Achieving a truly sustainable society means striking a judicious balance among our environmental, economic and social priorities to make the most efficient use of our renewable and nonrenewable resources.
In the early 1970s, public attention was first focused on the ecological limits to economic growth. A global dialogue about the need for "sustainable development" began in the 1980s. The question for the 1990's is whether the industrial model of human progress can be sustained in the long run.
The Sustainable Societies Initiative began in 1995 and the World Summit on Social Development (Copenhagen) and continued through the Habitat II conference process. Its purpose is to promote international dialogue and solidarity among nongovernmental and community-based organizations working to build sustainable communities and sustainable societies.
Envision societies in which the air and water are clean, where every woman, man and child has access to food, adequate shelter, health care and education, and no one is afraid to walk alone at night. Such societies are made up of communities where human needs are met in balance with the carrying capacity of the bioregion. Imagine communities that recognize and value education and health as among the most important capital investments, and the dissemination and expansion of knowledge as a more practical means of wealth-creation than the ownership and exploitation of scarce natural resources. As the extreme gap of wealth and poverty narrow, resentment and violence decline, as mututal dignity and economic security increase. Because everyone has adequate and affordable housing, children have a greater opportunity to grow up in a safe, warm and healthy environment. Secure homes with food on the table mean less chance of illness and distress and more chance for stable relationships generating dignity and self-worth. The people in these communities tend to satisfy their psychological and social needs more through improving the quality of time with their friends, families and neighbours. People are more involved in their communities and have time to explore their creative possibilities. The economy produces more of what people really need in their local communities; waste has become a productive resource. Poverty is commonly believed to be an extreme which society cannot afford.