Sustainable Development and Social Equity by Dr. Maryam Davodi Far
To be a consumer in the United States is simple. In fact, it is the wealth and abundance of goods that attracts many immigrants to this country. Who would not want to be able to live in a spacious home, drive a large vehicle, and frequent mega stores such as Wal-Mart and warehouse stores such as Costco? In fact, there is something addictive and seductive about the way goods and services are sold in the United States. It is not that there is a great necessity, but rather marketing is done so well and with such skill that the buyer “has to have” the items that they are faced with. The once in-demand item of yesterday becomes an item tossed in a garage for an upcoming garage sale or given to a local charity or dropped off at a local collection drop-off site. It is as if the more, the bigger, the better is desirable such that having material goods renders one more in vogue and fashionable.
To be part of the “it” crowd one has to relentlessly give up the former (perhaps only days or weeks old) and upgrade for the now faster, newer, sleeker television, cell phone, computer, or iPod. Such is the case in virtually all of suburban communities in the United States, communities where two to four people reside in a 3,000 to 4,000 square foot home, with several large SUVs parked in the driveway, and have access to a number of stores, shopping centers, etc. Conversely, there is the other side of town, the part of town that most do not want to acknowledge, or ever visit, except for when needing a service or product that can only be sought in the ethnic or migrant community.
I will not argue that through better sustainability practices we will be able to rid the world of poverty. I also confess that it is difficult to ask the “haves” to share with the “have nots.” With that, I would like to look into sustainability in the context of an environmental sustainability and look into the ways to create distributive justice. What are possibly some of the obstacles? Within the sphere of social equity I will take a look at distributive justice through the eyes of a bi-cultural American. My American acculturation has taught me that consumerism is good and the old adage is “the more, the better.” My Persian heritage and culture has taught me that, in fact, “less is more” and material goods should not define my identity.
For the purpose of this analysis I will be using the following operational term:
Consumerism: the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also: a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods (Merriam Webster Dictionary).
Caldwell  writes: The sustainability of human society in the future depends upon the skill and willingness of humans to order their behavior and institutions toward maintaining ecological integrity in human relationships with Earth. Lemons 
Additionally, there are a number of operational definitions used in the field to characterize sustainability. On its own, sustainability does not mean much; when paired with development, it has a modified meaning given that development means action of some sort. Lemons  What’s more, sustainability implies the safeguarding of a steady-state condition, and perhaps of preservation. Yet others have defined sustainability from an economic perspective as the “maintenance of capital.” Goodland 
According to Ophuls , we have not done much during the last 20 years besides symbolically caring by celebrating Earth Day. We have done all of the easiest and least painful things. “Now we must do the hard things; reshape basic attitudes and expectations, alter established lifestyles, and restructure the economy accordingly.” Ophuls 
The problem of marrying environmental sustainability with distributive justice is similar to healthcare coverage in the United States. In the United States, approximately 50 million people are without healthcare coverage. Many of the people in this group are children, single mothers, students, and/or those who work part-time, even some who have full-time jobs or work two jobs but still do not have healthcare through an employer. The reasons for such vary and will not be explored here. The point is to use it as an analogy. Unlike the United States, France and Canada have universal healthcare coverage. In spite of marital status, age, and employment status, both countries have chosen to provide healthcare for their general population. As a result of having a regular medical home and access to basic and preventive care, the populations of both nations outlive the people of the United States. There has been a moral and ethical reason not to mention an economic decision made to provide care in spite of access to wealth. In fact, in a roundabout way, the “haves” assist in the payment of monies to provide healthcare for the “have nots.”
I would like to tie this back into social equity. So consider the model in which healthcare is considered a resource for wealth generation. With the consumption of healthcare limited to the “haves” for short-term benefit at the expense of others, the “have nots” thwarts sustainability. The “have nots” are also a resource, i.e. human capital, which gets consumed, and in the absence of healthcare coverage, renders unintended consequences. Social equity cannot take place if those with access to wealth and capital are not willing to share the profits with those who are less privileged. But this is almost contradictory to the ideals of Americans, where happiness is defined predominantly by the amount of material goods. Most are not willing to share with others. In fact, why they should? It is practically counter to the American way of life.
