Sustainable Living

Sustainability Checklist : Principles for sustainable resource management

Brenda Jaimason
Written by Brenda Jaimason

Anyone who has ever dreamed of living off the grid and achieving a 100% sustainable existence with a 0% footprint on the earth and the environment would first have to adhere to the basic principles of sustainable resource management. In fact, every construction project, no matter how big or how small should start here. We’ve put together a sustainability checklist to help you get your project off the ground:

Site Specific Assessment

Before land-use changes take place, it is crucial to understand the “properties” of the site subject to proposed changes. A comprehensive site survey should do the following:

  1. Identify the geographic and topographic features of the area.

  2. Identify the area’s unique resources to protect and conserve them.

  3. Make it possible to choose power sources in accord with the area’s physical attributes.

  4. Identify and conserve areas of archeological, natural, historical and cultural significance.

  5. Identify land use in the vicinity and seek compatibility regarding proposed changes and use.

  6. Specify the area of change and establish parameters for future changes beyond this area.


Habitat Sensitivity

Sustainable resource management entails factoring in the wildlife habitat of an area or region. Managing land in a habitat-sensitive way includes:

  1. Not disturbing local wildlife populations by degrading sources of food, shelter, water etc.

  2. Protecting ecologically sensitive areas from all degrading impacts.

  3. Not posing threats to species directly or indirectly through increased air and water pollution.

  4. Avoiding increase of the ambient noise levels in the area during and following changes in land use.

  5. Assuring migratory species access to habitual routes, food sources, and breeding grounds.

  6. Maintaining corridors and greenspace that will allow for the movement of plants and animals.

Native and Naturalized Plants and Natural Landscaping

Sustainable resource management should provide the use of material and resources native to an area. Using native or naturalized plants reduces the need for special watering and ground preparation, while natural landscaping can help hold valuable topsoil. For this reason, native and naturalized plants and natural landscaping should:

  1. Be used exclusively, except for special purpose areas such as agricultural lands, recreational use areas, and work areas.

  2. Be designed and implemented to reduce natural vegetation loss.

  3. Encourage biodiversity.

  4. Not require the need for pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, minimize their use on special purpose areas mentioned in No. 1 above, and promote the use of management practices and materials that, through their source and production process, are a component of the Earth=s natural cycles.

  5. Use efficient irrigation methods and practices.

  6. Maximize the use of integrated resource management.


Water Conservation

Water is vital to all life, yet it is one of our most misused, mismanaged, and misunderstood resources. We make deserts bloom year around and have expanded populations in areas that are running out of water. A water conservation program should:

  1. Utilize a rainwater collection or gray water system for watering grounds, flushing toilets, etc.

  2. Minimize water usage by monitoring water usage and installing low-flow devices.

  3. Evaluate sustainable yields for the lowest flow periods of the supply and design to accommodate those periods.

  4. Recapture and re-utilize water resources.

  5. Integrate native and naturalized plants that are biologically appropriate for the geographic region.


Waste Management

The first goal of waste management should be to not generate waste. We must rethink how we purchase and consume goods. If waste is generated, the following should apply:

  1. Solid and hazardous wastes must be reduced, recycled, or reused whenever possible. Continuously monitor and assess how much solid and hazardous waste is generated.

  2. Non-recyclable wastes must be disposed of in an environmentally sensitive manner. Periodically review waste reduction strategies and recycling methods used.

  3. Compost all organic wastes.

  4. Explore low capital, low maintenance alternatives for wastewater treatment systems.

Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Sources

Nothing short of weaning ourselves from oil and coal will be sustainable. Until that time an infrastructure change should:

  1. Minimize consumption of non-renewable resources while more energy efficient sources are being developed.
  2. Include energy efficient technologies in manufacturing, building design, and transportation.
  3. Explore the utilization of:
  • Photovoltaics
  • Solar power
  • Wind power
  • Geothermal power
  • Wave and tide generated power
  • Hydro-electric power
  • Clean burning fuels



To move toward sustainability, we should:

  1. Encourage the expanded use of public transportation.

  2. Encourage and utilize low-impact transportation by providing sidewalks, walking trails, and bicycle paths.

  3. Ensure the availability of energy efficient public transportation to new areas of development and city centers.

  4. Reduce cross-country transportation of goods by diversifying local resources.

  5. Encourage infrastructure changes that support the use of more energy efficient technologies in vehicles (such as electric battery charging stations).

Greenspace and Corridors

Urban parks, forested zones, native grassland areas, and stream corridors reaching into urban areas are necessary elements of sustainability. In this regard we should:

  1. Provide access to appropriate greenspaces for educational and recreational experiences.

  2. Maintain corridors that connect areas and allow for wildlife movement within the property boundary and adjacent areas.

  3. Identify and preserve greenspaces and corridors of high wildlife habitat and water quality value within a city or community.



Reaching sustainability will include sustainable agricultural practices. Therefore, we should:

  1. Protect prime agricultural production areas.

  2. Promote regional food self sufficiency.

  3. Improve the efficiency of low input farming methods.

  4. Improve irrigation and drainage systems.

  5. Integrate livestock management with food crop and vegetative management to improve soil fertility.

  6. Encourage the use of integrated pest management (IPM) practices at all farms and agriculture facilities.

  7. Explore the use of greenhouse farming.

  8. Increase the use of aquaculture.


Building Design

The design of individual buildings is essential to developing sustainable patterns of behavior. Everything from lighting to composting food scraps must be considered. In this regard, the building designs should:

  1. Incorporate energy efficient design approaches for:
  • heating/cooling
  • ventilation
  • building material
  • appliances
  • lighting
  • cooking
  • ater use
  • pace
  1. Include efficient waste handling and recycling programs.

  2. Apply landscaping practices that minimize maintenance such as employing native or naturalized plants.

  3. Use building materials that will not become hazardous waste or impossible to dispose of in an ecologically beneficial manner at the end of their useful life.


About the author

Brenda Jaimason

Brenda Jaimason

Brenda is an environmental science major at the University of Oregon. She contributes to many science blogs and hopes to work abroad for a in New Zealand or South America mapping oceans or marine life patterns.

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