Creating an ethical and sustainable world – an introductory blog on big, bold ideas!

 

When I was asked to contribute to this ethical living blog with a few thoughts on sustainability, I thought it would be an easy feat. These days we frequently hear the words ‘sustainability’, ‘ethics’ and ‘fair trade’ used freely, and at times, interchangeably.

 

The sustainability that we most talk about most often is the definition of sustainability adopted in the 1987 publication Our Common Future – also known as the Brundtland Report. According to the report:

“[Sustainability is] development that meets the needs of present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Our Common Future, 1987).

It’s meaning is simple and straightforward: to be sustainable, we must make sure that what we do today will not disrupt the wellbeing of tomorrow.

 

But if you take a moment and think about how we understand sustainability, it’s strong ties to ethics and fair trade becomes increasingly precarious. The Brundtland report’s definition of sustainability recognises overconsumption as the key challenge to achieving a sustainable future because it reduces the resources available to future generations.  And if we look at the ways in which sustainability is practised today, the underpinning value of preserving resources for the future is indisputable. Lean manufacture, circular economies and even recycling are all fantastic instruments for reducing our consumption.

 

However, alongside reducing current consumption, there is an equally pressing issue that impacts the well-being of current and future generations. And that is the inability for a significant proportion of our world’s population to access the very same resources we work to reduce. According to a 2016 report released by Oxfam, the world’s richest 62 people have a combined wealth equal to the poorest 3.6 billion.   With the world’s wealth and purchasing power limited to so few, it raises the question: for whom do we practise sustainability and at what costs?

Photo by quicksandala on Morguefile

 

These questions about the ethics of sustainability are not altogether new. The concept of sustainability and what a sustainable world entails is regularly debated and has been extended to include a more holistic consideration of social and environmental factors. The best indication of this more holistic, inclusive understanding of sustainability is the declaration of 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. To be achieved by 2030, these goals extend from clean water and sanitation to gender equality and eradicating power – encouraging a global call to action that embeds ethical and equitable outcomes in the framework of sustainability. What remains unclear is just how we can incorporate sustainable principles and ensure that the world we aspire is still equitable. And so, my blogs will encompass a series of wordy anecdotes that try to navigate these persistently murky waters: what would a truly ethical and sustainable world look like?

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