural Step framework as official guiding municipal policy.  Our training and workshops show how to use these sustainability objectives in a strategic, community-based planning approach that brings about comprehensive and systematic change toward sustainable practices in a municipality, local government, or organization.

Ecomunicipality Leadership Training

Sarah James and Torbjorn Lahti offer 4-5-day national and international trainings in how to initiate and lead a local ecomunicipality change process. We held trainings at Tufts University in 2007 and 2008, and are currently assessing interest in a similar training for May-June 2010 at Tufts located just outside of Boston.  If interested, email

See an an example of a training presentation by Sarah James and Torbjorn Lahti to City of Madison, WI department heads:
City of Madison presentation

Hear a keynote presentation by Sarah James in the City of Anchorage, Alaska at the 2007 International Northern Shelter Forum:
Anchorage presentation