What is sustainable development?
Well let’s take a step back and first ask - what is development? It is a pretty difficult term to define because no one really agrees exactly what it is. For many people development simply refers to reducing poverty and improving living condition in poor countries. Others believe that poor countries should pursue the development path that richer countries have followed. For the purposes of this article, lets think about it is as “growth and change that creates a world where more and more people can enjoy a good quality of life and reach their potential”. Sounds pretty good right?!
So then sustainable development would be growth and change that helps us all enjoy a good quality of life, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Even better! I think almost all of us can agree that sustainable development is a good thing. But how do we achieve it? For many of us when we hear the word ‘sustainability’ we think immediately of the natural environment, but sustainability is not just about protecting Mother Earth. A truly sustainable world requires us to look after the people too! The Just Focus crew like to use the Four Pillars of Sustainability, which are; Environmental responsibility, Economic health, Social equity and Cultural vitality.
Four Pillars of Sustainability
Over the next few months Just Focus is going to look at each pillar and explore ways each of us can help contribute to creating a sustainable world. In this article we look at a HEALTHY ECONOMY.
To create an economy that is both sustainable and healthy, we need to do things a little differently than we are now. Looking after the environment and our workers has to be held in balance with business development and making a profit. Sounds hard, but we don’t have to choose one over the other. Here are some of the things we could work on…
Energy is a necessity. We use it for heating, cooking, manufacturing, construction and transportation. It’s hard to imagine life without it. But the way we use it needs to change. And fast! We are currently consuming non-renewable resources, such as oil and gas, faster than they can be produced, creating harmful environment effects and creating a global dependency on a resource that will one day run out. We must preserve some non-renewable resources for use in the future and focus on developing renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro power.
Personal Action: We are pretty lucky in New Zealand because 70 % of our power is from renewable sources, but it is still good to try and conserve power. Check out www.climatechange.govt.nz for some games and activities.
Our transport system help us to move people, food and other goods around cities, countries and the world. But the recent growth in the transport sector is damaging the environment, and many believe it is contributing to climate change The volume of traffic and increased congestion in the big cities also has an economic cost, with loss of work hours and slower delivery services. Transport is an essential part of life, but it is also harmful to the economy and the planet. What do we do!? A good place to start is reducing our dependency on cars. We also need new technology to improve vehicle efficiency and more investment in public transport systems.
Personal Action: Petition your local council to provide incentives for car pooling and using public transport, so more people will be encouraged to do it. You can save money and the planet!
Education and Employment
Without adequate investment in education and training our economy couldn’t grow. Economic prosperity relies on on-to-it people and businesses who provide high quality products and services that others want and are prepared to pay for. Education and training creates skilled workers who are able to meet this need. Helping people improve their skill level and find jobs is also the best way to reduce poverty. To be truly sustainable, work needs to be valued and workers treated fairly and we need regular opportunities to update our skills and knowledge, so that we can adapt to our rapidly changing world.
Personal Action: Make the most of your education and training and never stop learning! Be aware of your rights as a worker www.youthlaw.org.nz
Business and industry
The business and industry sector has a HUGE role to play in achieving sustainable development around the world. Although many big corporations are accused of causing environmental damage and undermining workers human rights they also have the potential to make a huge contribution, by creating jobs and business opportunities, and using resources more efficiently. Also, by improving their environmental practices, producing less waste, and raising labour standards and valuing their workers, they can set an example to other businesses (try googling ‘Interface Inc’ for an example of a company doing exactly that!).
Personal Action: Check out www.stopcorporateabuse.org and join campaigns that challenge irresponsible and dangerous corporate actions around the world
International trade isn’t new, people began trading silk and spices thousands of years ago, but the volume of world trade today and the rules that control it have increased the impact it has our everyday lives. Trade has lots of positives but it also contributes to rising pollution levels and has reduced biodiversity (that is the number of living species on the planet). On top of this, the gap between the world’s richest and poorest people has widened, partly due to unfair trade rules created by the World Trade Organisation. How we trade and invest around the world is going to have significant impact on the planet’s future. We need trade rules that benefit people AND the planet.
Personal Action: Purchase products that are Fair Trade and/or Organic certified, which means that the environment and the workers who made these products are getting a better deal. Go one step further and get involved with an NGO like Oxfam and work towards reforming the World Trade Organisation
Good time for change
We need to make quite a lot of changes if we want to create a healthy sustainable economy. You may be thinking that this is not really the best time, what with most of the world in an economic recession. But rather than let all the statistics and media hype get us down this could be the perfect time to take stock. Why did this happen? What are we doing wrong? What would be the impact if we continue to do things like this? This is a great time to think about how we could do better! How could we organise the global economy so that as many people as possible benefit and so that we use the world’s resources sustainability? For our sake, and the sake of those to come, this is a question we cannot ignore any longer.