Centre Sustainability Master Plan


The purpose of the Centre Sustainability Master Plan (CSMP) is to provide a framework for sustainable development.  It is an economic approach to sustainability.  It is a local framework.  It seeks not merely to balance growth and the environment but rather regenerative development, development that improved both prosperity and quality of life.

The CSMP was first published in September 2014 by Transition Centre[1].  More than 200 people were involved over a period of two years in that effort.  There are a lot of bits and pieces, organizations and separate plans, that need to be brought together.  We continue to work to bring the various partners and interest of the plan into a single framework.  These include local governments, education, business, nonprofits and the general public.

As do other communities, we have a lot of local documents (plans, ordinance, etc.) to guide growth as well as to attempt to control the impact of economic development on the environment.  There are programs to provide education and resources to the community to secure its future.  We have major leading organizations, for example:  ClearWater is a national leader in conservation; PASA a national leader in sustainable agriculture; and Penn State University has a comprehensive Sustainability Strategic Plan and its Sustainability Institute serves not only to guide that plan on campus but as a conduit to the community, not to mention a treasure house of valuable resources it can make available to the community. 

Within the last few years it is evident that a culture of sustainability is firmly taking root, a culture like that found in Seattle, Portland, Burlington, Oberlin, Boulder, Corvallis and other great places to live.  We thus have the ingredients; we need only the master blueprint. 

What does sustainability mean? 

Sustainability means the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances:  to an uncertain global economic future, competition for nonrenewable resources and environmental challenges.  The term that best defines sustainability is resilience.  The objective is quality of life for all in our community over the long term.

There are three parts to the classical sustainability model:  Environment, Society and Economy.  Our model is focused on the economy.  Prosperity is a cornerstone of the model.  Without it quality of life becomes problematic.  But an economy, as explained below, works best when it is integral to the community.  In short, the question is:  how do we maintain economic wellbeing, develop a more diverse and resilient local economy and preserve and enhance the natural features that make this community the place we want to live and raise our families? 

At the heart of the model is sustainable business:  A business model that pursues innovation, efficient use of resources and strengthens local economies through development of latent capital and human resources.

Many communities in Pennsylvania and across the US have experienced long-term economic decline.  For them this model guides economic redevelopment along sustainable lines.

Growth vs. Sustainability

The two variables in the sustainability equation are economic growth, which is a given assumption about a healthy economy, and the impact of growth on the environment.  Environmental regulations, since the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts have played a major role in moderating development.  Centre County, a headwater community of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, is subject to a complex body of regulations and regulatory authorities. 

Sustainability is defined as a balance between growth and preservation of land, water and natural features.  “Balance,” however, is an oxymoron.  Given that the environment is fixed, that you cannot make more land and water, forests or fields, development reduces the environment.  Growth, planned as a program to sustain the natural environment, however, is entirely feasible.  Growth can be regenerative if the community chooses to invest the necessary resources to retain and enhance this aspect of our quality of life.  And it can not only be economically feasible, but also beneficial.

For Centre County the predominant variable in the economic equation is Penn State.  Nearly half of the population of the Centre Region (the six municipalities that surround Penn State) consists of students.  The economy is founded on housing, feeding, clothing and transporting these students[3].  Over the past decade or so, the educationally related economy has significantly expanded and we are in danger of becoming a “factory” town[4]. 

A very important question we must ask is:  Will the university environment continue to be predominantly classroom based?  The cost of education is steadily rising, and student debts are soaring[5].  We have seen a rapid evolution of digital technology.  Penn State is already a leader in distant learning.  We need to carefully explore the potential impact of even a ten percent reduction in on-campus classroom attendance. 

If there is anything worse than economic growth, it is economy decline:  Decaying infrastructure, abandoned properties and loss of public revenue to mitigate resulting environmental impact (see below).

