My turn: Sustain the Juneau lifestyle

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sustainability. Sometimes it's hard to take such a broad concept and sum it up in a single word. In the customary sense, sustainability is meeting our present needs on this planet without compromising the needs of future generations. But what does that mean for you and me here in Juneau?

The Juneau Commission on Sustainability was established last year to answer that very question. Recognizing the value of a sustainable community, the Juneau Assembly voted to create an 11-member body with a mission of promoting the economic, social, environmental, and governmental well-being of Juneau and all its inhabitants, now and in the future.

When you consider the idea of a sustainable community, Juneau faces some serious challenges. We import nearly all of the fuel, food and goods we consume. If a changing climate, increased global competition for resources, or a natural disaster were to cause a shortage or disrupt the supply of any of those necessities into our community, our daily lives would be impacted in dramatic ways. Furthermore, the bulk of our economy is dependent upon tourism and our role as the state capital; any major shifts in either would also be a significant shock to our community.

One of the goals of sustainability is to stop being held hostage by these circumstances. To do that, we need to start looking at the decisions we make as a community and as individuals in our daily lives. Admittedly, it's not easy. Like so many other communities, we make unsustainable decisions every day, whether it's designing neighborhoods around cars rather than mass transportation and pedestrians; constructing homes that consume too much costly energy; or throwing away things that can be reused or recycled.

But the task is not impossible. Sustainability starts with you and me. While it can be as ambitious as stopping global warming, sustainability is also as simple as walking to work. It's as global as preserving the diversity of ecosystems and as local as harvesting salmon and leaving enough for next year. We can become sustainable by working toward producing our goods locally rather than bringing them in from outside. By cultivating high quality health services, educational institutions and business opportunities, it means our neighbors and friends can make Juneau their home for generations to come. And by nurturing our arts, diverse cultures and lively points of view we sustain Juneau as a warm and vibrant community of people.

So who is the Commission? Well, we're ordinary Juneauites. Just like you, we'd probably prefer to drive our cars than walk or wait for the bus in the snow and rain. We haven't converted every light bulb in the house to compact fluorescents, nor do we always recycle every single thing we can, though we try. And yes, we have the same trouble remembering to bring our cloth bags to the grocery store. But each of us shares in the belief that Juneau has the power to become a more resilient and self-sufficient community.

What is the Commission doing? To begin, we've spurred a green initiative in city government to reduce waste and energy consumption that will set an example that others can follow. We've teamed with local architects and builders to encourage greener, more energy-efficient homes and buildings. We're working toward conducting a community-wide energy and greenhouse gas audit so we can better understand exactly what we consume. Finally, we've launched a Web site of information so you can learn more about reducing waste and energy, and save money by doing it.

What can you do? The American writer and farmer Wendell Berry suggests, "One must begin in one's own life the private solutions that can only in turn become public solutions." You can step up your recycling. Check out the bus schedule. Turn down your thermostat. And write to us, chat us up on the street, or come to our meetings. Tell us about your ideas, and what you're doing to be more sustainable. We aren't going to achieve this goal overnight, and it's going to take more than just a city commission to get there. But with your help, one step at a time, we can sustain the lifestyle that keeps us loving Juneau.

• Sally Schlichting is a member of the Juneau Commission on Sustainability. For information about the commission, when it meets, and how to contact the members, visit

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