Sustainability as a Pathway to Eradicating Poverty
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Sustainability as a Pathway to Eradicating Poverty


By Adelphe Livier

Sustainability is a complicated concept with many moving parts. Today, it is mostly recognized for the environmental aspect, described as a way to secure Mother Earth’s resources for future generations. At the rate we’re going, non-renewable energy resources like fossil fuels will soon be depleted, making the switch to renewable energy such as solar or geothermal energy an imperative. It’s a worldwide movement to combat climate change, as the link between environmental degradation and unsustainable practices is clear and urgent.

But you cannot talk about sustainable development without discussing poverty. The relationship between the two may not be as obvious, but moving toward a sustainable future entails more than eliminating environmentally harmful practices. It also means expanding access to economic opportunities so members of the community can meet their needs. One doesn’t have to look very far to notice that others live in abundance while certain communities struggle to fulfill even their most basic human needs. But using sustainable development as a framework for the future requires reallocating resources so that underdeveloped regions can begin to progress and mitigate the conditions under which they are living.

One example of how prevailing systems contribute to inequitable distribution of resources is the rapid urbanization of developing nations. For example, Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines are growing fast, while cities remain poorly planned and densely populated. The country is currently facing a garbage crisis as plastics clog waterways and pollute natural resources. This is a huge problem for many reasons, but particularly as natural disasters strike the country. Although typhoons and floods don’t pick and choose targets, poorer communities scattered along coastal areas, riversides, and in poorly designed districts are disproportionately more vulnerable to such occurrences.

Another related example of how global unsustainable practices affect poverty-stricken regions is the ongoing plastic problem. A joint report by WasteAid, in partnership with charities like Tearfund and Fauna & Flora International, looked at the health effects of plastic pollution in developing countries. Waste is dumped in these regions, most of which don’t have proper management systems in place. With burning as their primary means of eliminating waste, fumes are released into the air, which effectively puts public health in harm’s way. Plastic waste also contributes to the spread of diseases like malaria. Based on findings from Against Malaria Foundation, over 200 million people contract the disease, most of whom are in equatorial regions. Opting for reusable containers at home might seem like a trivial change, but when done collectively, it can significantly reduce the plastic problem that keeps communities stuck in vicious cycles of poverty.

With that said, we all have a role to play in promoting sustainability as a pathway to eliminating poverty, whether as individuals or as part of a larger group. Perhaps the most direct contribution is to champion it as an advocacy or profession. Over 600 of the top publicly traded companies in the US are committed to initiatives that improve their ethical, environmental, and social impacts. In turn, they are actively looking to hire these forward-thinking professionals. This shows that sustainability is not just a passing trend; it’s a growing movement that for-profit and non-profit organizations alike have pledged to promote. Pledge 1% is a clear example of how businesses can change the world by committing even a small portion of their profits.

Not to minimize charitable donations, but having a background in the subject means you can do more as a leader of sustainability. You can pursue different careers, from urban planning to conservation science, and work in a number of settings like business environments and governments. By committing to understanding sustainability and how it relates to global issues like poverty, you can shape the way your organization operates. Sustainability experts can ensure that the environment and people who rely on it are protected and not exploited for profit.

But of course, being a sustainability specialist in both public and private sectors is not the only way to advance the advocacy. While organizations have a bigger overall footprint, individuals, too, can help achieve the global sustainable development goal of eradicating poverty. As a direct contribution, you can pledge a portion of your income to The Life You Can Save — even 1% of your annual earnings can be life-changing for many people in extreme poverty.

Moreover, evaluating the way you live and making necessary changes is also a small but impactful contribution. Curbed’s guide to ‘101 Ways to Live Sustainably’ is a useful resource for people who want to develop an awareness of how their actions affect others and the environment. It suggests making simple changes, like eliminating single-use plastics at home, to more dedicated efforts, like installing solar panels and cleaning up community spaces. These initiatives, big and small, have a positive impact on poor communities that can be magnified by individuals coming together.

It’s true that no person can single-handedly eradicate poverty by making sustainable changes. However, every single one of those initiatives adds up and makes a more significant impact in eliminating poverty when we do them together. So when the opportunity arises, walk instead of taking your car, eat more locally sourced food, and tell your boss about reducing their reliance on paper documents. Influence as many people as you can to lead a more sustainable life. These small individual acts, when pooled together, can lead to meaningful and long-lasting changes not just for the environment, but also in the fight against poverty.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Life You Can Save or any other organization.  Comments on this website are the sole responsibility of their writers, who take full responsibility for their content.  The Life You Can Save is not responsible for and does not verify the accuracy of the information contained in this blog or in the comments.  The primary purpose of this blog is to educate and inform and does not constitute professional advice.

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The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.