Stepping into this new millennium, browsing back for repair or reviving natural systems already damaged is not a matter of choice anymore. It is now common ground to perceive limits : limits of development, resource availability, environmental stability and economic viability of Development as it has been practiced over the past, particularly in the final centuries of the last millennium. To respond to this complex task, humankind has evolved newer concepts and paradigms and organised people and resources to form institutions.

The mission of the Environics Trust is to evolve innovative solutions to the problems of community development. Environics Trust reaches out to mountain, mining, marginalized and coastal communities. Each community responds to the diversity and complexity of specific eco-systems and social environments. Environics implies the study of the influence of the environment on human behaviour. Environics Trust interprets it more comprehensively as the mutual influences of environment and social behaviour and attempts to explore this critical area through its programmes focused on communities.

The World Commission on Environment and Development defined Sustainable Development as that which meets the needs and aspirations of the current generation without comprising the ability to meet those of future generations. This is an approach that ensures that the process takes environmental considerations into account, not just the economic aspects of development or even the wider perspective put forward by the UNESCO.

In the last decade a perceptible shift has occurred globally, with the reversing of natural resources destruction and conserving a healthy environment have become explicit objectives of development. It is founded in the belief that development must not come at the expense of the life-support systems of other groups, or later generations, nor threaten the survival of other species.

Over the years, Environics Trust has evolved a pragmatic model for sustainable development. Sustainable Development is defined as the `set of processes that enables the local and global systems to be in ecological harmony’. The four non-orthogonal attributes of sustainable development are:

  1. Equity and Justice
  2. Environmental Soundness
  3. Endogeneity or Self Reliance
  4. Economic Efficiency.

Societies should identify, evolve processes and implement programmes that concurrently address these four attributes at whatever levels and scales the intervention takes place.In practical terms, an understanding of the existing biophysical and psychocultural systems to establish new paradigms and identify specific efforts that are necessary.

The basic biophysical underpinning for any effort can be visualized as the triumvirate of biophysical resource potential of Water-Energy-Biomass.

These loops must be closed at the smallest scale providing for the basic biophysical needs, expressed as the triumvirate of biophysical resource demands of a society, in the form of Food-Clothing-Shelter.

The psychocultural environment presents the institutional resource potential in the form of the Government-Market-Communities. The evolution of these institutions and their mutual interaction particularly determine the equity and social justice systems as well as the endogeneity of a society to meet its developmental aspirations in a sustainable manner.

The primary charge of these institutions would be to meet the psychocultural demands of the society in the form of Health-Education-Occupation.

While at the biophysical level one could be a little more deterministic to state that more immediate and local the needs are met the more sustainable it is likely to be, it is much more complex to determine the levels and scales at which psychocultural needs must be met. The nation state has been a unit in herding the demands at this level and has been overwhelmingly accepted as the scale at which these needs are addressed, despite exposures of the inability of nation states to meet these needs in acceptable manner. This has resulted in a situation where societal governance has come to mean `keeping discontent within manageable limits’ rather than a proactive process of creating conditions for life fulfillment. Thus at the local level the development process without the current complications of sectoral evolution must attempt to meet the biophysical needs of the local people.

Given the diversity of the biophysical environment, the processes may be simple or complex and its dynamics largely determined by the context. The psychocultural systems however have grown to become complex and often complicated, without the variety to deliver the basic demands placed on them, thereby forcing us to look for new paradigms and processes that can meet the aspirations of current generations without foreclosing future options. Therefore SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT is practically an exercise of conserving existing options and generating more alternatives.

The complexity of the current local, national and global conditions of the biophysical and psychocultural systems does not allow for a development space to unconditionally focus upon the various elements in an integrated manner, limiting the options to organizations at all levels – multilateral organizations to local institutions. Broadly these inputs could be characterized as the triumvirate of organized inputs of Technology-Skills-Finances.

The role of technology has been debated for long and several efforts have been made to mould global opinion to focus attention on `appropriate’ technologies and giving up of technologies that are destructive of the biophysical environment. However the fact remains that technology does often define and take over the nature of impacts on the biophysical systems and the interaction within and among the broad elements of the psychocultural environment. It is therefore necessary to identify technologies which can be quickly `appropriated’ by the community so that the impact of the technology can be focussed to meaningful in its context.

The need for finances in the development and evolution of societies has become far too critical than what can be philosophically justified. Further, these `financial resources’ have become progressively abstract with the world moving away from physical resource equated currencies to what has now been truly termed as `paper’ and `paper-less’ money with a large part of the global engine being fuelled by the stocks and their derivatives.

Finances have to be invested to make any intervention possible for the acquisition and maintenance of technologies and also to generate and utilise the other critical input of skills. Skill generation systems have largely been equated with the education process and the inadequacy of the global educational system is reflected in every local context. The dynamics of the social demands, requires a rapid acquisition of skills and the ability to develop new skill sets.

Institutions are therefore defining the functional space, like mountain regions and communities therein which the Environics Trust holds in focus, and identifying the most optimal methods to deliver these inputs to the community within that functional space. In order to search for that means, a basic set of paradigms are essential which govern the objective arena of the institution which emerges from intimate understanding of the functional environment. These paradigms are succinctly stated as:

  1. The diversity and the complexity of the mountain ecosystems can be addressed only with a thorough understanding of the environment;
  2. The potential of the ecosystems has to find expression in economic and ecological value terms;
  3. The economic efficiency of the primary production systems will have to be considerably raised without diminishing their ecological value;
  4. The critical role of Women in the design of development processes have to be recognised and consciously incorporated;
  5. Communities and their institutions have to become self-dependent in Resources, Technologies and Investments;
  6. Marketable surpluses have to be generated and value-addition must occur at local levels and
  7. Strategic interfaces have to be developed with the outside world, so that integration with the larger economy is mutually beneficial.

In order to reach our primary goal of evolving a general and consistently applicable model, a process is necessary to identify and modulate the inputs within the functional space of the institution. This is the means by which the institution contributes to the larger societal process, the practice of which is the operational principle of Environics Trust. These activities are Participative Research, which enables documentation of existing conditions and the changes aspired; Community Based Action to demonstrate the possibility of transforming innovations into a physical and social reality; Enterprise Development to respond to the current reality of the economic world and identify sustainable entrepreneurial and occupational niches and Communication to interface with a larger universe to mutually learn and contribute. These are ideas whose practices are taking shape and are reflected in the glimpses presented here. And finally a word of caution, no model is reality, but a framework to enable.