Seventeen Rules for a Sustainable Community—Wendell Berry

I have long been an admirer of Wendell Berry, so when I stumbled into the below post on The Briarpatch Network, I was twice delighted; once by the re-encounter of Wendell’s thinking, and secondly by the wildly resilient spirit and thinking found on the blog. More on that later, but for now I am simply going to replicate their post on Wendell Berry’s Seventeen Rules for a Sustainable Community here.
I find ‘sustainability’ to be a necessary goal, but of itself it lacks the power to move us where we are required to move. We require a vision that carries us ‘beyond sustainability,’ and Wendell moves us in that direction. He is grounded in and full of——wild wisdom.

Wendell Berry

From Wendell Berry
A community economy is not an economy in which well-placed persons can make a ‘killing’. It is an economy whose aim is generosity and a well-distributed and safeguarded abundance.
WENDELL Berry is a strong defender of family, rural communities, and traditional family farms. These underlying principles could be described as ‘the preservation of ecological diversity and integrity, and the renewal, on sound cultural and ecological principles, of local economies and local communities’:
1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.
2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.
3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbours.
4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products – first to nearby cities, then to others).
5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labour saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.
6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.
7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.
8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.
9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.
10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.
11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.
12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.
13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalised. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.
14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programmes, systems of barter, and the like.
15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighbourly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighbourhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.
16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.


  1. Rakunks, Hybrid Jobs, Learning Agents, and other speculations on the future

    01/11/2010 at 2:08 pm

    […] Community Auditor (certified of course!); this position pays homage to Wendell Berry’s  17 Rules for a Sustainable Community; I envision each employee, as a condition of their employment, making regular, positive, […]

  2. Andrew May

    02/01/2011 at 10:22 pm

    Great post. Berry is a icon in sustainability and the commonsense commitment to conscious conservation (alliteration!) for good reason. Like kindred spirits the Taoists, Emerson and Thoreau, Helen and Scott Nearing, William McDonough, and numberless others, Berry knows the core commitment is to the Earth, that all relationships (with people, organizations, processes and things), if they are sensibly developed, are conducted in “consultation” with the Earth (old Quaker: “Speak to the Earth, She shall teach thee.”), and that none contributes constructively to the Earth who does not at least instinctively subscribe to principles such as these.
    One aside: your blog’s title and subtitle are hard to make out against the backdrop of the flying birds. I respectfully suggest either rendering the lettering in a distinctively different color (a dark toned green, blue or purple, for example), or placing the text in a block tinted with an offsetting color that highlights the white text.
    Brilliant title, btw. Best of luck.

  3. Larry Glover

    02/02/2011 at 4:44 am

    Thanks for the comment Andrew, and for the numerous references to other such ‘kindred spirits.’ Also, I appreciate your remarks on the heading readability issues. I’ve tried a few different things without the resolution desired. Time to get some help with it!
    Thanks again.

  4. So what do we do? | Space to simplify.

    02/13/2012 at 12:49 am

    […] past weekend began with a marvelous gathering of friends around tea and the ideas of Wendell Berry, one of my all time favorite authors, largely due to his unique blend of utter practicality and […]

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