|At the same time, residents of these Colorado and Oregon communities worry that good-paying jobs in extractive industries are being replaced by lower paying jobs in tourism and recreation. A persuasive economic dialogue to these Westerners includes discussion of tax incentives for bringing in the right industries, specific training for future jobs, and support for starting small businesses.||
A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to
survive and move toward higher levels.
-- Albert Einstein
The Westerners have a well-developed sense of place, value the beauty of nature, and recognize their responsibility to provide long-term stewardship of the environment for the sake of future generations. Members of the focus groups indicated that they see growth and development as mixed blessings. They also view a healthy environment as a key component of their quality of life. They want to use, but not exploit or destroy, their resources. In short, they are looking for balance and moderation. They believe it is possible to work together toward a realistic balance of environmental protection and economic stability. Notes pollster Celinda Lake, in reference to a question on environment versus jobs in the Pacific Northwest, in an October 1994 survey by the Communications Consortium Media Center, "voters clearly want moderation and a balanced approach which gives them both a strong economy and a strong environment."
These focus group findings can likely be extrapolated to most Americans. If people are indeed looking for a realistic balance, then they are searching for sustainability. Turning that quest into productive action is the reason for continuing the dialogue.
Our vision is of a life-sustaining Earth. We are committed to the
achievement of a dignified, peaceful, and equitable existence. A
sustainable United States will have a growing economy that
provides equitable opportunities for
satisfying livelihoods and a safe, healthy, high quality of life for
current and future generations. Our nation will
protect its environment, its natural resource base, and the functions and
viability of natural systems on which all life depends.
-- The President's Council on Sustainable Development
|Over the past 50 years, the United States has enjoyed phenomenal success in disseminating the American ideal of democracy, basic human rights, and a decent quality of life. Today, this American dream needs to be expanded to holistically include environmental protection, economic progress, and social equity. Seeking sustainable solutions and taking sustainable action must become an integral part of our daily lives. The fundamental principles of sustainability should serve to guide not only our individual lives, but also those of businesses, communities, the nation as a whole, and societies world-wide.|
Although we do not all share the same definition of the American dream, there are certain aspects of our society -- such as spiraling consumerism -- that conflict with the realities of living on a relatively small planet with a finite resource base. Our society's emphasis must shift to bring us together with shared values based on stewardship. Quality of life is enriched not so much by things as by creative accomplishments in every aspect of one's life: job, relationships, and civic contributions to community and society. Organizations that foster the personal growth of citizens and improvements to our communities can produce greater satisfaction and hope, increased productivity and achievement, and an enhanced quality of life.
A prevalent assumption in our country is that technology can continue to produce more and more consumer goods while minimizing adverse impacts to the environment and health. We are coming to recognize that organizations and nations that want to remain competitive, socially well balanced, and healthy must redesign every aspect of their planning and production processes to become "eco-efficient." Environmental technologies and eco-efficient manufacturing and business practices may not constitute a technological fix in the sense of allowing open-ended growth, but they can provide some flexibility and allow us to re-examine and expand our values. Our American culture imposes a moral incumbency to champion a responsible vision and action for the future which embrace and advance the principles and objectives of sustainability.
|Patagonia and Sustainable Agriculture|
Patagonia, Inc., designer, manufacturer, and distributor of outdoor
clothing, is shifting its entire cotton line to organically grown
cotton. Organic cotton is grown without the use of harmful chemical
pesticides, herbicides, and defoliants. "We have realized for years
that every product we make involves some level of pollution," says
Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia's founder. "But one of the most surprising
things to a lot of us was how damaging conventional cotton really
is." To make and deliver a 100 percent cotton shirt requires as much
as five gallons of petroleum. In fact, the average so-called "100
percent cotton" product is only 73 percent cotton fiber; the rest is
chemicals and resins. "Given what we now know about conventional
cotton, there is no going back on this decision, regardless of its
impact on the company's sales or profits."
Patagonia is consulting with the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a global coalition advancing alternatives to harmful pesticides, to draw on its expertise in promoting sustainable agriculture. "When clothing companies buy organic crops, it makes a huge difference in farmers' ability to convert to ecologically sound production, cuts poisonings, and gives consumers a cleaner choice," explains Monica Moore, PAN's North American regional coordinator. Organic farmers try to build a healthy environment for plant growth while reducing the risk of disease and attacks by pests. Water use on organic farms generally declines due to increased soil health and the ability of improved soil with high organic content to hold water. In the United States, certified organic cotton acreage has grown from just 100 acres in 1989 to 15,000 acres in 1994.
