How can we create a sustainable society? This is a fundamental question of our time, and one which is a guiding principle for M.CO.
So, what is a sustainable society? It’s about much more than achieving just basic needs for shelter, fuel, health and nutrition. Sustainable societies must cultivate conditions for human flourishing, which include social belonging, equality, participation, creativity, economic opportunity, leisure and personal wellbeing.
A society where we can meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
For this to happen in Ireland, and around the world, what’s needed is a model of socio-economic development that allows us to flourish as a society and as individuals whilst protecting the environment.
This is a massive systemic challenge. Climate change, pollution and environmental destruction are real, despite an increase in environmental regulations. A sustainable society is one where health and wellbeing are accessible for all, whilst respecting our limited natural resources. This is reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which call for 'action by all countries everywhere…to build a better world with no one left behind'.
Large-scale innovation is required in the delivery of goods and services such as energy, food, transport, and health so that environmental damage is limited and our societies are resilient and adaptive in an increasingly unstable world. The challenge is not purely technical or economic. It must be supported by large-scale social change and personal action.
Should we in Ireland be expected to adjust our values, re-evaluate our needs, and consume more consciously?
Should this have a dramatic negative impact on our lives?
Any solutions that allow us to live our lives and organise our basic services in more sustainable ways will simultaneously have to be the most easy, attractive, and financially viable option for everyone.
It’s imperative that we place understanding of human behaviour and citizen engagement at the heart of any sustainability strategies. In M.CO, we have seen the direct benefits of early and meaningful user engagement in projects from the creation of improved care services in the health sector, to the co-design of energy-efficient care homes for people to live independently for longer.
We have also experienced the impact of community-led projects, such as the Drimnagh Smarter Travel initiative and SEAI’s Sustainable Energy Communities in changing behaviours by harnessing the power of social learning and collaboration. Community initiatives are exemplary in their simultaneous contribution to social, economic, cultural and environmental health; the foundation of a truly sustainable society.
Along with community initiatives, individual action is also needed. Increasingly, people are voting with their money through supporting brands and products that espouse values of sustainability. But this alone will not create a sustainable society.
We are often locked into our patterns of living; constrained by the scarcity of possible alternatives. This is where supportive policies are key to regulate and incentivise action across industry, the public sector and civil society. Ireland’s Energy White Paper calls for the cultivation of a society of ‘active energy citizens’. This implies a re-framing of the population from one containing passive consumers to one containing motivated, empowered and engaged citizens. It alludes to the inclusion of consumers in production processes, as ‘prosumers’ as micro-generation and community energy projects spread. This speaks to the broader trend of connecting people (psychologically and physically) to the natural resources upon which we rely, to nurture environmental values and to make visible our often invisible impacts on the environment. We see this in the increase in popularity of farmers’ markets, GIY and cultural participation.
In M.CO, we collaborate with people pioneering innovative and effective solutions for sustainable living. Through our work, touching on key themes outlined in the UN SDGs and echoed in Ireland’s national plans, we aim to be a catalyst for meaningful action by government, business and civil society to create a sustainable society; one where we can flourish as individuals and communities while safe-guarding our environment into the future.