For Brookings, sustainability is more than a buzzword

For the community of Brookings, S.D., sustainability is more than a buzzword touting efforts to be green. Guided by the Brookings Sustainability Council, the community has adopted a holistic perspective and plan of action toward sustainability.

Together with the members of the council, the city of Brookings recognizes that true sustainability rests in balancing of the economic, environmental and social equity needs of the community today while also keeping these same needs in sight for the residents of tomorrow.

To make the three E’s (economics, environment and equity) of sustainability both manageable and measurable, the council drafted Brookings Benchmarks: Baseline Sustainability Report. The report establishes 11 principles, ranging from healthy local foods to regional economy.

Beyond the principles, 56 measurable indicators offer a reflection of sustainability in the community over the last five years. The report also provides a comparison to five peer Midwestern communities. While the report is not intended as a grade, it offers Brookings residents and officials insight into the community’s sustainability strengths and areas for improvement, which the city has been addressing in the last two years of action implementation.

Strikingly, the report demonstrates the interconnectedness of sustainability efforts and achievements. For example: under the principle of green buildings, the indicator of green standards outlines the benefits that ENERGY STAR and LEED building practices can bring to a community. These benefits include reductions in air pollution, energy and water usage and more efficient land use. Green standards in building impose fewer strains on the environment compared to conventional building. Standards also decrease utility costs and provide more healthful settings for people to live and work.

Although the implementation of these building practices has been limited in Brookings, this principle offers an approach toward greater sustainability. And when paired with community design and transportation and community walkability, strides toward sustainability are far less intrusive. They are simply common sense for community development.

Brookings’ measurable, common-sense approach does not end at the city limits. As developed by the council, the benchmarks are intended to have regional reach. The framework provides smaller rural communities opportunities to evaluate and adopt principles of their own. This is especially the case with the principles of smart energy, smart resource use and clean water.

Ultimately, Brookings has created a model of sustainability measures for other mid-sized rural communities to emulate. By establishing this detailed and measurable set of guidelines, sustainability is no longer just a catchy buzzword.  Instead, sustainability's real value is demonstrated — as a course of action for economically viable, environmentally conscious and socially equitable communities for today and tomorrow.