Women are key to a sustainable future

April Knudsen serves as the Communications Project Manager for the International Living Future Institute. You can reach her at april.knudsen@living-future.org, or 503.241.1140. Learn more about Living Future 2012.

We're deep into planning the program for Living Future 2012, and it's exciting to see the speaker lineup take shape – it's secret for now, but I can assure you that it's not all women, even though our theme next year is “Women Reshaping the World.” We're looking forward to bringing the International Living Future Institute’s annual unconference back to Portland, where we are blessed with a surfeit of men and women who have long worked in the sustainability trenches.

At Living Future 2011 in Vancouver, BC, we were treated to a number of powerful speakers and topics, but just one of them brought a room of 800 to silence. Rae Anne Rushing, CEO of Seattle-based engineers and sustainability consultants Rushing spoke for just a few minutes of her struggle as a young, single mother who wanted to finish her education, then played a short video called “The Girl Effect.” If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it – now.

Backed by folks like Nike, the NoVo Foundation and the United Nations, the Girl Effect campaign is a prime example of how we can, at our best, re-shape the world. If you’re reading this post, you live a very privileged lifestyle by world standards. I'm not pointing fingers — I'm fully aware that I'm in the same "I'd like an iced vanilla soy latte" boat that I just put you in. But the fact remains that many in the sustainability field labor under the impression that we're saving the world, and I sometimes wonder if all we’re doing is saving our part of the world, for ourselves.

Working for The Natural Step going on three years now, I am still inspired (and humbled) by the fourth system condition — that in a sustainable system, people are not constrained from meeting their needs. I certainly am able to meet most of my needs with little effort, and I’m embarrassed at how little I understand about other's lives around the world. I know that business can be a lever for change, and transforming our built environment is critically important, but I feel that our best use is in helping people, regardless of the field in which we work.

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