Econation’s tagline is ‘For People and Planet’.
We often say that what is good for the planet is good for people, and vice-versa. Accordingly, we think the most sensible goal for our society is environmentally sustainable human well-being. Another way of saying this is that the aim is to maximise general well-being with the minimum of resource use and environmental harm. In this article we will explore some of the reasoning behind these ideas.
Over-production and consequent over-consumption is harming both the environment and people. By reducing consumption to sustainable levels and focusing more on the real factors of well-being we will benefit both ourselves and nature.
Well-being is multidimensional and context-specific; there are a wide variety of environmental, societal and individual factors at play. (Read more about well-being here –») These factors cannot be viewed in isolation because they are part of a whole system where a solution over here can cause a problem over there. Well-being can be seen as a ‘wicked’ challenge because there is no one-size-fits-all set of solutions. A primary focus on one dimension of well-being, consumption, to the detriment of others, skews people’s lives and harms our shared planet.
Measuring societal success on the basis of production and consumption is wrong. For far too long economic growth has been seen as a driver of well-being. It is believed that growth in production (i.e. economic growth) would improve the standard of living for all. This was certainly true in the beginning but at some point in the early second-half of last century economic growth started having a negative effect on both people and the planet. In a report from January 2018, Oxfam estimated that 82% of all wealth created in the previous year went to the top 1% of wealthiest people, and nothing at all went to the bottom 50%.
Current economic growth does not preserve cultural diversity, social cohesion or help meet universal human needs. Moreover, resource shortages, over-population, over-consumption and environmental limits stop us from growing our way out of individual, societal and environmental problems. Indeed, as we said, economic growth is just making matters worse. As is written many times on this website, we need a better economy, not a bigger one. We need a focus on personal growth and well-being rather than a focus on consumption.
What is social sustainability?
In order to move towards sustainability, we must address social as well as environmental issues.
Environmental sustainability requires living within the limits of the natural world, likewise, social sustainability is also about living in ways that can be sustained. These ways are sustainable because they are healthy and satisfying for individuals and communities. The ways to social sustainability have little to do with consumption and materialism but instead require the satisfaction of physical, emotional and social needs. In addition, they include avoiding behaviours that result in poor health, emotional distress and conflict such as over-eating, over-work and status competition. Social sustainability also means ensuring that we support social structures such as families, neighbourhoods and community initiatives. By enhancing family, work, community and social relationships individuals can improve the well-being of society and vice-versa.
For people and planet
We need a global focus on improving individual, social and environmental well-being instead of growth in production and consumption. By reducing consumption and an emphasis on material wealth people can do two significant things. Firstly, they can change focus to the things that genuinely provide well-being such as relationships, personal development, meaningful pursuits, connecting with nature, worthwhile work and self-sufficiency. Secondly, they reduce their ecological footprint and thereby their harm to the planet. The corollary of this is that the planet becomes in much better condition to supply healthy and sustainable resources that all humans need.