The concept of a sustainable society has been around for decades. In 1981, Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, defined it as “one that is able to satisfy its needs without diminishing the chance of future generations.”
Over the years, this concept has evolved to encompass a broad range of social and environmental issues. Many activists picture a sustainable society as a Venn diagram of three overlapping concerns:
In a sustainable world, each dimension works in harmony with the other. Today’s citizens are given every opportunity to grow and thrive; tomorrow’s resources are preserved and protected.
The Sustainability Society Index (SSI)
The Sustainable Society Index (SSI), a framework developed by the Sustainability Society Foundation, assess the level of progress toward sustainability in over 150 countries. It ranks each country in three “wellbeing dimensions”:
- Environmental Wellbeing: Nature and environment (e.g., air quality), climate and energy (e.g., greenhouse gas reduction) and natural resources (e.g., biodiversity).
- Human Wellbeing: Basic needs (e.g., safe water), personal and social development (e.g., gender equality) and health (e.g., clean water).
- Economic Wellbeing: Transition (e.g., organic farming) and economy (e.g., employment).
A 21st Century Sustainable Society
What does a 21st century sustainable society look like? Primarily, it is self-sufficient. Non-polluting, renewable resources provide the power to drive sustainable energy systems; more efficient farming techniques and new technologies improve yields; and, reduced consumption helps eliminate waste.
As a result, the environment can be preserved for future generations. Global temperatures could cease to climb, and the quality of air, water, natural habitats and critical ecosystems would be protected under the full force of the law.
Just as important, in a 21st century sustainable society, every human has equal access to basic needs like nutrition, shelter, education and health care. Economic systems are transparent, ethical and built on fair and equitable practices, and companies employ sustainable methods of production and distribution.
Practical Steps Towards a Sustainable Society
Raise Public Awareness
Individuals cannot make sustainable choices unless they know what those choices are, and countries will not take direct action to promote sustainable practices unless they receive substantial pressure from citizens. Websites, speeches, movements and rallies all contribute to raising public awareness.
Promoting free and fair access to a quality education for all children, both girls and boys, produces a number of positive outcomes. It increases children’s level of understanding about the environment; it empowers them to make personal choices about family size and lifestyle; and, it provides the world with informed and productive citizens.
Increase Government and Business Investment
New technologies and infrastructures, built using environmentally sound practices, have the potential to transform modern society. But, this is only possible if governments and businesses are willing to invest much-needed capital in their development.
Conserve Resources and Eliminate Waste
Like it or not, the earth’s resources are finite. Large-scale efforts to conserve energy and water will have an impact, but personal choices are just as important. The more steps we take to eliminate waste and needless consumption, the better off future generations will be.
Is the current culture of disposable consumerism, fossil fuel dependency and heavy automobile use what we hope to pass on to our children? Do we wish to overcome inequalities in education, standards of living and economic opportunity? Then our personal values, as well as our actions, must change.