Exploring Different Forms of Engaging Different Publics With Environmental Sustainability

Exploring Different Forms of Engaging Different Publics With Environmental Sustainability

Rita Campos
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6701-2.ch013
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Sustainability has become a key concept for several contexts – politics, economics, education, or conservation. This chapter presents a review of some concepts of sustainability, and sustainable development and then focuses on environmental sustainability to discuss emerging trends on engaging citizen: engaging students in the classroom, engaging local communities in their regions, engaging visitors in areas of potential touristic interest. In each case, a theoretical framework is complemented by case studies illustrating how sustainability can be used to promote scientific literacy, positive changes in perceptions and attitudes for biodiversity management and conservation, and to incorporate different knowledges and ways of living. From more classical formats to collaborative and participatory processes, the examples give an overview of current work being done to endorse the values subjacent to environmental sustainability, communicating the interrelatedness between human population and the natural environment and ultimately trying to promote a healthier and sustainable planet.
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Sustainable Development as a global political concept was first coined in 1987, in the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) report “Our Common Future” (popularized as “Brundtland Report”). As originally stated in the report, it is a “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987, p. 41). Considered as a milestone for global awareness on the need for a new development paradigm able to protect the natural resources of the planet, sustainable development has since been part of international policies looking to respect the interconnection of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection as pillars for the individual and collective well-being (Sachs, 2015). The last of these efforts was put forward in 2015 by the 193 member-states of the United Nations (UN): the new Agenda for Sustainable Development, “Transforming Our World” - a formal declaration for international cooperation built around 17 goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; United Nations, 2015a). The worldwide adoption of the SDGs lays the foundations for politics and societies to act, promoting responsible ways of living, integrating the three most common dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental (Imran, Alam & Beaumont, 2011; Sachs, 2015).

For the past 30 years, sustainability has become the key-concept for several contexts, such as politics, economics, education or conservation (e.g. Morelli, 2011). But different definitions can be found in the literature, as well as different uses of the word, even though the use of the concept of sustainability often underlines efforts to improve the quality of life of human societies and the health of the environment. The main goal of this chapter is to address the multi-dimensional nature of sustainable development, both at the theoretical level, considering the complexity underlying its definition, operationalisation and critics around it, and at the practical level, considering some empirical examples on how sustainability has been used in different activities and projects targeting specific groups. The literature review focused first on work that critically reflects on the construction and meaning of the concept of sustainable development and the associated political actions (in particular, the global agenda and the SDGs) and secondly on work that can illustrate current efforts to endorse the values subjacent to sustainability, with a focus on its environmental dimension. It is organize to present 1) a brief review of some main conceptualizations and critics of sustainable development, the SDGs, and the links to environmental questions; and 2) reflect on the concept of environmental sustainability, how it interconnects to all other possible dimensions of sustainability and how it can be operationalized to promote effective changes and alternatives to current economic and social systems. As such, after a short presentation of theoretical considerations and current debates around sustainable development, the discussion shifts to present examples of emerging trends on engaging citizen in diverse ways to communicate the interrelatedness between human population and the natural environment and ultimately contributing to a more just and balanced environment. Specifically, three forms of engagement, targeting different publics, are addressed: engaging students in the classroom and school settings; engaging local communities in their regions and/or in affected regions (i.e. regions affected by environmental degradation or ecological unbalance); and engaging visitors in areas of potential touristic interest.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sense of Place: Refers to the relations and bonds to a given place that includes physical, social, affective, and cultural constructs; the multi-dimension meaning a given place holds for people.

Anthropocentrism: A belief that places humans at the centre of the Universe and, as such, human needs take precedent over the needs of other species and of ecosystems’ health.

Biodiversity: The diversity of all living beings, including the diversity within the same species, among different species and of ecosystems.

Sustainability: Describes different approaches aiming at sustaining human needs for health and well-being, respecting ecological balance, and preserving natural resources.

Public Engagement With Science: A set of tools and strategies to narrow the gap between science and society, promoting more dialogue and participation in science-related issues.

Alternatives: Ways of living that seek different production and consumption-economic models, prioritizing social and environmental balances.

Ecocentrism: A belief that considers all living beings, human and non-human species, equally valuable.

Eco-Literacy: Short for “ecological literacy”; the knowledge and understanding about ecology - environment and sustainability - and the ability to use ecology-related information to take informed decisions.

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