Living Sustainably: Equity and inclusion build sustainable communities

By Esther Fifelski, City of Holland
Racial equity, diversity and inclusion are vital to vibrant communities and build a culture of respect at all levels of the community.

But as members of a sustainable community, are we focused on transactional activities for the sake of activity? For example, are we having a community meeting as a result of an issue related to race, equity and inclusion, with no action plan to address the systemic problem?

Or, are we advocating for transformative change? Transformative change reaps organic change that is sustainable over time. It looks at systems and processes that created the problem. Transformative work changes the environment to fix the patterns that keep communities from experiencing vibrancy for all people.

Here are preliminary initiatives for organizations, businesses or other groups to help build a framework to work toward transformative change:

1. Communicate the vision of equity and inclusion in your vision and mission statement to members of your organization. If you do not address this in your vision or mission statement, you send a clear message to underserved communities that those issues are not important.

2. Articulate that vision’s importance in your training, literature and public relations program.

3. Hold your leadership accountable through the performance evaluation process. Whether you work for a private organization or government, elevate equity and inclusion in every area of your work. If you are a leader, model behavior that you wish to achieve.

4. Welcome dialogue. Having difficult conversations provides a place to start solving the problem. When we work together, we achieve better outcomes for all.

5. As you remove barriers and implement strategies, measure the outcomes and communicate outwardly. Learn from the mistakes and move on!

6. Name and celebrate success. Most people want to engage in successful initiatives.

7. Be patient. Meaningful results, for the most part, happen over time.  Transformative work is sacred work and builds the spirit of the community. This is not about entitlement; this is about working toward mutual benefit. Often times, we want someone else to do the work. Ultimately, we have responsibility to work for better outcomes. Transformative work requires all to engage.

Finally, use the spirit of civil discourse and mutual respect to have difficult conversations. Negotiation and mediation within communities is essential for positive outcomes. The reality of life is that sometimes you lose when you win. Sustainable outcomes may require negotiation.  Sustainable communities value equity and inclusion and leave a framework for the next generation!

 Esther Fifelski is human relations coordinator for the City of Holland.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme:
Quality of Life: The community, through governmental, religious, business and social organizations, makes decisions that contribute to its own well-being.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.