A Vision of a Sustainable Community

The vision of a sustainable community will likely contain these parts:

·       A safe and healthy place to live

·       A place where natural features are cherished and preserved

·       Economic security despite global uncertainties

·       A place where we feel we belong and are proud to be a part of

·       A community where people care about each other

The first objective of a sustainable plan is to get people into a conversation about these issues and develop a vision and a consensus that fits the community and its future.

Centre Sustainability Template

With a vision in mind we begin the plan.  There are three components of the Centre Sustainability Master Plan Template:

1.     Assessment

2.     Plan Modules

3.     Implementation


There are three parts to the sustainability assessment:

1.     A comprehensive assessment of natural features and resources, people, built environment, civic resources and economy of the region[6].

2.     Reliable estimates of the quantities of things consumed by the community.  Where do goods and services come from and what are the risks to this supply chain?

3.     Economic Assessment:  What is the potential of the local economy to produce goods and services to achieve greater self-reliance, enhance the local economy, reduce dependencies and preserve the environment?

Plan Modules

The sustainability master plan is not one plan but many plans.  Each module is a plan in and of itself that is taken on by a dedicated work team.  Within each module will be sub-components.  It should be clearly noted, however, that these modules do not develop independent and in isolation.  They must be continuously assessed in terms of how they contribute to the overall vision and how they interact with each other.

These modules are drawn from a synthesis of basic human needs derived from the sustainability literature. 

The plan modules can be organized into a number of broad categories: 

Natural Environment

The natural environment defines the place we live and the natural resources that define the region.  There are two general categories in the plan:

1.     Land, Water and Natural Resources

2.     Parks, Open Space, Recreation

Built Environment

Built environment includes:

1.     Places we live, work and play

2.     Transportation infrastructure

3.     Utilities infrastructure

4.     Communications infrastructure


Consumables include both raw materials and finished products and services:

1.     Food

2.     Water

3.     Energy

4.     Other material resources

5.     Services

6.     Information

The REconomy framework (link) addresses how these goods and services can be produced more abundantly in the local market thus giving the community greater self-reliance and security and retaining a greater share of revenue within the community.  This model restructures the economy, preserves, and even restores, the natural environment and provides incredible economic potential.


What do we do with everything left over after we have consumed the list above?  Solid, liquid and gaseous wastes tend to accumulate in landfills, go into the air or settle into the soil and watershed.  The idea of a zero waste economy is high on the list of sustainability objectives.  Waste management is expensive.  Waste products are potential raw material for economic development.


Creating the type of community we love to live in is a matter of making it a good place to live and that involves conscious attention to all the modules above.  In addition to these there are several specific modules to address.

1.     Community Development

2.     Healthcare

3.     Education and Training

4.     Public Safety

5.     Recreation, Arts and Entertainment


A plan is intended to achieve an outcome.  There are eight modules to this part of the CSMP:

1.     Economy, Finance and Enterprise

2.     Community Ecosystem Map

3.     Centre Sustainability Organization/Community

4.     Innovation

5.     Eco-entrepreneurship

6.     Education and Outreach

7.     Communications Infrastructure

8.     Local Government


Special Features of the CSMP

There are a number of distinctive features to the Centre Sustainability Master Plan:

First, the Centre Sustainability Master Plan is comprehensive.  The model treats a community as an organically whole system, an ecosystem (Link). The tool that is being developed to support this model is Community Ecosystem Mapping.  We have developed a list of organizations, programs, projects and a few key individuals who represent the parts of our local sustainability eco-system community, that live, are headquartered or have a significant footprint in Centre County.  There are nearly six hundred of them and the list continues to grow.

Second, but of equal importance, the Centre Sustainability Master Plan is an economic plan.  Our objective is a regenerative economy (REconomy).  Each action module of the Master Plan is a business plan.  Change must add value.  It is something people must be willing to invest in.  It must pay for itself.  New statutory corporate entities have been created that allow sustainable economic redevelopment to be effectively pursued.  The emphasis is on stakeholders rather than stockholders.

