Reflections on sustainability

September 23, 2017

Think Globally Act Locally

I had the good fortune to attend a workshop to talk about the future of sustainability. People joined us from around the world.

This naturally led to some personal reflections. 

Sustainability is about place.

This theme came up frequently during a two-day workshop.

This was intriquing to me because I haven’t known anything different. My sustainability work has always been locally anchored. While mayor in Gueph, we even added a fourth pillar – culture – to our sustainability framework to capture the importance of community identity in shaping our sense of belonging and wellbeing.

We learned to engage people where they were - in their homes, at work and through their neighbourhoods - if we wanted to bring about sustainable change. Practice-based evidence is what excites me. Understanding what works, in real-life situations, and with real people making a difference.

While it wasn’t invoked, that decades-old saying, "think globally and act locally" kept coming to mind. It seems as relevant today, if not more so.

Sustainability is about ethics.

This theme was most elegantly expressed by an Indigenous elder at the workshop who said: “We don’t own this land, it belongs to future generations.” So, how we treat the land, air and water, and what we leave for future generations, is fundamentally an ethical decision.

Sustainability is about good governance.

Effective governance does two things: it adds value and it determines how that value will be distributed among competing interests. Do we seek to find a fair and equitable balance, or to trade off one interest for another when distributing that value? Sustainability asks us to consider how we balance the needs of today while ensuring others will also be able to thrive.

I like how one of the schools in my community has summed it up in a sign on their front lawn: “Live simply so others may simply live.”