Sustainability is an exclusive club, but these spaces need to learn how to be more inclusive.
Sustainability has evolved to be a key goal for individuals, corporations, governments and collectives. The path to a sustainable world has to be made from an individual and systemic approach. Within the individual and systemic frameworks, often people are left behind - excluded by design and intent. Here is how individual action and systemic change keep communities out of the sustainability club:
Individual action refers to any decision made by any person out of their discretion and often because of societal conditions. Sustainable individual choices might include switching to brands with more ethical sourcing of inputs, using public transport infrastructure for commuting, swapping food choices, breaking up with straws and other imperfect ways to be sustainable. There is no really set-out green individual role model. These choices are celebrated and promoted - as they should be, but there is often an exclusionary undertone within these choices, making them inaccessible.
The majority of environmental conversations start with breaking up plastic straws (and single-use plastic)! While this draws due attention to the plastic menace of the world, this notion is ableist. Ableism is discrimination or prejudice against disabled people favouring non-disabled people. Eco-ableism is defined as a failure by non-disabled environmental activists to recognise that many of the climate actions they promote make life difficult for disabled people. This also accounts for access to public transport and spaces in general. When the world is not built to accommodate disabled individuals, putting a checkbox of sustainability makes lives more difficult since no proper alternatives are accommodating the needs of disabled folks.
Now that circular fashion is making the rounds in our lifestyle changes for a better world - it is indeed gatekept by different folks. Sustainable fashion is vast - anything and everything pre-existing in our wardrobes is sustainable. However, fashion choices leave behind marginalised bodies when a need to buy (or even thrift). It creates a more prolonged checklist that is often impossible to accomplish. Fast fashion brands and their alternatives do not serve fat bodies and often impose a fat tax - a discriminatory practice used to mint more money. Thus, switching to sustainable fashion practices is often exclusionary, especially now that there is a need to bid farewell to the exploitative and polluting industry.
(Also read: Indian fashion is ushering a new era of independence)
These two instances (or forms of exclusion) do not exist in isolation. They intertwine with other forms of exclusion and oppression—social exclusion based on caste, gender, religion, gender expression and ethnicity. Moreover, practices and resource consumption of marginalised communities are not the driving cause of major environmental crises, but because of oppressive marginalisation, they are hit the hardest. Instead, they have driven conservation efforts, but people with massive socioeconomic capital take up the environmental conservation spaces with superficial efforts that drive us closer to catastrophe.
Systemic Sustainable Development
Systemic approaches and individual action go hand in hand, even when they are exclusionary. Social exclusion is an umbrella term that emphasises any form of exclusion of members from society and the state’s policies. The underprivileged always bear the brunt of environmental injustices, and it can be best seen from the institutional arrangement of the traditional Indian society. The concept of sustainable development has evolved over time and in different regions, but it has not been able to be inclusive of a fair world that we envision.
Through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, systemic, sustainable development excludes the queer community from various goals and agendas. Moreover, the growth-led attempts to achieve sustainable development still exclude and further marginalised people in India who are systematically kept from the platform and power to make decisions.
Moreover, plans and policies at more minor levels exclude people too. While forming disaster management plans and evacuation plans, the needs of disabled and sick individuals are not taken into account, leading to the effects of calamities being felt disproportionately.
What would inclusive spaces look like?
Inclusivity and sustainability need not be just token terms, but indeed a reality born out of humanity’s wild and kind imagination - the time and injustices call for it. Sustainability is indeed a club to which everyone might not be invited. The first step is to dismantle the club and formulate sustainability into an open space where all members of the society exist while ensuring that our planetary home does not collapse.
Inclusive spaces can be built with the realisation of distributing socio-economic resources within communities. Humans have diverse needs - sustainability, environmental organisations, and groups must ensure that these needs are not compromised under the garb of sustainable actions. Creating inclusive, sustainable spaces where power is shared is often labelled as a radical dream. Fortunately, the discourse and actions have been established to ensure that such places exist. Organisations can partner up with coalitions to formulate better inclusion and affirmative action policies. When decision-makers and members hop on a bandwagon to bring imaginary worlds to life - inclusive spaces can become a reality.
Bhattacharjee, J. (2014). Understanding Social Exclusion from Environmental (In) justice Perspective: An Emphasis on India’s North East. IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS), 19(7).
Evans, M. (2022, February 25). Indigenous knowledge ‘gives us a much richer picture’: Q&A with Māori researcher Ocean Mercier. Mongabay Environmental News.
Randall, C. (2021, July 30). Eco Ableism and the Climate Movement. Friends of the Earth Scotland.
Shukla, P. (2020, November 4). Is ‘Fat Tax’ Real? We Checked Indian Sites & Here’s What We Found. TheQuint.