Sustainable Family Development

Most teachers are parents, or at least belong to "family" in some way or other. That's why I'm sharing this GreenHeart initiative — Sustainable Family Development — with you, even though it's not specifically about the greening of teaching.

Making our homes and families more sustainable will make it easier to green our schools, by creating a sense of integrity and alignment in our work and personal lives.

Sustainable Family Development also makes an informative and evocative Parent Advisory Council / PTA topic.

All families love their children and grandchildren. It is because of this love that families want to be friendly to the Earth. We know we cannot love our children and grandchildren, our progeny and descendants, all the while leaving them a polluted, degraded, climate-constrained, uninhabitable Earth.

GreenHeart proposes that one reason for the lack of societal change toward sustainable development, at least in North America and perhaps in other parts of the world, might be that environmental efforts are aimed at individuals, government, business and industry, or whole communities, instead of at families.

  • The focus for sustainable development has not been on the primary unit of change in human societies — the family.

  • Specifically, the solution of sustainable development has not been applied to the family unit.

"A family is a place where minds come in contact with one another. If these minds love one another, the home will be as beautiful as a flower garden. But if these minds get out of harmony with one another, it is like a storm that plays havoc with the garden."
— Buddha

GreenHeart is exploring the notion that because families are the social unit of change in our society, it is within families that change is supported or opposed, encouraged or undermined.

Is it surprising that in our age of globalization, this key family-centered approach to sustainability has been largely missed? Perhaps it reflects our Western individualism. Yet, environmental protection, like peace, begins at home:

  • Family social dysfunction is a barrier to families developing efficient economies.

  • Family social and economic dysfunction are barriers to families going green.

  • Family social and economic well-being and values can lead to respect for self and the rest of Nature.

Is Sustainable Family Development a Possible Solution?

Families yearn for strength, security and sustainability. In helping families reach these goals, Sustainable Family Development will also help family members support each other in making vital environmentally friendly changes in the way they live and love together, earn and spend money together, and impact the Earth together.

Sustainable Family Development applies the three pillars of sustainable development (social equity, economic viability, and environmental conservation) to families, through a series of family-chosen, family-directed projects. Families may choose to take on the easiest first, as sustainable development experts advise taking small steps to reach the goal of living in a way that allows others (those less privileged plus future generations) to meet their needs. (Or they may choose to focus on "doing the hardest thing first," as our friend Franke James suggests in her visual essays entitled My Green Conscience.)

In our model of sustainable family development, we focus:

  • 1st, on family social development (if family members do not get along well together socially, they are unlikely to be successful economically or environmentally),

  • 2nd, on family economic development (if family members do not succeed together economically, they are less likely to be environmentally friendly), and finally

  • 3rd, on family environmental development (once families have the skills and the tools and the sense of security to do so).

In practice, the three will overlap and become integrated.

Note: We propose that the basic unit of society is the family, and define it as a household, no matter who the members are, so long as they are living together intentionally.

Stage 1 SOCIAL FAMILY DEVELOPMENT - Examples of Skills and Resources

  • Child honouring
  • Family social ethics / virtues
  • Natural parenting
  • Rites of passage
  • Childhood home education
  • Media literacy (resources here and here)
  • Family arts
  • Family health
  • Family democracy and family councils
  • Consultation and consensus
  • Family values and goals
  • Peaceful, respect-based communication skills
  • Nonviolent communication
  • Conflict resolution
  • Cooperative relationships and games
  • Family mythologies
  • Family rituals
  • Practising gratitude and saying grace together at mealtimes
  • Family spirituality
  • Sharing Nature together / developing ecological self-esteem

Stage 2 ECONOMIC FAMILY DEVELOPMENT - Examples of Skills and Resources

  • Family self-sufficiency
  • Full-cost home accounting
  • Economic sustainability audits
  • Family home food growing and production
  • Family home construction, improvement, renovation and maintenance
  • Family asset renovation and maintenance
  • Family home business
  • Family ethical investing
  • Family savings plans and ethical education funds
  • Equitable distribution of family wealth and family labour
  • Family work / volunteer projects
  • Technological economic efficiency
  • Energy conservation / recycling / waste reduction
  • Smart consumerism or "conserverism"
  • "Voting" with your money (supporting what you want to see more of in the world when you shop and donate)
  • Zero balance family budgeting
  • Debt avoidance
  • Family financing
  • Micro lending
  • Green banking
  • Green mortgages or energy efficient mortgages
    (note that different countries might use different terminology
    or have different programs available)
  • Cooperative housing, cohousing, intentional community (here's an example we know of)
  • Commercial co-ops

Stage 3 ENVIRONMENTAL FAMILY DEVELOPMENT - Examples of Skills and Resources

  • Voluntary simplicity
  • Environmental citizenship (From the Mountains to the Sea: A Journey in Environmental Citizenship) [pdf]
  • Family eco-spirituality
  • Family bioregional learning and vacationing
  • Family ecological footprint
  • Energy conservation strategies in the home
  • Renewable non-polluting energy development
  • Consumer product reduction
  • Eating low on the food chain / Vegetarian meals
  • Organic foods
  • Reduced transportation and managed transport sharing
  • Family fitness through reduced car dependency
  • Family labour to displace energy consumption
  • Green home audits
  • Green burials

As we find links to useful websites, we'll provide them here. Please contact GreenHeart Education (or use the form below) to give us feedback about the Sustainable Family Development model, or to share family-related resources that you've used successfully.

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