Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SUSTAINABLE FUTURES: Replacing Growth Imperative and Hierarchies with Sustainable Ways

In May 2008 Coalition for Environment and Development launched a nine-month research project under the title CULTURES OF SUSTAINABILITY - SUSTAINABILITY OF CULTURES: Africa-Asia-Europe Dialogue on the Future of Low Ecological Footprint Communities. The aim of the project is to find ways of preserving the ways of sustainable societies and transforming unsustainable ones by engaging in dialogue with concerned people in Finland, India, Kenya, Nepal and Tanzania. The study is commissioned and funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affair of Finland within the framework of Finnish development co-operation.

The final report from the study is now ready!

You can order a free copy from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland by writing a request to keotilaus at formin.fi or download the pdf-file from the link below.

The complete report (250 pages, 6 MB):

SUSTAINABLE FUTURES: Replacing Growth Imperative and Hierarchies with Sustainable Ways

There is also a summary article available (15 pages): TRANSFORMATIONS TO SUSTAINABILITY: Combined Responses to the Interconnected Crisis of Ecology and Economy

SUSTAINABLE FUTURES: Replacing Growth Imperative and Hierarchies with Sustainable Ways

Editors: Marko Ulvila & Jarna Pasanen

Table of Contents



Marko Ulvila and Jarna Pasanen
1.Introduction: where we introduce the concepts, provide a backdrop, and explain the study
2. Class Perspective on Sustainability of Cultures 17 where we describe the class formation of the world population according to the sustainability of culture and present initial challenges for each class
3. Countries and Sustainable Culture where we present key features of three different assessments
4. From Growth Imperative to Sustainable Economy Where we show the unsustainability of GDP growth and outline elements for an alternative
5. From Hierarchies to Equality where we show how undoing hierarchies provides a comprehensive base to environmental sustainability and human dignity aspirations
6. Cultural Transformation where we present a scope for cultural transformation by arresting over-consumption, all-out democratisation and learning from the indigenous worldview
7. Conclusion where we summaries future scenarios for the three cultural classes


Destruction of sustainable ways
Food security and biofuels
Knowledge and education
Pathways to sustainability
Indigenous people
Cultural transformation


Understanding Sustainability
Gender, Technology and Sustainable Development by Anita Kelles-Viitanen
Cultivating Eco-Literacy: Inspirations from Tanzania by Petra Bakewell-Stone
History and Politics of Over-Consumption by Olli Tammilehto
Free Time and Profits by Sushovan Dhar
Ecological Counterplanning for Sustainable Futures by Kiama Kaara
Reflections on Sustainable Cultures by Marie Shaba
Glimpses of Sustainable Ways
Bishnois: the Ecological Stewards by Rakesh Bhatt
Self-Reliant Irrigation Practices in Gaya, India by Vagish K. Jha
Sustainable Livelihoods and Lifestyles in Uttarakhand, India by Ajay Mahajan
The Tradition of Sacred Groves among the Mari people in Central Russia by Ulla Valovesi
Destruction of Sustainable Livelihoods
Conspiracy by the State: Destrcuction of Cultures and Livelihoods by Mega Projects in Orissa, India by Mamata Dash
Mining and Displacement of Sustainable Livelihoods in Goa, India by Sebastian Rodrigues
Pathways to Sustainable Futures
The Uhai Model: Search For a Tool to Negotiate with Nature by Awori Achoka
Visions of Alternative Lifeworlds by Wahu Kaara
Indigenocracy - Indigenous Community Rule of Forest, Land and Water by Ghanshyam
From Democracy to Swaraaj by Vijay Pratap & Ritu Priya
A Sketch for Sustainable Human Economy by Hilkka Pietilä
Gift Circulation and Sustainable Cultures of Life by Kaarina Kailo
Self-Sufficiency for Sustainability by Lasse Nordlund
Rapid Social Change as a Pre-Requisite for Preventing Global Climate Catastrophe Olli Tammilehto
What Can we Do to Prevent the Overheating of the Planet by Risto Isomäki
Our Green Socialist Feminist Century by Thomas Wallgren


The search for a balance between modern industrial development and the environment has been intense for more than four decades. However, the results are far from impressive: complex environmental problems, such as climate disruption, impoverishment of ecosystems and toxification, are threatening the future of humanity more than ever before. Therefore, there is a clear need for reassessing the cultural foundations of the present ways and looking for agendas for transformation.

The authors define culture in a broad sense as all the patterns of human behaviour that includes thought, expression, action, institution and artefacts. Sustainable culture is understood as one that incorporates environmental sustainability and human dignity for all.

By using the two criteria for sustainable culture, three cultural classes are outlined globally. The over-consuming class has human needs met but is exceeding environmental space and, therefore, not meeting sustainability criteria. Secondly, there is the struggling class that lives within environmental space, but suffers from malnutrition and other symptoms of powerlessness. In between the two, there is the sustainable class that meets basic human needs with ecological balance. Roughly, one-third of humanity belongs to each of these classes.

Also a country-wide assessment of sustainable cultures is presented by relying on three sets of data. First, the ecological footprint data was combined with the Human Development Index. Besides that, the Happy Planet Index by New Economics Foundation and the Environmental Performance Index of Yale and Columbia universities were used. The combined outcome brings out Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica and Sri Lanka as top candidates for nations with sustainable cultures.

The study identifies two features of modern industrial cultures as root causes for unsustainability: growth imperative and hierarchic structures. Alternatives are presented for both of these.

The idea of economic growth with Gross Domestic Product as its indicator has been a dominant societal objective. The study presents it as dysfunctional in terms of environment, welfare and poverty. Sustainable economics is proposed as a replacement. It rests on understanding of the complete economy, including the informal economy, and is built on the principles of last-person-first and environmental sustainability. The future scenarios are degrowth for the over-consuming class, steady-state for the sustainable class and empowerment for the struggling class.

Domination through power hierarchies leads to environmental unsustainability and lack of human dignity. This is caused by the alienation of the elite on the top from the basic rules of nature and rules of humanity, including interdependence and inter-connectedness. Paths to egalitarian relations are presented to five such relations: gender, ethnic traits, economy, knowledge and nature. It is considered necessary for the relations to be equalised on all these fronts, as they form a coherent structure of the society.

Cultural transformation supporting such changes includes measures for arresting over-consumption, deepening democracy and learning from indigenous worldview. Drawing on past experiences with practices such as smoking in public places, cultural transformation to these directions is considered most feasible and possible.

In conclusion, agendas for the three cultural classes is summarised. For the struggling class it is about enhancing power and resources, and for the sustainable class the case is about respecting, protecting and promoting the existing sustainable ways. And for the over-consuming ones, a deep transformation into a sustainable culture.

The report also presents a thematic selection of interventions from the eleven dialogues held by the project. There are also summaries of or excerpts from the articles commissioned by the project. They are grouped in four sections: analysis of sustainability, presentations of sustainable livelihoods, processes of destruction and pathways to sustainable futures.