Sustainable Sonoma is an initiative by the Sonoma Ecology Center designed to bring the community together around settled sustainability principles to best address our common Valley future. Once launched, the initiative is planned to become independent of the SEC.
It’s mission: to unite Sonoma Valley’s efforts to improve our community under one set of shared goals. This common agenda —across nonprofits, government and business— will align and support local activities that collectively build a thriving, just and sustainable community.
“Economy, environment, everyone,” is the initiative’s nutshell slogan. This is an alliterative attempt to make the triple bottom line concept of sustainability more accessible and easily understood.
All human systems, in a broad sweep, are made up of society, economy, and environment. These three core aspects constitute the basis for the triple bottom line, which is a foundational concept of sustainability. “Full cost accounting” integrates, includes, and accounts for the interrelation of these basic human system components, and the respective bottom lines therein.
What is sustainable for people is that which will endure over time. Sustainability is a choice. Sustainable means reaching a carrying capacity level with the economy, environment, and everyone.
For example, a woodlot cannot yield a continuous harvest if trees are taken at a faster than replacement rate. Forest ecosystems need to be healthy in order to produce trees. Woodcutters need enough benefits to live and get by. All human systems depend on healthy natural resources, just labor practices, and viable economics to be sustainable.
From a triple bottom line standpoint, current valley business as usual, like that of world human systems, is unsustainable and maladaptive. In spite of widespread scientific and objective agreement on what constitutes unsustainable activity, conflicting local programs and interests, based on siloed, parochial, partisan, and ideological views prevent the community from getting to together to steer towards a sustainable future.
The question posed by Sustainable Sonoma is how to work together to deliver a sustainable future in a bearable, equitable, viable, and ultimately sustainable way? People of good will are in a situation where change is called for, but with no effective way to find the common ground to get there. Sustainable Sonoma provides a format for finding that common ground, and for a possible win-win future.
Today, overpopulation and human-caused climate change through unmitigated carbon dioxide emissions, threaten to destroy the ecological basis for human-system viability. The demand for resources and energy is too great, the distribution of wealth too inequitable, economic practices too out of balance.
Sustainable Sonoma is an effort to address these global human system issues in a local context where we have a chance to make more of a direct difference. The hope is that local valley successes in sustainability can then translate to county, state, and national levels.
Just like with confusing claims about “green” and “organic” products, sustainability’s meaning has been diluted for advertising purposes. Marketing spin has cheapened the term and part-ways turned it into a vehicle for more consumerism. Social equity and climate justice advocates fear green washing and are suspicious of economic actor’s motives.
It is likely all potential Sustainable Sonoma participants are leery of each other’s interests. For Sustainable Sonoma to succeed, a history of local name calling and disrespect has to be overcome.
How the program proceeds, and how “thriving” is collectively defined, will show if participants have truly bought into the triple bottom line planning frame.
A lot will depend on the sensitivity of the core program actors and their ability to put issues on the table in a way diverse interests can accept. Self-interest will need to framed in a common, greater good context.
From where I stand, sustainability is an eminently reasonable method and program. It’s inclusive, not us against them, and it’s based on rational, settled data. It’s not environmentalists vs. developers, Marxists vs. capitalists, Sonoma vs. the Valley, or locals vs. invaders. It’s getting everyone together on the same team to agree on the same triple bottom line objective indicators, and to plan a reasonable and sustainable future based on an objective, scientific call about where we are now.
The first steps of Sustainable Sonoma will just be getting disparate actors to agree on the data and to work together, and to try and achieve measurable, pragmatic results on local social, economic, and environmental goals. After all the actors are used to working together, maybe a positive, cooperative inertia will head the valley towards sustainability. At the very least, the initiative creates a compelling example of how disparate valley actors might work together from strength in numbers.
Humanity does not have the luxury of being able to screw up much more and still have latitude to make a comprehensive recovery. On the brink of catastrophic climate change and a human-caused great extinction event, and already seeing some of the greatest social inequality of all time, now is the time to change the channel. It’s on us. The same set of factors has resulted in the collapses of past civilizations, only now we are about to taka all of life along with us.
The challenge for Sonoma Valley is how to take responsibility for and to mitigate our greenhouse gas impacts and our extreme social inequity, and to refigure our economy so as to not externalize the issues that are our responsibility.