It has been said that sustainability could be defined as living as though we planned on staying here.
It is a concept often, and rightly, invoked in relation to maintaining the natural systems that sustain life: the conservation of non-renewable resources and careful management of those that are renewable, minimizing the disruption human activities cause to climate and other global goods.
But sustainability can also refer to social systems, to establishing the capacity for endurance and adaptation, to finding an appropriate balance between preserving what is of value and nurturing the emergence of the new and disruptive. Western societies traditionally focused on economic growth are wrestling with the concept of sustainability. Leadership, in both politics and business, is critical, but so is a broad public understanding of the need to adjust now for the sake of our collective wellbeing.
The Foundation can identify, encourage and fund promising initiatives, but if they are to achieve impact their future sustainability will depend upon organizational capacity, strong leadership and diversified support. If they aim for truly transformative change, that sustainability will likely require a permanent shift in resource flows or the creation of a new and stable base of financial and organizational support. For this reason we view the ‘how’ of granting to be as critical as the purpose for which grants are made.
For this reason we try to ensure that sustainability is a core concern of every activity the Foundation funds. Program initiatives that aim to introduce new and potentially disruptive elements, within the context of fostering a more sustainable society, include the following:
- In education, the ArtsSmarts and Green Street programs must themselves be designed to be sustainable, otherwise they will never progress beyond the stage of interesting, externally-funded pilots. But their broader purpose is to strengthen an ethic of sustainability in Canadians’ emerging value systems, building on the strong interest that young people in particular already demonstrate in the health of the planet.
- As mentioned above, Green Street is a classroom and school-based program to engage young Canadians in hands-on learning and stewardship; likewise, Evergreen introduces the concept of ‘schoolyard greening’ as well.
- A successful program to promote environmental philanthropy across Canada is underway as a partnership between Community Foundations Canada (CFC) and the Foundation, engaging the active involvement of a growing number of CFC’s members and dramatically increasing communities’ support for local initiatives.
- At the policy level, the Foundation has encouraged and supported greater collaboration and joint advocacy by a group of Canada’s leading national environmental organizations so as to amplify their voice and collective credibility. A grant to the Sustainable Prosperity project helped create a national platform to explore tax reform towards the promotion of sustainable economic choices, while support for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing project initiated by the Atkinson Foundation aims to create a more comprehensive measure than GDP of national wealth.