Earth Island News
Sustainable World Coalition
Sustainability and Inclusivity
“Sustainability” is rapidly becoming a buzzword that needs clarification. The working definition used most widely is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This was set forth in 1987 in the report “Our Common Future” by the World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Brundtland Commission.
Sustainability in this sense clearly implies regeneration and health for ecosystems, people, and living things in general—something more than just “long-lasting.”
Sustainability places an emphasis on inclusivity. Any truly sustainable solution must necessarily include all stakeholders, including all life forms. Sustainability thus is not political in the sense of “our side versus theirs,” or “left versus right.” Everyone is considered to be on the same side. Sustainability requires humanity to seek solutions that work for the Earth and all of its inhabitants.
Such solutions involve making sure that all sides are heard and considered, and making the tough choices and compromises that will produce the greatest good for the whole, taking into account the long-term consequences of those choices.
Sustainability issues are always made up of three core elements (what the UN refers to as the “three pillars” of sustainability)—environment, human rights, and economics. Attempting to deal with any major issue without examining all three elements will not produce sustainable results in the long term. For example, if the environmental aspects of rainforest destruction are examined without also considering human rights factors (such as those of indigenous tribes) or the economics involved, any program to limit deforestation will be undermined.
In looking at the overall game plan for enhancing sustainability, three key areas require strong focus: balanced media reporting, corporate accountability, and campaign finance reform.
In the US, all three areas are controlled largely by corporate interests, which are ultimately motivated by profit.
Media: Mainstream media tend to report with a conservative, nationalistic slant, reflecting the consolidated corporate ownership of US media empires. As long as people are getting their “news” from sources that don’t challenge the status quo, then popular challenges to existing policies will be minimized.
Accountability: Standard corporate accounting measures only financial performance, and has no regard for the social and environmental impact of corporate activities. Growth in profits is considered beneficial, even though it often comes with tremendous harm to communities and the environment. Until we have triple bottom line analysis that accounts for all impacts, and a public that understands the importance of doing so, corporations will continue to keep their negative side-effects hidden.
Campaign Finance: The current practice of political candidates’ financing their campaigns largely through corporate contributions implies an expectation that they will act on behalf of those corporations; such contributions are little more than bribes. This is badly skewing the original intent of our democratic system. Some in Congress are pushing “clean” elections, free of corporate contributions.
The awareness of the importance of these issues is finally starting to grow.
With this awareness emerges an appreciation for inclusivity and long-term considerations inherent in sustainability. When dealing with the challenging issues confronting us all, nothing less than total consideration of all these factors will provide us with a truly sustainable future.
Vinit Allen is executive director of the Sustainable World Coalition.