Maybe you’ve read about it, heard it on the news, or heard someone speak about sustainable development. If you haven’t heard the buzz words you’ve certainly heard about some of the issues surrounding sustainable development, and you even more certainly are affected by some of these issues. We wanted to get our facts straight, find out what sustainable development is all about, and discover our own responsibility. We sat down with Elischia Fludd, a longtime gender justice activist, humanitarian, and the Founder of EOTO World. EOTO World, a We-Care.com partner, provides capacity building services for human rights activists across the globe to strengthen anti-poverty and peace work while ensuring safe spaces for activists to publish critical analyses, build vital skills, network, and share resources to transform communities across the globe. Elischia gave us the liberty of five questions, here’s how we spent them…

What is sustainable development, including the issues involved?
A broad definition of sustainable development is development that meets the needs of a society in ways that is best for the environment, individuals, and the economy without compromising the ability of future generations to also meet the same needs. The practice of sustainable development requires for sustainable use throughout all three pillars of the society, environment, and economy to be interwoven into humanity. We should ensure that no part of: caring for the Earth, taking responsibility for the use of the plant’s resources, guaranteeing fair treatment of people throughout societies around the world, and building equitable economies that leaves no one without dignity and significant subsistence, is left behind in the present or future.
The international community has not fully decided how sustainable development should look in a way that satisfies all stakeholders. There are blueprints for governments to strive toward like the Brundtland Report, the documents that follow the 1992 Rio declaration and the recent outcome document from Rio+20, however, the ways to integrate all three pillars into our societies depend on cultural and socio-political nuances that can be challenging to overcome. For instance, part of having a thriving economy is to be able to use the Earth for resources like minerals. Minerals are sold for currency allowing the seller to live off of the currency from the mineral sale, and the consumer to use the minerals as they see fit. Suppose we were to look at the actions of a mining company. Sustainable development requires the mining company to think about and rectify at minimum the following:

a) Extraction of minerals (Environment pillar/Economic Pillar)- The mining company needs to think about how to extract what it needs without over-exploiting the surrounding eco-system (living entities around it) so that the area of mining cannot sustain its richness for future generations. This requires a limit of extraction that is not based on how much profit the company can earn, but how much the Earth can put up with the extraction without incurring heavy damages. Targets should be set by governments to discourage over-exploitation but more importantly, incentives for responsible environmental use should be a common place occurrence.

b) Treatment of workers (Economic pillar/ Social Pillar)- The mining company should be paying workers a living wage and not exploiting them through low wages and exhausting work hours. A living wage ensures that the workers avoid poverty. Other considerations include a worker’s bill of rights to ensure inclusive and fair treatment, development training, comprehensive health insurance, and appropriate site safety.

c) Interaction with surrounding community (Social Pillar)- The mining company needs to think about how the community that surrounds the area will be affected by mining. For example, before mining they must ensure there will not be toxins that filter into town water so that the public health is protected. In fact, planning should include the community so the people have a direct voice in how their surroundings are developed. A culture of respect for land sovereignty and the rights of the community must be central to development.

The example of the mining company shows that sustainable development requires a lot of changes to the way we think and practice our mainstream world culture.

Why is sustainable development important?
Sustainable development is important because the sum total of the ways we consume, waste and manage environmental resources, employ human capital, and accumulate wealth, is detrimental to our survival.
Issues like climate change affect our very existence as humans. Significant shifts in climates around the world erode top soil and dry up water supplies. Climate change also creates weather pattern shifts that prolong seasons, provoke devastating floods, and extract extreme heat. Oppression of populations around the world disrupt opportunities for peace and stifle the ability of some populations to subsist in dignity at the expense of other populations that fail to see the inter-connectedness of the human experience. Disproportionate wealth distribution continues to widen poverty gaps between not only societies but even countries, and wealthier nations tend to politically hijack world progress for equitable and sustainable humanity through glaring over-consumption and irresponsible waste patterns that exceed other nations.

Part of our existence as humans is to create a human legacy capable of thriving. Sustainable development is important because its full practice is the only way to ensure that the present produces harmonious gains for all humans, not competition with the Earth, both now and in the future.

What can we do to help?
There are many ways that people can take action for sustainable development. Here is a short list of tangible ways to either begin your journey or advance your efforts:

1. Reset your mind. Mainstream world culture dictates that we can make money on an open market on anything we can successfully market for others to consume. Whereas money is not necessarily bad, the idea that anything is open for profit is problematic. The resources we get from the Earth are actually priceless. There are no amounts of profit that can produce on its own what we need to survive as humans without incorporating the gifts from the natural environment. Thus, the environment requires utmost care. To that end, the ability of humans to use Earth resources must be treated with equal respect because we are a part of the environment and the environment is a part of us. We can show our respect for the gift of life that comes with provision by respecting the harvest from the Earth and ensuring a life of dignity, for all.

