Creating communities and societies that are ecologically sustainable is the great challenge of our time. What is sustained in a sustainable community is not economic growth, development, market share, or competitive advantage, but the entire web of life on which our long-term survival depends. We do not need to start from zero to design these communities but can model them on nature’s ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Since the outstanding characteristic of the biosphere is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable community is one that is designed in such a way that its ways of life, businesses, economy, physical structures, and technologies honor, support, and cooperate with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.
What is the place of learning in sustainable communities? How can such learning be organized and facilitated? What are some underlying principles? These are some of the key questions that this book seeks to address from the perspective of social learning. Both ecological communities and human communities derive their essential properties and in fact their very existence, from their relationships. Sustainability is not an individual property, but the property of an entire network. The important concept of feedback, which was discovered in cybernetics in the 1940s, is intimately connected with the network pattern. Because of feedback in living networks, these systems are capable of self-regulation and self-organization. A community can learn from its mistakes because the mistakes travel and come back along these feedback loops. Next time around we can act differently. This means that a community has its own intelligence, its own learning capability. In fact, a living community is always a learning community.