A cultural wave on sustainability. Are we ready?

Surfing in TasmaniaIs sustainability really inserted in our culture? Is our education enough “sustainable” to educate future generations on sustainable values? Can we definitely assure that our education is being encompassed with the new challenges? It´s difficult to answer this questions and even more difficult to create a culture on sustainability and be consistent on its process.

Development has always been in the hands of experts, mainly economists, but this new challenge demand changes and it´s imperative to be creative by giving room to other fields. Nowadays, we face the big challenge of a sustainable development in which economic, politics, climate change and culture converges. But only culture is the reliable platform that assures a sustainable process in itself, and makes the other three elements dependent on them. This powerful tool needs to be used because of its consistency, determination and stability, all features that economics or politics do not have, as well as climate change and their future uncertainties.

Culture is the only reliable platform that assures a sustainable process.

Some authors considered that culture is a real 4th pillar on sustainability[1] as environmental responsibility, economic health and social equality. However, it seems more accurate and tangible to see it as a culture dimension on sustainability, a transversal dimension that defines a system of values; understanding sustainability not as a goal but as a process of a cultural evolution[2].

UNESCO has already addressed this point by their Programmes on Culture and Development; actions that goes from revitalization of culinary traditions and consumption, supporting eco-friendly ventures, safeguarding natural cultural heritage or strengthening education in cultural heritage management.[3]

Is imperative to introduce it on development sustainability strategies as an element that makes the difference by a joint behavior of individuals.‘Culture is a fuzzy set of basic assumptions and values, orientations to life, beliefs, policies, procedures and behavioral conventions that are shared by a group of people, and that influence (but do not determine) each member’s behavior and his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behavior.’ [4]

This definition of Spencer-Oatey (2008) fits into a culture on sustainability. The concept of “fuzzy”: we could measure negative impacts and performance of public and private sector, but how we could measure individual values and behaviors? Is in this sense that at a global sustainability level it become uncertain and fuzzy. Indeed, individual’s intentions could hardly be measured. This individual subjective attitude of “life, beliefs” is key element to rescue us from a threaten future. Is with this focus that “policies, procedures and behavioral conventions” become much more easy to measure and forecast. We also see the limitation of this ambition: “influence (but do not determine) each member´s behavior …”. This culture wave of sustainability faces the burden that represents individuals options. Is it here where“… his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behavior…,become useless and ineffective to the goal of a common code on sustainability values. Only accomplish by having Education as an ally, mainstreaming sustainability as a value among social and individual actors.

Mainstreaming sustainability as a value among institutions and individuals.

Education plays a paramount role on this process, as a powerful engine of change. It don´t make sense to care of future generations if we are not able to educate them on sustainable values and making them care of our present. There is an urgent need to “educate on sustainable development”, as the last conference of UNESCO on ESD* has concluded[5]. Seeing this aspect as a real gap that needs to be addressed by: policy support, whole-institution approaches, educators, youth and local communities, in addition to the traditional channels political and expertise that are currently carried on this process.

As we could see mainstreaming sustainability values trough culture is only feasible if individuals are involved.  Giving leadership to local communities and individuals and less to the public sector. Is a matter of predominance of roles. Public sector and its failures in approaching sustainable goals mark the need to change its role and leaving only at a management level. Building resilience by education and culture ought to have the commitment and full direct participation of individuals.

Let´s follow the wave of sustainable development and climate change resilience. We cannot face uncertainty without mainstreaming sustainability as a cultural value on all layers of the society.

 *Picture: Surfing in Tasmania.

[1] http://bit.ly/1IfQqzo

[2] http://bit.ly/1IgbLKB

[3] http://bit.ly/1DS2Sz6

[4] http://bit.ly/Xuna4V

[5] http://bit.ly/1DS2Sz6

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