2. Change your consumption and waste patterns. The beauty of sustainable development is that everything matters, from the minute to the grand. Small steps count as much as large ones and they all can be done together. Start with your immediate environment. Start with your home; there are plenty of things that you can do to reduce harmful impact on the environment inside your house or apartment. You can change your light bulbs, reduce your energy consumption, and use products that are friendlier for the air we breathe and the survival of living creatures that support our survival in the circle of life. Challenge yourself to go further until you have reached as close to zero waste as you can for your budget. The point is to be realistic, yet challenge yourself enough to see economic and health benefits from living more sustainably.

3. Influence communal patterns. Once you become accustomed to incorporating levels of change in your personal consumption and waste, you can see more clearly how to influence public spaces. If you are employed, talk to your co-workers and boss about how to cut down on usage much like you have started to do at home. Your campaign towards sustainability at work is good for building a culture of creativity, and it also promotes ways to save the employer money – a good incentive for your employer, not to mention a great benefit for the environment.

4. Advocate for rights. Making changes in your immediate surroundings and influencing others to live better and affect the economic and environmental bottom line is a great start, but your job is not done if you are only concentrating on you and your immediate surroundings. The reality is every day people must use their influence collectively to regulate large corporations, police domestic and international politics concerning them, and government responsibilities to their people. Sustainable development only works if it is practiced in full, by all. As long as there are hiccups in the systems of the world, our humanity is at stake. We live in a globalized world that increasingly blurs the line between “us and them”. As humans on this Earth together, we must ensure that minimal practices to save future generations are ingrained for generations to come. We must also face the realities that our collective abuse of the Earth has already compromised a portion of the future and requires drastic action to overcome.

5. Never stop learning. Ignorance is deadly, and what you are not aware of not only affects you and your family, but the rest of us too. As dramatic as the previous statements sound, they are important to understand. The actions of some of us affect the ability of our neighbors to thrive. Eventually, the inability to thrive in one portion of humanity comes full circle and with more force. Continue to seek information about sustainable development via latest trends, research, and citizen actions.

How does EOTO World address Sustainable Development?
For us, Sustainable Development is an integral part of the practice of both human rights and a culture of peace. EOTO World focuses on addressing sustainable development as:

1. an inner practice as an organization so that we cultivate ourselves to practice what we stand for.

2. trainers to guide capacity building allowing activists to enhance sustainable practices in what they do.

3. an advocate for sustainable development solutions on an international level via consultations, conferences, and/or policy.

Sustainable development is inherent within the two internationally recognized frameworks that EOTO World uses as the basis for our work, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and a culture of peace. As an organization, all that we do must incorporate an “Each One, Teach One (EOTO)” practice of passing on knowledge and practices. It is important for us to model sustainable development to the best of our ability and set more challenging goals to meet as we develop. Since the start of the organization in late 2010, EOTO World has endorsed sustainable living through “EOTO goes Green” writings on our blog. In the “EOTO Goes Green” series, interns are challenged to live green, chronicle their progress, and share what they learn during their tenure with us. We have worked sustainability into organizational practices through the pledge of our green clause and incorporating our partner and volunteer agreements. The bar continues to move higher for us as we seek to lower our carbon footprint even more by building a 100% green website.

EOTO World builds capacity for sustainable practices through workshops and events like our POP program which brought the issues, challenges and practices of sustainable development as a mechanism for peace to participants around the world in a real-time online space this year. We have begun working with our partners at Earth Charter International, we have begun a conversation about peace in the context of the Earth Charter, and shared best practices for participants to take to their communities. In addition to POP, we have collaborated to bring webinars, technical assistance, and international advocacy toolkits for youth and sustainable development topics via PowerPoint slideshows that activists can use for their own presentations on sustainable development in their communities. Success stories of our tools and resources used to train and support activists include the introduction of sustainable development to populations in Brunei, Egypt, and Cameroon. Capacity building for sustainable development will continue as we work with activists one to one and create new materials for community empowerment.

Internationally, our sustainable development advocacy efforts focused on Rio+20, and the toolkits and webinars that integrated Rio+20 into the topic of sustainable development. We also engaged in direct advocacy via NY+20 and participate as an NGO at Rio+20 with tens of thousands of other civil society stakeholders. Currently, our focus is on advocating for more detailed, practical action oriented integration of sustainable development internationally via frameworks that are being re-imagined for both the post 2015 MDGs and post Rio+20.

How would you describe your partnership with We-Care.com?
Our partnership with We-Care.com allows donors an opportunity to support our work without asking them to sacrifice their income. Donations from We-Care.com help off-set costs for web maintenance for our online sessions, materials, research, and direct assistance around the world for capacity building which can also include on-site workshops around the world where we have staff. All of EOTO World is run by volunteers, including staff. We dedicate our time because there is no real price you can put on human rights and peace work since it is essential for our survival. Supporting us through We-Care.com extends a hand of solidarity to the work we set out to do.