GROTON -- "Community Sustainability is the commitment to adopt practices that support and balance the social, economic and environmental conditions of our regional life now and into the future."
Thus reads a newly refined definition of sustainability as fashioned by members of the town's Sustainability Commission that was established by selectmen in 2008.
At that time, the group's goals were clear: To create a sustainability plan for the town, convincing other town boards and committees to incorporate elements of the plan into their own activities, setting and meeting targets and milestones and keeping track of the commission's success in helping the town become more self sustaining.
The ultimate purpose of the commission was to help the town save money by conserving energy and using locally made or grown products, providing a clean environment, creating a vibrant local economy, and educating youngsters in "how to live sustainably in a finite world."
However, since then, many residents have suspected that the group's goals have widened beyond its original mandate.
For that reason, said Chairman Michael Roberts at the commission's meeting Tuesday night, a redefinition of the group's mission statement was important to reassure residents that members were doing what they could to make their intentions as clear as possible.
Roberts acknowledged that the commission was compelled to make the move following comments by some residents at recent
Some resident have also voiced disagreement with the prominent role given to the Sustainability Commission in the Master Plan updating process with representation on all of the associated advisory groups.
Tuesday night, Roberts offered a more pithy redefinition that was ultimately rejected by his colleagues in favor of a retooling of the existing definition.
"I found a definition that makes a lot of sense," said Roberts . "It's not a complicated definition that I think everyone can get behind: 'Living like the future matters.'"
"I think it's important to have something short, tight and simple to remember," said Roberts, "because looking around, there is so much confusion."
But when discussion began to stress the environmental aspects of sustainability including climate change and UN conferences on the subject, commissioner Carl Flowers returned the conversation closer to home. He reminded members that the group is about other things too, such as the cost of making a decent living including the cost of education and housing.
"We're pricing a decent living out of existence," lamented Flowers.
Agreeing, Roberts observed, however, that confusion over what is meant, exactly, by sustainability, opens the way for others to exploit it as a vehicle for radical environmentalism.
"But what we're trying to do is balance environmentalism against ordinary people's lives," said Roberts. He noted that there is a new movement in sustainability circles emphasizing "positive psychology" and bringing a human dimension into the mix as opposed to approaching the issue only with raw data.
The new effort at emphasizing the human dimension of environmentalism includes something called a "happiness index," a measure on how people feel about adapting to changes needed to improve the environment.
What is needed is a new language that will resonate positively with people. The commission set itself a goal of coming up with just such key words.
In the meantime, the redefinition accepted by the commission will be a start, one that Roberts hopes will demonstrate to residents that members are working to bring as much clarity to their goals as they can.