The corollary that ties these together is the fact that Ecology and Economy have the same root.  Eco means home.  Our understanding of and management of our natural, economic and social environment go hand in hand.  It must be understood that ecological principles apply to a community as well as to a natural system.  These principles define an ecosystem as a network of exchanges.  Natural “economic” principles become the foundation of a sustainable, regenerative, business model.

Third is the reality of growing resource scarcity.  The classical ideal of sustainability, of insuring there is enough for future generation, is arguably no longer achievable.  We need a new model.  Yes, we might create a Star Trek future but few countries are thinking even five years ahead[7].

For decades we have clung to the ideal that we can achieve continue economic growth but we must now carefully reassess our current rate of consumption verses technically and economically recoverable nonrenewable resources.  A distinctive feature of this plan is a strategic assessment of critical resources.  Our economy is entirely dependent on the availability and cost of resources that include energy, land and water and other natural resources. 

We use the term “scarcity” in the economic sense of the cost of producing vital resources and not necessarily their relative scarcity although that is, of course, a major variable in the economic equation of supply vs. demand.  A select group of multinational corporations are carefully monitoring this issue and in this case we can learn from them.  Their interest is supply chain rather than sustainability. 

Many of our strategic resources are in troubled and even politically hostile parts of the world.  World population continues to rise and so does competition for land, water and mineral resources. 

Fourth is what I call “The Five Questions.”  In order to achieve a sustainable future, an enduring and desirable quality of life, we must not only construct a Master Plan but also put in place a Master Team with the commitment and capacity to achieve it.  To frame that need we are asking five questions (Click Tab):

1.             Do we want to develop a sustainable Centre County?

2.             Do we want to be a leader in sustainability?

3.             Is Sustainability an option or a mandate?

4.             Who will form the Centre Sustainability Team?

5.             How will we organize and resource the effort?

Fifth is the framework to actualize the plan Centre Sustainability Master Plan is local.  In summary, a unique character of this plan is local resiliency:  How do we develop an economy and community, and in this plan the two are considered integral, that insures the long-term wellbeing of the community despite the ups and downs of the global economy.  There are sound models for achieving that goal.

Local is the only level where we can comprehend the nature of problems and affect solutions.  Trying to change the world form the top down, trying to reform the major institutions of our society first, doesn’t work as well as we would like.  We have to achieve change in our own community.  By doing that we can begin to change the world.

Sixth, we are defining and quantifying local objectives in Vision 10 – 10:  Ten percent localization in ten years (Click Tab).  Vision 10 – 10 allows us to readily set goals with which we can define what must be done and how to get it done.  This process gives us achievable objectives and a realistic estimate of constraints. 


Additional Centre Sustainability Principles

There are additional principles adopted for the Centre Sustainability Master Plan Template.  These principles give the model a distinctive quality.

One important background question is:  Why do we need a plan? (Click Tab)  That is a more important question than most people realize.  There are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of sustainability plans in the US.  There are actually relatively few that are comprehensive and strategic in nature.  Carefully conducted academic research has probed both the nature of these plans and their effectiveness.  In short, there is a gap between a vision, perhaps supported by a few worthwhile programs and a comprehensive plan.  More important is the gap between even the best of plans and their implementation.  The CSMP attempts to address this issue.

Achievable Objectives:  We must develop projects that are achievable.  They may be personal, neighborhood, or organizational.  They may be small projects but they are seen as parts of the larger, comprehensive community ecosystem.

Ultimately a sustainability master plan is about preserving a quality of life in our community.  That can only be done if we live within our means; within the carrying capacity of our environment.  We must think strategically.

A corollary to the planning process is that the CSMP is designed as a template, a boilerplate model that can be adapted to other communities and not as just single issue, one-time performances.

Leadership is obviously a major issue.  What type of leadership is needed to nurture a sustainable culture; and a sustainable culture is the objective of the CSMP.  We need a new form of leadership that is competent to understand and address the needs of the day, something we call Deep Leadership (See Below)

The Thin Green Wedge (Click Tab):  I doubt that there are any in the environmental/sustainability movement who believe we are achieving anything like we should to overcome the impact of progress.  What we lack, however, are solid metrics that tell us how much impact the sustainability movement is actually making and consequently what we have yet to do.  There are been some efforts to gauge the need.  For example, biologist E. O. Wilson estimates that the remediation of species extinction is around the 20% level.  This area of concern is one of the most scientifically based, best organized, and best funded environmental field.  In brief, for every step forward, we take four back.  While depressing, the facts tell us a great deal about what must be done.