Perhaps it is not the fault of Americans for thinking in this manner. After all, America is a very young nation with little or no ancient cultural ideals or heritage. Unlike the countries from the ancient world, “America” lacks the wisdom to build for the future and not just for today. If building green is in vogue then it shall be done, but not because it is the right thing to do, not because it is the smart way to build. With all of its wealth, the United States should set an example for other nations of the world. It should be the role model for sustainable development that all others can pursue.
Unlike other nations, the US population is overall well fed, dressed, and housed. To use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Americans far surpass others when it comes to having basic needs met. That’s why we have the luxury of worrying about the natural world and our global environment. To others, the immediacy of putting dinner on the table does not allow for the big picture of thinking about tomorrow. Day-to-day struggles interfere with the likelihood of seeing the future and working on creating that future now. The “future” for most inhabitants of this planet is the future of tomorrow or perhaps next week, where the questions asked are not will there be enough fuel for my children and grandchildren, but instead the questions asked are: Will I remain employed? Will I be able to purchase medicine for my sick child? Will I be able to care for my aging parents? Americans on the whole have a gift; their gift is that they have peace of mind. They are able to use running water as often or as much as they wish. They are not concerned with having access to a phone or electricity. They do not need to worry about the struggle of “do I send my child to work or to school today.” It is this gift that makes us, Americans, the envy of others. It is this gift (otherwise referred to as the American Dream) that makes the United States such a magnet for foreigners; they, too, want to be able to benefit from some of the bliss that we have in not having to constantly fight for our basic needs.
In 1964 Rachel Carson stated: The modern world worships the gods of speed and quantity, and of the quick and easy profit, and out of this idolatry monstrous evils have arisen. Yet the evils go long and unrecognized. Even those who create them manage by some devious rationalizing to blind themselves to the harm they done society. As for the general public, the vast majority rest secure in a childlike faith that someone is looking after things—a faith unbroken until some public-spirited person, with patient scholarship and steadfast courage presents facts that can no longer be ignored. Leuenberger , Lear 
With that, then, we should take it upon ourselves to be the stewards of this planet. We have the “know how” and the funds to do so.
We have the ability and luxury to focus on sustainable development, not because it is in fashion, but rather because it will ensure a better life for future generations. But we cannot do this without a shift in our thinking. We must be willing to face the other side of town and examine how we collectively feel about social equity. Are we willing to make any sacrifices? Are we willing to stop avoiding tough decisions?
Dr. Maryam Davodi Far completed her doctoral work at the University of La Verne with an emphasis in Healthcare Administration. She also has a master’s degree in Healthcare Administration and a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from UC San Diego. She is trained as a volunteer mediator through the San Diego Mediation Center and has served as a chief executive officer for a community clinic in San Diego. Maryam has a passion for vulnerable populations and is constantly strategizing about better ways to meet the needs of targeted groups. Please visit her Web site, www.activepatients.com, as well as www.swapwithapurpose.com.
 Caldwell, L.K., Between Two Worlds, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
 Lemons, J., Westra, L. & Goodland, R., Ecological Sustainability and Integrity Concepts and Approaches. Netherlands Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998.
 Goodland, R., International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA) Newsletter 5 (2) (pages unnumbered) 1993.
 Leuenberger, D., Sustainable Development in Public Administration: A Match with Practice? Public Works Management and Policy, Vol.10, pp. 195-201, 2006.
 Ophuls, W. & Boyan, S., Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited: The Unraveling of the American Dream, New York, W. H. Freeman and Company, 1992.
 Leuenberger, D.Z., Introduction-Signs of the Tines: Environmental Sustainability, Citizens, Leadership, and Social Justice. Public Administration Theory Network. Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 370-374, 2007.
 Lear, L., Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson. (Boston, Beacon Press) 1998.