Integrated Community Sustainability Planning (ICSP): The Process

An Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) is as much a process as it is a plan. The end result is more than a document: it is an on-going process of engaging stakeholders in the community in co-creating a vision of a sustainable future and linking that to realistic planning and collaborative action today.

ICSPs emphasize long-term thinking, collaboration between departments and between sectors, engaging community stakeholders, creating partnerships, and continuous monitoring and evaluation.

The Process:

We start by helping you design a customized process to suit your community’s needs. A complete engagement would include the following phases:

Progress from one phase to the next is typically determined by a "go/no-go" decision based on outputs from the previous phase. This enables you to make a considered decision on next steps on the basis of learning from earlier phases.

Please read more about our ICSP service phases, including desired outcomes and suggested steps for each:



The Invitation

  • The level of interest (or readiness) among community leaders, stakeholders, and/or the community at large for collaborating on a community sustainability planning process is understood.
  • Community leaders, stakeholders, and/or the community at large are engaged in a discussion(s) about the community’s future, aware of the relevance of sustainability to the community, and have developed a shared sense of the need for community sustainability planning.
  1. Engage often and consistently in conversations that build awareness of the relevance of sustainability to your community.
  2. Explore the community’s level of interest and readiness.

Structuring the Process

  • A preferred sustainability planning approach for your community has been decided upon and committed to.
  • All key stakeholders have had an opportunity to contribute to the structuring of the ICSP process.
  • The roles and responsibilities of various contributors to the ICSP process have been clarified in the form of a project governance plan.
  1. Identify a Process Leader and/or form a Process Leadership Team.
  2. Begin to develop a common understanding and shared language around sustainability.
  3. Review the ICSP Guide and assess engagement options.
  4. Consult with municipal leadership.
  5. Create a Governance Plan.
  6. Explore community engagement options for key ICSP deliverables.
  7. Decide on approach for engaging the broader community.
  8. Finalize the structure of the planning process.

Community Visioning

  • A shared understanding of success for the community in a sustainable future and a shared intention to create that future has been developed among community members.
  1. Use or adopt sustainability principles.
  2. Decide on scope of visioning process.
  3. Gather community input on the vision.
  4. Synthesize input into a vision statement.
  5. Communicate and celebrate the vision.

Understanding the Sustainability Gap for Key Community Systems
  • A determination has been made about which key community systems (e.g. energy, food, etc.) need to be addressed in order to achieve sustainability and the community’s vision.
  • A shared understanding of the gap between the current reality and a successful, sustainable future has been established for the key community systems.
  • Indicators have been identified that can be used to monitor progress toward success for each key community system.
  1. Identify community systems.
  2. Clarify process and deliverables.
  3. Develop descriptions of current reality for each community system.
  4. Develop descriptions of success for each community system.
  5. Select performance indicators and targets.

Identifying Strategies and Initiatives to Bridge the Gap
  • Short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies, initiatives, and investments have been prioritized for integration into business plans and budgets of the municipality and other community partner organizations.
  1. Generate ideas for initiatives and investments.
  2. Prioritize initiatives and investments based on strategic questions.
  3. Feed momentum by implementing some “low-hanging fruit” actions immediately.
  4. Compile priority initiatives into a single plan.

Continuing the Journey and Monitoring Progress

  • A governance and partnerships approach has been established to guide the implementation of the ICSP in the community.
  • The initiatives in the ICSP are being implemented in the community.
  • Progress on the implementation of the ICSP is monitored and evaluated.
  1. Form partnerships with community stakeholders around implementation.
  2. Review the plan periodically.
  3. Develop a plan for implementation.
  4. Report to stakeholders and celebrate success.
  5. Ongoing integration of sustainability into operations.

Contact us

Learn more about our Service Cycle for Sustainable Communities and discuss how The Natural Step Canada can help take your community’s sustainability journey to the next level by contacting us at info(at)