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What is a sustainable economy?

A sustainable economy is one that provides the monetary resources necessary to support the community. This includes providing a tax base sufficient to run community services, providing members of the community with sufficient wages and providing capital for community development. A sustainable economy generates the capital necessary for growth as well as that necessary to support the current needs of the community.


How does economic vitality influence community sustainability?

Without a sufficient tax base, a community cannot provide its citizens with police, parks and recreation, safe drinking water or any number of other public services. Without a sustainable economy, social welfare programs cannot be funded, nor can individual citizens afford to donate their wages to charitable causes. Considering these outcomes, it is clear that a sustainable community has direct impacts on social justice as well as human health issues. A stable economy is also closely tied to the renewable use of environmental resources. Due to the fact that the economy of a community strongly influences all other aspects of sustainability, the economic vitality is considered a major factor in creating a sustainable community (1).

The goal of achieving sustainable economic vitality is to establish an economy with sufficient jobs, products, and services to support the community. It is clear that exploiting human or natural resources will not provide a sustainable economic plan. Similarly, too much spending on employee benefits and environmental protection will undermine economic stability. The economic plan in a sustainable community must therefore balance the allocation of resources between society, business and the environment.

How can economic vitality be assessed with respect to sustainability?

Many of these attributes listed below have been defined as important indicators of sustainable economic vitality by Triangle Tommorrow, a non-profit sustainable development group based in Raleigh, North Carolina. (see Triangle Tomorrow Homepage).

These indicators are as follows:

  • Distribution of wealth (housing prices, cost of living, real estate market statistics)
  • Property values
  • Home ownership, owner occupancy rates
  • Average cost for single family home
  • Average rent for a two bedroom apartment
  • Property tax rate
  • Percent of population on welfare
  • Percent of population below poverty line
  • Percent of children living in one parent households/in households with no adult earner
  • Children in poverty
  • Employment rate (unemployment rate, percent of population over 16 in workforce, jobs per worker)
  • Percent employment by industry/sector
  • Net job growth
  • Average annual wage, average annual wage by sector, median family income
  • Percent of jobs providing a livable wage
  • Number of/dollars spent on small business loans
  • Number of/dollars spent on home equity loans
  • Dollars spent on construction/residential construction
  • Dollars spent in research/development
  • Issued patents
  • Automobile ownership
  • Tax base per capita


(1)Enhancing Competitiveness While Protecting the Environment. Environment and Sustainable Development at Harvard University. <> accessed 1 December 2005.


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UNC Chapel Hill: Enst 94/Envr 95 Capstone, Fall 2005

Last Updated: December 17, 2005 (K.N.Baer)