People’s understanding of “sustainability”
Dr. Paul Bain, University of Bath, UK, conducted a survey on how people think about “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” and said that through this survey, he was able to share a common understanding of “sustainability” with the people surveyed.
Dr. Bain is a psychologist who conducts research on themes of human values and virtues. He adopted a survey method that divided the SDGs into three elements: “environment,” “economy” and “society” and asked 2100 people from 12 countries to evaluate each element. As a result of the survey, he found that many people think that “environmental protection solutions and social issues such as inequality and peace are in the relationship of trade-off. In other words, they had the idea that prioritizing environmental issues means less attention to solving social issues. The results of the survey are useful for telling people clearly the sustainability program that aims to achieve both environmental protection and economic growth, such as the “Green New Deal” proposed by the United States.
Why did Dr. Bain use such a survey method? It was because, while Dr. Bain was impressed with the broad goals of the SDGs, he wondered if people would not understand “sustainability” in detail but more simply. Therefore, he focused on goals that have common points and summarized them into three elements: environment, economy, and society. For example, “SDGs 5: Gender equality” and “SDGs 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries” are common in that the target is equality.
The survey was conducted with explaining “sustainability,” and it was found that there was a difference in understanding among the general public about the word “sustainability.” In addition, it was also found that the meaning of the word was not understood in some countries. For example, in Russia, the idea of “sustainability” is not common, and there is no other equivalent word that is popularly used.
Dr. Bain overcame these challenges and summarized the survey results on the paper “Public views of the Sustainable Development Goals across countries.” Complex questions bring complex answers, making it harder to see how people perceive the problem. Dr. Bain said “this time, we were able to share a common understanding of ‘sustainability’ with people by simplifying the questions. I would like to make use of this experience in other future surveys.”