The Circles of Sustainability method employs four kinds of circles in the task of making our cities, settlements and urban regions better places to live.
Profile Circles offer ways of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a chosen region or urban settlement. Profile circles are divided into four domains of sustainability: ecology, economy, politics and culture. They are used to generate graphic profiles of the sustainability of different locales or urban centres. Each of the domains carries a further set of seven subdomains, which can be used to identify, understand and respond to critical issues.
Process Circles represent the key stages of a sustainability project. In our approach a project is guided through seven such stages: commit, engage, assess, define, implement, measure and communicate — all the way back to commit, and the cycle begins again. Each of the seven stages is elaborated through four phases. Tools have been developed to guide communities and organizations through each of the stages and its associated phases.
Engagement Circles consider who could (should) be involved in the selection and decision-making about sustainability issues and projects. We identify four key constituents, all of whom should be represented when thinking about and acting upon sustainability challenges and practical alternatives. These constituents are civil society, business organizations, governance institutions, and research-based entities, across all levels from the local to the global.
Knowledge Circles are ways of understanding how we know things. Our Circle is a modification of a once well-known approach called Hermeneutic Circles for thinking about meaning in relation to practice. In the present context, Knowledge Circles help us, for example, to make sense of how the specific details of issues and indicators contribute to understanding broader questions about sustainability. Conversely, by thinking about what we mean by sustainability in terms of the social values, ways of life, qualities and accomplishments that we most wish to sustain, we can start to think about the particular issues that matter most to us. This continuous evolving process is best represented as a circle.
Together these four sets of circles help us to develop a comprehensive, integrated and holistic picture of sustainability in a given place, community or project.