Chapter 6

Chapter 6
Continuing the Dialogue

Ultimately, our nation's children and grandchildren are the ones who will see the progress of the dialogue on sustainability. If today's adults ask the right questions, generate productive answers, and take meaningful actions, the dialogue will have a much different form by the time the next generation takes charge. If we conduct the exchange well, they will honor us. If we do it poorly, they will be right to blame us for their plight.

The process begun by the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) has initiated the dialogue, but the question now is how to ensure its continuation. Sustaining a fruitful dialogue in regions of the country that are dependent on resource-based industries is one of the most important next steps. Recent focus groups in Grand Junction, Colorado, and Bend, Oregon, provided insights into how to frame the dialogue so that it resonates with those who have close economic connections with the extraction of resources.1 The focus group research indicated that residents in Western communities respond to a message that focuses on long-term, stable, and sustainable economic progress. They believe their communities need to achieve greater economic diversity and understand that resource protection is part of a long-term economic strategy.

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.

Toward Sustainability

Prosperity, fairness, and a healthy environment are interrelated elements of the human dream for a better future. Sustainable development is a way to pursue that dream through choice and policy. Three themes are essential to any implementation strategy for setting the nation on the path to sustainability:

  • expanding the American dream to embrace and value sustainability;

  • nurturing grassroots leadership for sustainability, complemented by stewardship and support at all levels, and

  • encouraging hope, and cultivating the knowledge, will, and a system of recognition and rewards for individuals and organizations to take the steps toward realizing their dreams for a sustainable future.

Expanding the American Dream

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."


Consumers and Institutional Stewardship

Many businesses are responding to consumer pressures to use resources sustainably, particularly in the fashion and beauty industry. The International Design Resource Awards Competition rewarded those companies that developed new mass-producible products using materials from recycled or reprocessed materials, as well as markets to promote these products. Award winners include the following:

  • ECOSPORT is the nation's first company to produce garments from 100 percent certified organic cotton. It manufactures apparel without bleaching, dyes, or harmful chemicals, thereby reducing the amount of toxins entering the environment. It has created a market for organically grown cotton. Farmers are responding to this need by using new techniques such as hand weeding, mechanical cultivation, crop rotation, planting schedules, mulches, composts, and the use of beneficial insects. ECOSPORT considers itself to be a "benchmark, setting the standard for the apparel industry, and continues to work toward making the Earth a healthier and cleaner place."

  • DEJA SHOE is a Portland, Oregon, based company that manufactures footwear using recycled materials, nontoxic adhesives, sustainably harvested plant materials, and leather-free alternatives. DEJA SHOE recently received an award from the U.N. Environment Programme for its "commitment to sustainable development and Earth stewardship and especially for creative and exemplary initiatives in manufacturing products based on principles of waste reduction and sustainable use of the Earth's resources." DEJA SHOE backs its stewardship with a social mission, donating five percent of pretax profits to help support the World Conservation Union's Plants Program of the Species Survival Commission.

  • AVEDA, a cosmetic and beauty supply corporation, "is committed to creating products and services beneficial to the consumer and the environment" all over the world. It has formed partnerships with indigenous people throughout the world, and works to promote economic development and cultural awareness among its employees working within these communities. Each year, AVEDA performs an "eco-audit" to determine its environmental performance, initiates aggressive education and training programs for its employees, and promotes an idea exchange with environmental groups to generate new ideas and establish new programs.

  • "It's more than how you look," is the creed of SEBASTIAN, a concept-oriented beauty care company dedicated to serving the beauty industry through environmental concern, ethics, and education. SEBASTIAN has developed new hair care products derived from renewable and replenishable rainforest extracts; this in turn has created economic development for the indigenous people of Brazil. SEBASTIAN is also involved in the LITTLE GREEN program, a children's environmental project, and Club U.N.I.T.E. (Unity Now Is a Tomorrow for Everyone), a foundation involved with critical social and health issues. In 1990, SEBASTIAN announced that it would only do business with "responsible" companies. To this end, it has asked clients to sign the following declaration, "I pledge that my company is now, and will continue to be, ecologically conscious and environmentally friendly. I will adhere to and support Sebastian's Environmental Code of Ethics."

These companies each illustrate aspects of sustainability in action. They have demonstrated that environmental and social responsibility, and profitability, go hand in hand.


Fostering Grassroots Leadership

Surveys indicate that a majority of Americans are convinced of the need for sustainability. They may lack information about sustainable practices, but they find the concept persuasive. They believe in sustainability, and for that reason, many have been initiating action at the individual and community levels. Their efforts are reflected in the success stories documented in this report and give meaning and substantive content to what might otherwise be a vague or abstract concept. Grassroots leadership can stimulate and unleash the creativity and innovation that breathes life into the sustainability movement.

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.


Hope for the Future

Encouraging hope for a sustainable future is in part dependent upon continually building awareness and knowledge about sustainability matters into the fabric of individuals and institutions. Sharing information and engaging in open dialogue in a manner that decreases the likelihood of polarization, and increases collaboration between diverse stakeholders is critical to success. The environmental movement has contributed two very important lessons to the sustainability dialogue. One is to make the issues and the solutions understandable, relevant, and important at a personal level; the other is to make the message and the process for change honest and positive. Applying these lessons has been a powerful force in affecting significant local change on a broad scale; the results are heartening. National environmental groups have learned that local issues are most often responsible for awakening environmental activism. A person's favorite tree being targeted for cutting so that a road can be widened may be enough to transform a passive bystander into an active environmentalist. A parent whose child develops asthma may suddenly exhibit a deep personal interest in air pollution. A homeowner whose neighborhood is slated to be the site of a new industrial facility or sewage treatment plant may seek out an environmental group that is defending property values as a by-product of helping protect the health of the environment. The lesson is that it is easier to assimilate new values if they have direct personal benefits. Another lesson is that the -doom-and-gloom" approach wears thin. Threats of catastrophe become less persuasive over time, especially when the risks are exaggerated or not portrayed credibly. Such negative approaches are less effective than positive ones that incorporate a change in values. If sustainability is to be a persuasive theme, people must find satisfying, alternative values and patterns of behavior. Achieving sustainability depends on motivating people in a positive way to replace non-sustainable practices with sustainable behaviors.

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 global security.

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."


Bridges to a Sustainable Future

Implementing the recommendations suggested in this report can be effectively accomplished when diverse stakeholders build bridges to attain mutually shared goals. Joint visioning, short- and long-term strategies, and realistic actions to achieve measurable objectives are needed. PCSD is researching implementation strategies for the policy recommendations contained in its report; its most immediate implementation strategy is to disseminate its work as widely as possible. Various venues may be employed, such as enlisting the assistance of national leaders from government, industry, academia, and celebrities from the sports and entertainment industries. Reports are to be posted on PCSD's home page on the Internet.

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.


Appendix A: Endnotes
Table of Contents

Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force Report

Task Force Members and Liasons

A Letter from the Task Force


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Appendix A: Endnotes

Appendix B: Acknowledgments

Appendix C: Resource Guide

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