Christopher Saltmarsh (UWC AC, United Kingdom '12-’14)
“I strongly believe that sustainability is as important to what UWC should be working for as peace, conflict resolution and community service; however, it seems that influential, active and respected members of all levels of our community don’t seem to agree.”
Sustainability isn’t core to the UWC mission? Maybe read some Schumacher?
I’ve noticed that the UWC mission is interpreted differently by different members of the UWC community and there’s certainly no clear division between staff, students and alumni; the different interpretations are held by members of each group.
It is not necessarily a bad thing for people to focus their time and efforts on particular aspects of the movement’s mission, as this allows everybody’s UWC experience to be personal and unique
However, I think it is certainly important to discuss what the core elements of the mission are every now and again because there has to be something that unites the thousands or UWCers around the world. I would say that most agree that bringing people together from across the world to learn in a challenging and diverse environment is one of the key pillars of defining what the goals of UWC should be. For some it stops there; for most others it extends to including the pursuit of global peace through the aforementioned diversity and through community service.
I think what we have so far is what many UWCers consider to be core elements of our mission: diversity, peace and service. Some would say they are THE core elements. But what is our mission statement?
“UWC makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.”
Sustainability is at the very core of the mission statement which I (and most current AC students, certainly) know by heart. And yet, it is the element most frequently brought up when discussing the nature of the mission.
Sustainability is the idea that we must meet the needs of current generations, without compromising the needs of future generations. The idea can and should be applied to the environment, economics and society. I strongly believe that sustainability is as important to what UWC should be working for as peace, conflict resolution and community service; however, it seems that influential, active and respected members of all levels of our community don’t seem to agree.
There are those who recognise it as being important but not something that every student should devote their time to. There are some that argue that it’s relatively recent addition to the mission statement (or even that it comes after peace!) mean that it should not be equated with as much importance.
The prominence of sustainability is growing rapidly at AC right now: Sustainability Council is thriving; new initiatives are being set up all the time like an Environmental Campaigns Team and a Fracking education group; a Sustainability Charter has been written and is being acted upon by a group of committed staff and students. Despite this remarkable progress, I still get the impression that for every passionate, dedicated, sustainability minded student, there are a couple that either don’t really care or are willing to leave it to someone else. I’d say that most at AC recognise peace and community service as pivotal to the mission, but many still need convincing when it comes to sustainability…
(So here it goes!)
I recognise that not everyone can get über-involved with everything and I don’t expect 300 people at Sustainability Council, but I would like to see that every student and every member of the AC/UWC community holds sustainability with the same esteem and importance as they do the other aspects of the movement’s mission. I also recognise that some people may feel more passionate about social justice issues, human rights or peace than environmental sustainability, but that is not to say that you should be allowed to disregard it as less important or related to what their trying to achieve.
Peace and sustainability, as goals, are both hugely important, incredibly imminent and should be addressed by UWC as a movement not least because of their standalone significance but because of their interconnectedness. Sustainability is intrinsically linked to peace and the former just won’t be possible without the latter.
This brings us to this article’s title. It comes from a recent Student Council meeting where we briefly debated this very topic and where I realised just the extent to which sustainability is openly considered to be a less vital aspect of our mission by such prominent members of our community. Anyway, as the discussion concluded and the sustainability clique was shouted down, I ‘exclaimed’ (though under my breath: mainly because it would have been lost on all but 2 people in the room) “Read some fracking Schumacher!”
E.F. Schumacher (Small is Beautiful) was an economic thinker, who whilst far from infallible, wrote a lot about our current system of economics and how its focus is distorted in favour of unsustainable economic growth and ‘prosperity’ and not for people and planet. He wrote that the unsustainable idea of ‘universal prosperity’ is no foundation for peace. Universal prosperity is frankly unattainable, certainly by sustainable means, in our current economic structure with the attitude that we can exploit our planet’s finite natural resources infinitely, consequently destroying the environment from which those resources were taken. But aside from that, the cultivation of greed, envy and a wilfulness to exploit the environment and our fellow people, in the pursuit of individual profit, is why peace is just not achievable in this economically and environmentally unsustainable economic model.
Consumerism, the idea that consumption (and consequently greed) should be maximised for economic growth, is probably one of the biggest challenges we face in trying to build a sustainable society. The ideas that consumption of meaningless consumer products means greater ‘prosperity’/social status and that unlimited growth is a desirable goal have permeated almost every area of our society. Schumacher speaks of wisdom in the sense that one is wise when they are able to recognise the corrosive, unsustainable nature of our economic system and how this relates to the pursuit of peace.
He says “No one is really working for peace unless he is working primarily for the restoration of wisdom. The assertion that ‘foul is useful and fair is not’ is the antithesis of wisdom.
We can’t achieve peace without wisdom and we can’t be wise with an attitude that disregards people and the environment.
That is why sustainability is important. That is why it is core to our mission. That is why it is the moral duty of every UWC student/alumnus to live by and hold in high esteem the core elements of the mission statement that they are so lucky to have had placed at the heart of their educational experience.
Oh… and read some fracking Schumacher! Small is Beautiful is really good.
-United Words Team-