'Be the change' for sustainable development

While most college students were saying goodbye to family and friends, finishing their summer jobs and buying those last few things for their dorm rooms at summer's end, 22 students from the School of Arts & Sciences, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the graduate program in urban and environmental policy and planning boarded a plane for Johannesburg, South Africa, to attend the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development.

For two weeks, I had the opportunity to travel with this passionate and talented delegation that was the largest student-organized group from any U.S. university. What emerged for me from the chaos of 50,000 international delegates from 185 countries attending countless meetings and discussions in six different venues was both a heightened sense of urgency surrounding the issues of sustainable development as well as a greater insight into how that can be accomplished in our own community here at Tufts.

So what is sustainable development and how does it relate to Tufts?

Spending the spring semester of my junior year abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, introduced me to a life outside the "developed world"—a place, like thousands of others, where depressed, under-resourced communities border privileged, economically thriving areas. When I returned to Tufts, I shared what I had seen with other Tufts students who had similar experiences. We questioned how individuals and groups engage in development enterprises that benefit the poorest members of society? How do countries pay off staggering debts without compromising their natural resources? Can business and the environment coexist? How do we practice development that does not compromise the needs of future generations, while providing for the current one?

While unraveling the answers is complex, the intersections of social, environmental and economic concerns that encompass sustainability seem to provide a new vision of development. Some of the many goals of sustainable development are to encourage previously competitive sectors, such as big business and small farmers, to team up and open international markets to local products, to urge community-led eco-tourist groups to introduce and educate visitors about the preservation and use of local natural resources; and to support youth entrepreneurship.

Addressing these issues in a global forum was the purpose of the World Summit, which initiated, despite a lack of strong wording in the official document, partnerships linking big businesses and environmental organizations and provided a renewed focus on sustainable energy investments by private enterprises and many countries (unfortunately, not the United States.) This summit was host to the highest civil society participation to date, suggesting that this conference was an important first step in what will represent a significant shift in how we debate development issues in the future.

The conference set an important foundation for beginning a worldwide movement to greater sustainability. However, it is now up to us to implement and adapt these suggestions into our own communities. Since returning, the Tufts delegation has been actively involved in creating a speaker series, exploring the possibility of a major in sustainable development and assisting Tufts faculty in the implementation of environmental indicators for the community as well as a variety of other future plans.

Our actions are geared toward community education but equally important is our commitment to personal action. From furthering educational initiatives, sponsoring a sustainable enterprise abroad by donating money, material or technical assistance, buying local products, working on national policy and even things as simple using public transportation, there are ways everyone can change their impact on the Earth.

Gandhi once said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Here at Tufts, we are each taking steps in our own lives to apply our experiences and to find ways to "be the change." We want to share the tools and knowledge we have gained with members of the Tufts community, so that as sustainable global citizens, everyone can imagine the world they wish to give to future generations, and then "be the change" to make those dreams a reality.

If you would like to be involved, or learn more about Tufts' delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, visit the web site for the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts at www.tuftsgloballeadership.org or contact the author at sarastandish@hotmail.com.

Sara Standish, A02, is living in Washington, D.C., and working on a sustainable education program aimed at partnering middle and high school students with international youth to create community development projects. While an undergraduate at Tufts, Standish majored in psychology, minored in African studies, played varsity soccer and drank a lot of coffee at The Rez.