Education about problems associated with conventional agriculture and the benefits of sustainable growing practices is critical to promoting change. By educating the public through advertising and promotion of its products, Patagonia can influence consumer buying decisions and the way other companies manufacture their products. Patagonia also has coupled an aggressive employee training program with benefits such as in-house child care and flexible work arrangements. As a result, Patagonia's employees and consumers tend to be on the front line of global awareness and grassroots activism.
The benefits of organic cotton farming make Patagonia's decision clear. The message the company sends is "If we are aware of an environmental problem and can realize a solution, we have an obligation to act."
These companies each illustrate aspects of sustainability in action. They have demonstrated that environmental and social responsibility, and profitability, go hand in hand.
Although some Americans are cynical about government and discouraged about its potential for effective action, there are many positive changes taking place. Success depends upon individual and institutional initiative. Individuals and organizations are often loathe to put into action ideas that they do not themselves originate. Top-down, command and control, stove-pipe strategies are not as effective as relationships which emphasize interdisciplinary teaming, value diversity, and forge strategic alliances and collaborative partnerships at all levels. Government leadership and facilitation can effectively catalyze innovative grassroots leadership and activities, as well as provide coordination for what might otherwise be scattershot or redundant, cookie cutter approaches. As a partnership of public and private leaders -- from all levels of government and the private sector -- the PCSD has aimed to provide leadership in a new manner, and to serve as a new breed of catalyst, facilitator, and coordinator. But what really matters in the end will be the individuals from all corners of the nation -- educators, youth, business leaders and employees, local community leaders, local, state and federal policy makers, and members of the media and other professions -- who will individually and collectively determine whether sustainability is to be our planet's destiny.
|Youth: Our Hope for the Future|
Around the globe, more and more youth are becoming aware of, and affected
by, environmental issues. As concern for the future grows among the youth
of the world -- a group that today represents half of the world's
population -- they are becoming a strong voice in the dialogue to raise
social consciousness, while increasing environmental protections and
Conferences like the 1994 and 1995 Global Youth Forums, sponsored by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. provide a means to build partnerships, share ideas, and work toward delineating and achieving common goals. The 1995 forum was attended by approximately 2,000 youth representatives from over 75 countries who ranged between 8 and 25 years old, each making their own contribution to the conference. Youth presentations included a video encouraging communities to recycle aerosol cans; and highlighted classrooms fueled by alternative energy, youths organizing environmental clubs, establishing an environmental pen pal network, lobbying the government for land for a bird sanctuary, educating homeless families on health and environmental issues, and developing a model for an energy-efficient house. "Every day, young people make decisions that affect this planet, its inhabitants, and its environment," notes Elizabeth Dowdeswell, U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director for the 1995 Global Youth Forum. "Young people coordinate and implement projects and programs of tremendous impact in every country on the face of the earth."
At the 1994 Forum, the conference participants ratified Ten Commitments which articulate what they believe needs to be done to achieve a sustainable world. The Ten Commitments focus on: Natural Resource Utilization, Biodiversity, Atmosphere, Water, Energy, Waste, Sustainable Living, Cooperation and Education, Human Rights, and Action. As the rationale for these commitments states, "Ours is a generation unique in the history of our world. Growing up in a reality of ozone holes and global warming, mass extinctions and widespread poverty, we have learned fear, but have confronted it time after time with hope and education... As caring citizens of this planet, we commit ourselves to restoring and preserving our world and to rebuilding our dreams of tomorrow -- pure waters, vast wildlands, clean air and cities free of poverty..." These Ten Commitments were presented, and warmly received at meetings of the United Nations as well as the President's Council on Sustainable Development in January 1995. "Constructing an imaginative and creative scenario for development into the 21st century depends on our faith, our confidence, and our trust in youth."
As the purpose of the dialogue becomes known, various sectors should step forward to meet the challenge of implementing the recommendations contained in the reports of PCSD and its task forces, each of which is a veritable idea bank of activities and success stories for local adaptation. A first step for national groups should be to help recruit leaders from nationwide industry associations, national media, major professional societies, and national nonprofit organizations. It is hoped that these leaders would then enlist the support of their groups in developing appropriate strategies. An immediate initiative should be to recruit champions from local civic groups and businesses who can initiate community "visioning" processes and other grassroots activities. Another early step of national groups should be to explore the impacts of their sector on sustainability and develop plans to mitigate those impacts.
