According to Dr Rehema White, a lecturer in sustainable development at the University of St Andrews, community groups often perceive local authorities as an obstacle to engagement in green activities and that strengthening this relationship will encourage sustainable infrastructure.

Dr White told edie: “Both communities and local authorities will be seeking novel types of partnership with the private sector. An example would be partnerships between communities and renewable energy providers. If a strategic agreement exists between community and local authority, there may be an existing feasibility study and planning outline.

“Whilst this may ease the development process, it will also require business partners to recognise the value based nature of community goals and to accept that maximum production and profit may not be the only desired outcome”.

Companies that understand the values that drive communities to pursue sustainability options may find new opportunities to partner with them and offer suitable services or products.

“Communities may be seeking new eco-buildings or eco-renovation of existing buildings, and local authorities and communities together may require work on buildings such as village halls”, added Dr White.

Another advantage of closer ties between the community and local authorities is a stronger understanding from the Government of exactly what society needs to become sustainable.

Dr White said: “Strengthening relationships and trust between local authorities and communities through a focus on sustainability goals will result in regions of sustainability focus, in which local people are more likely to seek sustainable consumer options, and local government will be encouraged to promote sustainable infrastructure, transport, procurement and food production.

“Local authorities are currently influenced by the audit culture, having to reach targets in separate areas. This can make it difficult for them to work across sectors and develop holistic approaches to wicked problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss.

“A system approach to local authority management enables them to identify and take advantage of relevant opportunities”.

According to White, environmental management is not the same as striving for sustainability goals.

“Sustainable development recognises the interdependence of environmental integrity and happy, healthy societies, with a view to the future. Local authorities are governed by regulatory frameworks and need to be flexible enough to accommodate social as well as environmental needs.

“Local communities often work to erratic time schedules and are value driven. Understanding the social context and working within the fabric of social relationships is essential to effectively pursue environmental management within a wider sustainability context”.

Leigh Stringer

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