02 Feb A Healthy and Equitable Economy in the International Context?
by Jennie Moore, Director, Sustainable Development and Environmental Stewardship, British Colombia Institute of Technology
A socio-cultural feature of ecocities is that they support a healthy and equitable economy. The International Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS) identifies that the city’s economy “consistently favors economic activities that reduce harm and positively benefit the environment and human health and support a high level of local and equitable employment options” (www.ecocitystandards.org).
Whereas many cities focus primarily on economic growth as a means to achieve prosperity, research shows that equity is more strongly correlated with health and social improvement (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). This is particularly true for developed economies where most of the population’s basic needs for food and shelter are already met. Yet, even among developing economies, those that achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth and invest in social services, including education, achieve higher levels of development while simultaneously keeping their demand on nature’s services low.
Countries such as Cuba and Ecuador obtain similar longevity and literacy levels as the USA, but at a fraction of energy and materials consumption (Moore and Rees 2013). Germany and Japan surpass the USA in terms of quality of life (e.g., human health and social wellbeing) while simultaneously consuming less (Moore 2013; Moore and Rees 2013; Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). Not only are these countries more efficient in their use of resources, they also have lower per capita ecological footprints. An ecological footprint refers to the amount of land and sea area required to support a specified population at their current levels of affluence and technology (Wackernagel and Rees 1996). Indeed, populations in Cuba and Ecuador live within global ecological carrying capacity as measured by their ecological footprint (WWF 2009).
The World Commission on Environment and Development acknowledges that “rapid growth combined with deteriorating income distribution may be worse than slower growth combined with redistribution in favour of the poor” (WCED 1987, 24). Unfortunately, rapid growth with deteriorating income distribution has been the dominant trend for over forty years, and today many societies are succeeding in terms of material growth and failing in terms of social health (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009).
Ecocities support economic activities that reduce harm and positively contribute to both environmental and human health. This includes efforts to reduce emissions to air and atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels, avoiding the use of toxic chemicals applied to soils or discharged to receiving waters where they can bio-accumulate in animals and plants, and supporting locally and organically produced foods and renewable energy sources. Ecocities also support local and equitable employment options that are integrated within the design of the city. For example, the layout of land uses as well as the city’s policy framework play an important role in: a) making jobs and housing accessible and b) ensuring that companies comply with environmental protection legislation. This approach sets the foundation for “green jobs” and “ecological-economic development” (www.ecocitystandards.org).
However, the city acting alone can only go so far. A supportive framework at senior government levels (e.g. provincial, state, national) is also important. In our globally integrated economy, the implications of national government policies and international trade agreements play a determining role in the policies local governments can enact. This is particularly true with regard to efforts by cities to advance sustainable modes of production and consumption. In North America, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (http://usdn.org/home) comprising local government staff working to advance sustainability in over 100 cities is addressing this important topic. A recent workshop hosted in Eugene Oregon (http://scorai.org/eugene-2014/) by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network in collaboration with the Sustainable Production and Consumption Action Research Initiative (http://scorai.org/ ) identified the schism between i) locally focused community economic development efforts that advance equitable and sustainable economies and ii) globally focused national economic strategies that perpetuate economic growth without careful attention to who benefits and pays as a result of their implementation. Stay tuned to their research to find out whether a healthy and equitable economy for cities is possible within this international context.
Moore, Jennie. 2013. Getting Serious About Sustainability: Exploring the Potential for One-Planet Living in Vancouver. Dissertation in Partial Fulfillment of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Vancouver BC: School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia.
Moore, Jennie and W.E. Rees. 2013. Getting to One-Planet Living in Linda Starke ed., State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? Washington DC: Island Press, pp. 39-50.
Wackernagel, Mathis and William E. Rees. 1996. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. Gabrioloa BC: New Society Publishers.
Wilkinson, Richard and Kate Pickett. 2009. The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Worldwide Fund for Nature. 2009. Living Planet Report. Gland, Switzerland: World Wide Fund for Nature.
British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative