Sustainability: an interconnected commitment

The recent Quaker commitment to sustainability, most visible in the 2011 Canterbury Commitment to become a ‘low-carbon sustainable community’, has many points in common with the Foundations. In particular, Quakers tend to see issues as interconnected, and work on many areas at once. As the Foundations were a response to war, but addressed social issues, so Quaker work responding to the dangers of climate change also addresses social issues.

  • Seeing that depletion of resources, and resulting competition, is both a cause and a result of climate change, and likely to be a cause of violent conflict, Quakers today link sustainability and their peace testimony.
  • Seeing that the way society is structured contributes to overconsumption, which in turn contributes to climate change, Quakers today link simplicity and sustainability. This is comparable to the way in which Quakers in 1918 linked simplicity to a new social order, inspired by John Woolman.
  • Quakers are also starting to challenge other aspects of the current social order, such as the growth economy, because this is incompatible with a sustainable community. The New Economies project quotes from the Foundations in their discussion document, Principles of a New Economy.
  • Today, Quakers see sustainability as related to other aspects of their work – including peace work.
    • Cait Crosse, a staff member for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW), told us in an interview that “Inequality and lack of sustainability endanger peace”. Peace forms part of the motivation for work on economic and climate issues. Suzanne Ismail, another staff member for QPSW, put it even more strongly in describing the work of the Economics, Sustainability and Peace committee of QPSW, “Peace is why we do what we do, but it’s not what we do.”
    • The War and Social Order Committee that prepared the Foundations text often wrestled with the issue of whether their main concern was the “roots of war”, or social injustice more generally.