|A 1995 survey noted that 61 percent of Americans favor the idea of sustainable development, and that four out of 10 say they would tolerate changes in the price of consumer goods, such as paying more for a gallon of gasoline if they were sure it would help the environment.1 This willingness indicates that the public is developing attitudes and values that foster sustainable living. Further, a March 1996 survey asked respondents if the three goals of sustainable development -- economic growth, environmental protection and the health and happiness of people -- can be accomplished collectively without compromising any one of them, and 66% agree that it is possible to achieve all three simultaneously.2||
Our society will not be unsustainable one day and sustainable
the next. Sustainability is a process with a beginning and no
end. The challenge will remain with us and our children and
-- Stephen Viederman
Another indicator of change is in the industrial sector. Manufacturers across the nation are adopting eco-efficient manufacturing processes, also known as 'industrial ecology." Eco-efficient firms design industrial processes that mimic natural ecosystems, following nature's model by recycling valuable energy and natural resources. The goal is a closed loop with little or no waste -- a system that makes good economic as well as environmental sense. Other evidence of change, drawn from the actions of individuals, businesses, and manufacturers, is mounting:
The individuals and organizations cited above may not call what they are doing "living sustainably," but they are making behavioral changes by conserving resources, saving money, and making collective and collaborative contributions to their community. Collectively, these actions -- and others like them -- will lead us to a sustainable tomorrow.
|Brookside Fifth Graders: Students for Sustainability|
For the past four years, students of Brookside School in San Anselmo, California, have worked with their teachers, Ruth Hicks and Laurette Rogers, to help save a local endangered species, the California freshwater shrimp (Syncaris pacifica). They adopted the shrimp through the California State Adopt-a-Species Program. First, the students learned all that they could about the shrimp. Then they acted to put their knowledge into practice. The students visited a native plant nursery to learn about methods that could be used for restoring creekside habitat. They also contacted Paul Martin, a local rancher whose property included one of the last 15 creeks harboring the shrimp. The class asked for -- and was given -- permission to restore habitat along the creek. Partnerships were formed among creek biologists, Americorps, and Future Farmers of America members who worked with the students to make the creek rehabilitation possible.
For example, they have little if any understanding of such pervasive environmental issues as biodiversity and global warming. A 1992 national opinion survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates indicated that only one percent of respondents consider endangered species to be a serious environmental problem, and only one in five respondents had heard of the loss of biological diversity. This response, according to E.O. Wilson in The Diversity of Life, stands in startling contrast to the fact that approximately 27,000 species a year -- 74 per day, or three species every hour -- are driven to extinction worldwide.
Additionally, many people confuse the issue of global warming with depletion of the ozone layer. A 1994 study by Carnegie-Mellon University revealed that even well-educated citizens wrongly believe climate change can cause increased cases of skin cancer and are convinced that their personal response should be to give up aerosol sprays.9 Not only are these respondents confusing global warming and depletion of the ozone layer, they also seem to be unaware that ozone-depleting chemicals have been federally banned from aerosols for about 20 years.
If widely reported concepts such as global warming remain unfamiliar to so many Americans, it is not surprising that sustainability -- a complex and multidimensional concept, which involves finding a balance between achieving environmental protection, economic progress, and sociopolitical equity -- is unknown to as many as four out of 10 citizens, as well as to many policy makers, business leaders, educators, and community leaders.10
Many approaches can be used to raise public awareness of sustainability. But education -- lifelong education, education within and outside the formal schooling system throughout our lives -- is the major, perhaps primary, tool for creating a common understanding of this concept. This education may occur in formal schooling or in such nonformal venues as the media, adult education programs, museum exhibits, conferences and workshops, and nature center programs. The goal of this educational experience is for citizens to become active participants in dialogues about sustainable development and in developing meaningful sustainable development strategies -- personally, locally, nationally, and globally.
Dialogues on sustainability must involve as many people and as many different viewpoints as possible. Multi-stakeholder dialogues compel people to work to discover common ground on which to build consensus and create change. Exploration of diverse views will result in wiser decisions leading to win-win solutions that provide benefits for all constituencies. Ultimately, this approach encourages "buy in" because participants feel they have a stake in the outcome. The result of a successful process in a cooperative atmosphere is that the stakeholders develop shared visions.
At the heart of a sustainable society is an integrated, supportive system that does not allow one component to dominate over another to the exclusion or extinction of another, but allows every component to flourish. The consensus needed to develop this system will be a gradual, cumulative process spreading outward from a few individuals, groups, and communities, and building over the years.
|Sustainability: A Moving Target|
The fact that the term "sustainability" has not yet entered the mainstream of American consciousness may be due in part to confusion about its meaning. Over the years, literally hundreds of definitions have been suggested. One of the earliest was proposed in 1915 by Canada's Commission on Conservation: "Each generation is entitled to the interest on the natural capital, but the principal should be handed down unimpaired."11 The actual term "sustainable development" was first introduced in the late 1970s and popularized in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Bruntland Commission, which defines sustainability as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Clearly, the time to chart and pursue a sustainable course is now. But lack of knowledge, indifference, and resistance must first be addressed.
If sustainability is to become a reality, educators, government at all levels, businesses, and non-governmental organizations must work together to foster an awareness of common needs, knowledge of the long-term impacts of decisions, and understanding of the benefits of achieving a sustainable society. The best way to allay any apprehensions about reductions in the standard of living and overcome anxiety and fear is to present positive visions and real-life examples of sustainability.14 Countless examples testify to sustainability-oriented changes across the United States. This report highlights some of these models, discusses the obstacles and efforts behind their success, and relates them to Task Force policy recommendations. By highlighting these stories, our hope is that their successes will inspire other grassroots efforts to spread the idea and practice of sustainability into other communities across the nation and the globe.
Progress toward sustainability will be realized if we as a nation can:
Progress means seeking synergy with ongoing initiatives and exploring new vehicles, such as experiential learning in the workplace, which will lead to an understanding of sustainability. A process like the one used by the President's Council on Sustainable Development and its Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force can be replicated to continue moving us forward in examining strategies for advancing education for sustainability. The task is admittedly a big one, but it can be accomplished by working together to find common solutions.
|GAP: Households for Sustainability|
Many of the resources consumed in the United States are used in the home. The Global Action Plan for the Earth (GAP) is a grassroots effort providing individuals and communities with the motivation, support, and hands-on experience they need to live their lives more sustainably. GAP believes that the primary means for shifting America onto a sustainable path is for households to make changes in the way they live.
Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force Report
Task Force Members and Liasons
A Letter from the Task Force
Appendix A: Endnotes
Appendix B: Acknowledgments
Appendix C: Resource Guide
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