Much has been said about sustainability. What and who are we talking about when speaking about sustainability? What does sustainability encompass in itself? And can a world be built with the sustainability of stories?
In the latest talk organized within Project Zoom programme framework, we met with Doğa Tamer, Secretary General of the Sustainability Steps Association, with the founder of Teyit.org, Atakan Foça, as moderator. We touched on the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development, which many of us somehow heard somewhere, the process through which these concepts emerged, the integrated and intricate structure of sustainability and the sustainability-inequality equation.
Brief overview of the concept of sustainability
When and how did we start talking about the concept of sustainability and the need for a sustainable world? The answer to this question requires moving to its historical backgrounds. From the transition to fossil fuel sources in the 18th century, together with the technological and industrial growth and uncontrolled population growth that emerged after World War II, we reached the point of understanding that the ecological balance between human society and nature started to be destroyed, as a result of an uncontrolled ‘development process’ led by excessive consumption. Initially, development was related to the relationship between population and income level within the framework of the capitalist model, with a purely economic reductionism. This was beneficial for states and elites, as a perspective that continued to make existing inequalities even more unequal.
The concept of sustainability appeared for the first time in the report of the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development, entitled ‘Our Common Future’. Sustainability is defined as the ability of humankind to meet the needs of nature without harming the generations to come. Protecting the diversity of life on earth and increasing its life capacity, minimizing consumption of non-renewable resources, not exceeding the bearing capacity of the earth, changing our habits, evaluating development and environment within the framework of holistic policies are all counted among the principles of sustainability.
After various action plans, protocols and actions like this report, we have now started to talk about the harm of pesticides, climate change, global warming, pollution of water resources, greenhouse gases, extinction of some animal breeds and unlimited consumption habits. Accordingly, the transition to the concept of ‘sustainable development’ was made on the idea that development cannot be associated with economic growth on its own. Additional factors, such as sustainable development and social equality, gender equality, qualified education and literacy, public health, fair living conditions, air-water quality started to be taken into consideration. As a results, when we talk about sustainability, we are talking about an integrated system where each factor affects the other.
Inequalities and actors involved
During the online interview on June 24, Doğa Tamer pointed out that underlying inequalities are increasingly visible from the perspective of sustainability and Sustainable Development Goals. At this point people are starting to focus on the production rather than the product itself; they ask themselves where the products come from, how and under what conditions, so that the focus on the value chain has shifted towards a new direction. Looking at the example of mica, a natural mineral used for make-up products, sun and body lotions, we are aware it is extracted in India, where poverty is widespread as much as exploitation of labour, cheap labour and child labour. Another example is the one about workers involved in jeans grinding, who suffer from silicosis due to the dust inhaled during this application.
On the other hand, an important part of this issue is related to our own responsibilities and the steps we can take to transform the inequalities that emerged. The sustainable development debate together with the technological progress allowed for more effective advocacy, for criticisms heard by a wider audience, for awareness raising as well as some forms of sanction. In general, governments, businesses, private enterprises, NGOs and impact-oriented social enterprises have started working on development cooperation for a more sustainable life. Besides the institutional side, by applying principles and values they advocate for to their daily lives, we can say that individuals also gradually changed their buying and consuming behaviours by blending them into a sustainable lifestyle. Awareness that comes with the right information enables individuals to discover the stories that stand next to them and to build these stories on a more sustainable and balanced ground.
As Doğa said, inequalities create breaks in society. We should not forget that these breaks include many economic, social, environmental factors and could be resolved through solidarity and responsibility.