The health care sector has already initiated such activities through the National Association of Physicians for the Environment. Industry has formed the Business Environment Learning and Leadership program, and academia has established the University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. Other sectors, such as the media, advertising, entertainment, and publishing industries, can exert enormous influence by publicizing successful models of sustainability.
Another immediate step, which PCSD is implementing, is to establish linkages with existing global infrastructure that support sustainability. Canada's Learning for a Sustainable Future is a recognized global leader in education for sustainability. PCSD also has reached out to the Canadian National Round Table on Sustainable Development and has learned much from counterparts in Australia and Switzerland. Building bridges internationally will prove as crucial in the long run as forming partnerships within our own borders.
As mid-term strategies, national associations can help spread sustainable practices worldwide by providing training assistance to developing countries in areas important to sustainability, such as environmental technologies. Within the United States, other mid-term strategies might include the revision of tax policies to encourage sustainable practices. A mid-term strategy specific to public linkage and education is to expand professional training for educators in teaching the principles of sustainability; this effort is one in which professional societies, state and local governments, and communities can take the leadership role.
Additional strategies include expanding interdisciplinary research, developing interdisciplinary teaching materials, and publicizing success stories through sustainability awards. These are the kind of strategies that stretch from the near term into long-range goals. Industry's development of eco-efficient production processes is another example of an ongoing strategy, as is the financial community's responsibility to offer enduring support programs in education for sustainability.
A critical component of all strategies, short- or long-range, will be the development of benchmarks that can serve as indicators of success. The North American Association for Environmental Education is working with the World Resources Institute to develop standards for assessing student achievement in education for sustainability; these educational performance standards are one type of benchmark.
Other organizations, such as the World Bank and United Nations, are working to develop indicators that measure progress in sustainable development. John O'Connor, principal author of a recent World Bank report on indicators, notes that significant intellectual retooling for an interdisciplinary approach is needed to develop indicators that are acceptable to disparate disciplines.2 Economists prefer statistical tables, land managers are accustomed to graphic representations, and still others favor narrative approaches. Finding an acceptable framework of communication across various disciplines is a pressing need. The World Bank considers this mandate to be so urgent that it has developed interim indicators that can be employed by policy makers until an improved, internationally agreed-upon framework is established. As O'Connor notes, even if the Bank's calculations the first time around are only approximations, they are a first step for providing decision makers with an improved basis for assessing policy choices.
In calculating indicators of the wealth of nations, the World Bank concluded that human resources often exceed the sum of the other two components of a nation's wealth: natural resources and manufactured assets. Ismail Serageldin, Vice President of the World Bank, notes that the organization's findings "suggest that it is time to move beyond the notion that investment is only what is embodied in machinery and buildings. Investment in people, and capacity building in general, is crucial for sustainable development."3
By stressing the importance of investing in capacity building -- that is, in education and training -- the World Bank is tacitly recognizing that it is individuals who will determine whether the nations of the world will embark on a sustainable path. It is individuals who will decide whether to act sustainably in their own lives. It is individuals who will influence corporate behavior. It is individuals who will serve as the leaders of communities and nations and help move them toward sustainability.
As individuals, we all need to examine our own lives, decide our priorities, and establish personal benchmarks to judge our progress. In the end, what we do as individuals -- or what we fail to do -- will determine whether humanity begins to live sustainably. One by one, our individual actions will add to the sum total of human behaviors that will determine our collective future.
|A National Agenda Supporting Sustainability|
"In almost all the natural domains, the Earth is under stress -- it is a
planet that is in need of intensive care. Can the United States, the
American people, pioneer sustainable patterns of consumption and
lifestyle, and can you educate for that? This is a challenge that we
would like to put out to you." So said Dr. Noel J. Brown of the U.N.
Environment Programme at the 1994 National Forum on Partnerships
Supporting Education About the Environment.
To meet this challenge, forum participants -- who included over 100 leaders from government, education, business, and the non-governmental community -- discussed their individual and collective roles, reasons, and opportunities for forming partnerships. The participants realized that, despite their differences, they all shared a common vision: to educate the nation about the benefits of protecting its natural and cultural resources. It was agreed that a blueprint should be developed to explore ways to build effective partnerships to support environmental education and training activities.
Today this challenge has been realized; Education for Sustainability: An Agenda for Action is complete. As a demonstration project of the Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force, the document builds on the policy recommendations and actions highlighted in this report by offering implementation options for the future. It presents useful examples of the types of educational partnerships needed to establish an educational infrastructure that successfully places society on a path to sustainability.
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
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
T H E W H I T E H O U S E