An Action Plan For a Sustainable 21st Century

This article was posted on the United Nations Environment Program blog as part of a competition to send a writer to cover the Rio+20 Conference this June in Brazil. I would appreciate your help to send me to Brazil by clicking on this link and voting for me. Posting on Facebook or Twitter would be great as well. Thanks for voting; I appreciate your support! LK

If I were to rule the world, I would demand that governments work with, not against, individuals and companies implementing their ideas for sustainable development. My three point action plan would motivate innovators around the world to work ambitiously at a local level so that the globe would heal after generations of environmental degradation.

Embed sustainability education at all levels.

Sustainability should not be an academic specialty, a certification course or a community service project. To thrive on a planet with as many as 9 billion people, my plan launches with educating citizens from an early age. I would embed sustainability in all curricula, starting with the very young. After all, our children are frequently the ones who teach their elders about recycling, threats to our environment or suggest which products to buy or avoid. Sharing knowledge about pesticides in science classes; calculating carbon emissions in math; past environmental successes and failures in history; and even how the world's great religions instill care for the earth are a few ways to inspire sustainability thinking among our youth.

Lifelong learning should never end. Trade schools can share with skilled workers the impact various building materials have on our health. The most brilliant engineers must have a holistic understanding of how their innovations could affect society and the environment. Referring to models that range from Alice Waters’ devotion to school gardens to cutting edge sustainability research in Korea, I would expand educational opportunities so that a holistic focus on sustainability could transcend the globe.

Empower emerging economies so new ideas and technologies can scale.

We should view economic growth in India, China, Brazil and African nations as opportunities instead of threats. But the poor cannot switch from wood to solar overnight, so I would make it easier to share technologies and exchange talent across borders. For example, I would link investors to enterprises like Eight19, an organization that powers homes in Kenya with pay-as-you-go-solar.

My plan, however, would hardly be scheme focused on rich countries “helping” the poor. Nations from the Balkans to theIndian subcontinent are rich in people with ideas to ramp up sustainable development in their countries. But too often bureaucracy and corruption stifles these entrepreneurs working hard to strengthen their countries from the inside. If I ruled the world, I would clear their path of such obstacles because sustainability depends on what people know, not who they know.

Create incentives for small companies to make a big impact

Big companies like GE and Google do their part to change the world. But countless entrepreneurs and small companies are dedicated to a more sustainable future. The advantage these smaller and more nimble companies have over large firms is that they do not have stockholders’ pockets to line nor do they have to answer to scores of stakeholder factions. I would assist these companies by eliminating regulations and offer economic incentives. Many of these companies have great ideas, but they lack the connections or access to capital to see their plans come to fruition. Let us end the cozy relationship between multinationals and governments across the globe, which too often spoils our politics and planet.

Furthermore, our world bursts with professionals who possess a bounty of ideas that can heal the earth. Unfortunately, organizations often value youth and lower salaries over experience and perspective. I would provide these organizations the means to hire those with 20, 30, even 50 years of experience--and end age discrimination in any form. Companies would then benefit from access to financial capital and untapped human capital. Sustainability should not just be the work of youth. I would ensure that citizens of all ages work on my action plan because we need to meld the passion of youth with the perspective of the wise.

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About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.