The sustainability movement has been called the largest in the history of the planet.  There are millions of people involved around the world and hundreds of thousands of thoughtful organizations and programs.  It is clear that it represents but a thin green wedge of impact compared to the need for change.  Popular conservation and sustainability objectives may not reach the root cause of the effects they seek to mitigate:  A runaway consumer economy.  More on this elsewhere.

What needs to be done could be an order of magnitude greater than what is being done.  We have plans and they need to be refined; we know how to do that.  We have organizations and an army of competent people.  Most importantly we need money, many times more than is currently conceivable.  The movement must learn to pay for itself; and it can.  To mobilize an effective effort will require economic incentive, investment and a return on that investment that ensure quality of life (Link coming soon(.


To Plan or Not to Plan

Plans and planning are not things most people get excited about.  Many of us have the experience of a lot of hard work just going into a binder that sits on a shelf.  Planning is problematic but is essential (Click Tab))

Fact is, we are all planning all the time.  A meal, a trip to the store or just deciding what to do first when we get up in the morning means we are making a plan.  We are always thinking ahead.

The purpose of a plan is to solve a problem or get something you want. 

It starts with deciding the outcome you want, collecting what you need to know, looking at options, selecting tools and determining a sequence of steps to take to achieve your objective.  Making a birthday cake is quick and easy.  Creating a business or developing a network of bike paths for your community takes more time, effort and collaboration.  A large, complex plan can be broken down into smaller parts.

Effective Sustainability Planning.  There are hundreds of sustainability plans across the country.   A growing literature of research indicates a number of limitations in sustainability planning (Link…).  Leading conclusion include:

·      Sustainability culture has taken deep roots in a relatively small number of communities.

·      Only one in six sustainability plans is comprehensive in scope

·      Governments, institutions and nonprofit organizations are challenged by funding

·      There are large gaps between visions and plans and plans and effective action

Governments, nonprofits and public institutions are still major and important partners but they cannot do the job without the economic means to do so. 

Deep Leadership:  Each era of human history has its own form of leadership.  Before the city there were tribal and village elders, with the city, up to the industrial era, there were kings, warriors and priest; a very different form of social leadership.  With the industrial revolution came yet a new breed not only in industry but in the halls of governance to guide an even more complex society.  That form, driven by science, technology, and globalization, has pushed us to yet a higher level of complexity and it is clear that we are struggling to find a leadership model to address it.  We propose that the new level of stewardship is Deep Leadership:  a holistic view of the world, a competence for dealing with chaotic complexity, a capacity for understanding others and communicating with clarity, and a deep perception of the essential forces of life and society.

[1] The origin of the CSMP was drafted in 2009, Central Pennsylvania Local Economy.  This plan was a community and economic development model for Centre and the six contiguous counties and incorporated a Local Trade Area model that included some 500,000 people living in a highly diverse geography, predominately rural, and with the Great Recession, economically challenged.

[2] We acknowledge and say thank you to close to 200 people who made a contribution to the original plan, and they and many others who have contributed since.

[3] There are more than 70 branch banks that support this financial structure.

[4] Penn State has taken a leading role in reversing this trend.

[5] Between 2007 and 2012 the fees of public universities increased 27%.  In 2014 US student debt totaled more than $1.2 trillion.  Professional jobs and wages have been essentially stagnant.

[6] This is currently being conducted by the Spring Creek Watershed Atlas Project (Link….)

[7] The Rocky Mountain Institute has developed a notable model which can be found in the book Reinventing Fire.  Transition Towns has developed a localized model found in Transition in Action and The Power of Just Doing Stuff.