A modified three E’s for sustainable development: Economy, Equitable governance, Engaged populace

Ten years ago the Three E’s were promoted for sustainable development: environment, economics, equity.  I applauded the equity goal, but I wondered what its logical connection was with sustainabilty.  What follows was my take, as prepared for an education for sustainability initiative in 2003 (which proved not, alas, to be sustainable).

The vision of sustainable economic and social development expressed in the 1987 United Nations’ Brundtland Commission report, Our Common Future — development that “meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In this spirit, we envision three interrelated strands of sustainability:

  • a sustainable Economy, ensuring that members of future generations have equivalent — or enhanced — capacity for living, being healthy, making a livelihood, gaining environmental services, and harnessing natural resources.
  • Just and Equitable governance — decision-making procedures and institutions that do not permit one group’s access to resources to be ensured at the expense of others.

(Equity is linked with sustainability because, if we are concerned not to degrade the conditions for people in future generations, it makes sense to be concerned with improving the conditions of other people with degraded conditions in the present. Movement towards a sustainable, equitable society impels us to resist any growth of the gap among the capacities of different groups.)

  •  an Engaged populace, one in which people’s commitment to sustainability and equity motivates them:
    • to appreciate and monitor the state of the environment, social structure, human health;
    • to understand linked social and environmental processes;
    • to transform practices that makes those processes unsustainable and inequitable; and
    • to cross boundaries and collaborate with others in the pursuit of understanding and transformation.
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