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Sustainability narratives: a journey through economic challenges with Econogy

Author: Maria Suciu Published: 20 Dec 2023


The Econogy Project

The Econogy Project was launched in March 2020 by graduates from King’s College London, with its initial aim being to explore if and how the COVID-19 pandemic could drive sustainable practices. This was done through thorough on-field and remote research, which served as bases for articles. Since its creation, Econogy has achieved significant milestones such as obtaining its non-profit status, publishing numerous articles and being a laureate Laureate of the special promotion "Engagés du Covid-19" at the French Institute of Engagement (Institut de l’Engagement).


The project has expanded through on-site collaborations in Ecuador, Togo, Peru, Spain, and Sri Lanka, which aimed at supporting locals in sustainable development initiatives. To do this, Econogy's highly motivated team conducted research with the final aim being to provide consulting services and extended a helping hand to support the ongoing projects of the NGOs. 


I joined the Econogy Project as head of partnerships in 2021, one year after the creation of the NGO. My role was to find new partners and projects that would allow the project to grow. It was immensely gratifying to see how many people and organisations were actually interested in Econogy and its values, which helped a lot build a community. In that year, we grew exponentially: we tripled our number of volunteers and doubled our partners.  Aside from my head of partnerships role, I also had a on-field researcher role, which allowed me to delve deep into topics that held a great deal of importance for me.


Sustainability narratives

Exploring sustainability in economically challenged landscapes: Peru, Sri Lanka and Romania 

I have always been interested by the dynamics of countries where economic progress takes precedence over the ecological one. Econogy played a pivotal role in helping me explore how these nations perceive and approach sustainability: it provided me with practical tools, essential for my research, and with the opportunity for hands-on experiences. I thus participated in two volunteering missions—one in Peru and another one in Sri Lanka. The first allowed me to run workshops for the mothers of one of Peru’s poorest neighbourhoods, and the latter helped me support diverse locals developing business initiatives.


Both experiences offered a nuanced understanding of the intersection of socio-economic challenges with sustainable practices. For instance, in Sri Lanka, I was able to understand how individuals perceived the planet as central to their lives. While working there, I was able to observe how household-level initiatives, such as designated food waste spots, highlighted the organic integration of sustainability into everyday life. Despite broader challenges, the individual efforts reflected a cultural heritage passed down through generations, emphasizing a true commitment to preserving the Earth.



Coming back home after these two on field experiences allowed me to delve deeper in the research. I thus decided to see if I could link my observations from Peru and Sri Lanka to Romania, one of the poorest EU countries (European Commission, n.d.). Similar patterns emerged: despite economic constraints, low-income individuals from rural areas showed a clear consciousness of the environment. However, the absence of a deliberate alignment with sustainability goals stood out as these practices appeared to be, like in Peru and Sri Lanka, ingrained as part of their cultural legacy.


The central aspect that was evident across these three nations, is the prioritization of fundamental needs over environmental concerns. Issues like poverty eradication, economic competitiveness, and social development take precedence, while a clean and healthy environment often finds itself relegated to a lower priority (Asian Institute of Technology, n.d.).


Sustainability narratives

This interplay between individual environmental consciousness and the broader political landscape is a notable feature in many societies (Engel and Engel, 1990). On a personal level, individuals often engage in environmentally friendly activities, reflecting a commitment to sustainable practices. Yet, when these sentiments transition to the political sphere, a shift occurs, with environmental concerns often taking a backseat to more immediate socio-economic priorities. For instance, when observing public opinions in Europe (both in surveys and discourses), we see a disparity between the Eastern and Western countries, with the former being less sensitive to the idea of climate change (Eurobarometer 98.2, 2023), but also less developed and thus poorer. Moreover, while Eastern Europeans might be well-informed about the threats of climate change, they have competing priorities that influence the actual importance they give to the matter (Micu et al, 2022).


This trend has been studied by researchers who agreed on a need for an ethical approach capable of ‘reconciling the needs of environmental conservation with economic development’ (Engel and Engel, 1990). It seems that more and more institutions and public instances are grasping this problem and trying to implement policies to address it. For instance, the EU’s greatest climate pack, the Green Deal, has as one of its main pillars the Just Transition Mechanism, designed to tackle the socio-economic consequences of transition to a sustainable economy.


Initiatives like this would, on the long run, demonstrate the possibility of having both economic and sustainable growth, helping the poorest populations adhere to sustainable development policies, not only practices.

 

To sum up, Econogy served as a guiding light in my research about environmental consciousness in economically challenged nations. My experiences in Peru, Sri Lanka, and Romania facilitated a nuanced exploration of sustainability at the grassroots level, shedding light on cultural priorities that shape environmental practices.

 

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Maria Suciu is a recent LSE graduate in European and International Public Policy, after completing a bachelor’s degree from King’s and Sciences Po. Coming from Romania, she is very interested in sustainable and equitable growth. She believes the voice of less economically developed countries should be listened to at a greater scale, as they also are the drivers of tomorrow’s climate action.

 



 

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