Create sustainability through people. This site explains how.
Create sustainability through people. This site explains how.

Themes of Sustainability

“Themes make sustainability easy to understand”Ten Themes include all areas of direct action for sustainability. They are:Because Themes are concrete and relate to a specific area of activity, they make sustainability easy to understand. Yet they are broad enough to bring together people to discuss common areas of interest (see photo below). For example, an Ottawa, Canada, workshop on Health featured discussions on: pollution, urban trees, safe streets, parks for the handicapped, and indoor air quality.Organic Farmer and Café owner at a BEC Food Workshop. Photo. E. NadolnyThemes lead to sustainability projects, by connecting organizations that would like to address similar issues. Themes and sub-Themes are a framework for sharing information on those topics. These connections may lead to partnerships, or other forms of project support.Themes can improve analysis of public plans too. For example, a Theme-based analysis of a proposed urban green space might lead to these types of questions:
  • Habitat – will it accommodate native plants and pollinators?
  • Food – can it support an urban food system?
  • Recreation – will it fit into a system of sustainable recreation?
  • Sense of Place – can it be a good meeting place for residents?
Projects may contain more than one Theme. For instance, street redevelopment could address both Transportation and Health (safety). Or methane collection for electricity generation, at a landfill (dump), would address both Waste and Energy. Sense of Place. Stratford, Ontario. Photo: J. BirtchWhere there is more than one Theme in a project, they can be used to break-out the various benefits of the project.To read discussion papers on Themes, go to theme pictures on the home page.


Transportation is how we go from one place to another. And how we send things from one place to another. There is an opportunity to reduce energy use, reduce the impact of roads on the environment and even save time with more sustainable methods of transportation.


Sustainable energy is applied to human needs – heating, lighting, travel, production – in ways that minimize impact on the environment. Carbon release is minimized or eliminated. Projects often pair Energy with other Themes.


Design refers to Ideas, products or assemblies created for human use. They may be small, such as tools, toys, and appliances. They may be large, such as city, infrastructure, or neighbourhood design. Sustainability is promoted when Design reduces environmental impact.


Habitat is the living places for all plants, animals, and other organisms in nature. This includes natural areas such as forests, lakes, and fields. It also includes urban trees, parks, yards, and green roofs. Farms provide habitat too. Habitat is important for biodiversity.


Sustainable food is grown with less chemicals and less fossil fuels. It is also transported with less energy use and is often locally grown. The varieties and breed used have wider genetic diversity, which contributes to food security.

Natural Capital

Natural Capital is everything nature provides, and people use. This includes air, water, soil, sunshine, and the health-giving benefits of spending time in nature. All renewable and non-renewable resources, such as wood and minerals, are part of Natural Capital.


Waste is the disposal of products that are no longer needed. To be sustainable, it will have minimal negative impacts on the environment or health. This includes reuse, recycling, reduction, transportation, and processing of waste. A circular economy is a goal.


Sustainable Health comes from outdoor and indoor environments that are safe and healthy. This includes clean air and water, unpolluted land, and access to greenspace for everyone. Indoor air quality is important. Safety of pedestrians and cyclists on roads, pathways, and parks, are part of Sustainable Health too.


Sustainable recreation is non-motorized (except for handicapped mobility), relying on the human body for movement. It may be indoor or outdoor. Overall, it does not harm the environment.

Sense of Place

Sense of Place is a feeling we belong to a place where we live, work, or visit. When we have an attachment to a place, we tend to want to take care of it and this leads to environmental stewardship. Visiting different parts of a city can increase our sense of place to the city. Creating a welcoming place in a city is called place-making and is a technique for improving a city.