The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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The Women's Building in the Mission District of San Francisco.
Image by Seth Zuckerman.

Social Equity

Wealth and income inequities within the United States, and between the United States and other nations, continue to increase rapidly. The average income disparity between a line worker and CEO in a large corporation is now more than four hundred to one.

Social Equity implies fair access to livelihood, education, and resources; full participation in the political and cultural life of the Community; and self-determination in meeting Fundamental Needs. As Martin Luther King observed, "where there is injustice for one, there is injustice for all." Social Equity is the cornerstone of Social Capital, which cannot be maintained for a few at the expense of the many. Increased equity results in decreased spending on prisons, security enforcement, welfare, and social services. It also creates new potential markets.

Inequities magnify the challenge of creating A Conservation Economy in several ways. Those who are marginalized may be tempted to eat into reserves of Natural Capital and Social Capital to meet immediate needs, while those with abundant choices may seek conspicuous forms of consumption which — unintentionally — have the same depleting effect. Current toxic production activities are extremely unjust, with increased health impacts along racial and class lines. Sustainable Materials Cycles which do not use airsheds and watersheds as pollution sinks have significant favorable equity implications.

Social Equity leaves plenty of room for individuals, households, and communities to seek the mix of economic, social, and ecological assets that best reflects their values. It critically depends on diverse Local Economies that provide a wide range of work options for those of all ages and skills. Social Equity is enhanced by forms of ownership and community-based financial institutions that build Local Assets. It further requires that historical inequities be addressed and compensated fairly through a Just Transition.

Social Equity is promoted by Human-Scale Neighborhoods that provide Shelter for All. Neighborhoods that offer a range of housing options, a mix of uses, and access to a variety of jobs, are often intergenerational and diverse. Such neighborhoods are encouraged by regional tax revenue sharing, which promotes an equitable distribution of tax revenues between the core city, inner suburbs, and rapidly developing outer suburbs. This prevents disinvestment in neighborhoods, improving the overall livability and safety of Compact Towns and Cities.

Over time, True Cost Pricing will improve Social Equity by assigning prices which accurately reflect social costs and benefits. This will allow practices that are socially just to compete effectively in the marketplace, including living-wage compensation for workers.

Promote diverse local economies that provide a wide range of employment opportunities. Build local assets that broadly distribute the wealth of a community. Encourage human-scale neighborhoods that provide shelter and community for all. Work towards a tax shift that fully values social costs and benefits.

Examples of this pattern in action:

In a sustainable community, human culture holds a high standard of equity and justice in the relationships among people and in their relationship with the natural world. People honor and uphold the well-being of the whole community.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

Transition Projects, Inc

Sustainable Community Roundtable



Brill, Hal, Jack A. Brill and Cliff Feigenbaum. Investing with Your Values: Making Money and Making a Difference. Bloomberg Press. Princeton, NJ. 1999.

Korten, David C. The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism. Kumarian Press and Barrett-Koehler Publishers. San Francisco, CA. 1999.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling