Ethical Frameworks for Sustainable Development


More than a technical issue, sustainable development is underpinned by ethical and spiritual principles that foster economic, social, and environmental well-being. Pivotal among these principles is the oneness of humankind. “Only a comprehensive vision of a global society, supported by universal values and principles, can inspire individuals to take responsibility for the long-term care and protection of the natural environment” and foster the well-being of all.

alternate textLaunch of the Earth Charter at The Hague in 2000: Peter Adriance (right), OPA Representative for Sustainable Development, with Earth Charter Commissioners Maurice Strong and Wangari Maathai.

OPA Involvement

Over the years, the representative from the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs (OPA) has worked with diverse partners to ensure that such fundamental concepts are included in national and international discourses and documents. In 1990, for example, the representative helped to form the Citizens Network for Sustainable Development — comprised of over 120 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) preparing to have a collective impact on the UN Conference on Environment and Development, or the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. As part of that process, the representative co-chaired a working group that developed input to the Earth Charter – an ethical framework for living sustainably on Earth – which was to be one of the expected outcomes of the summit. While governments were not able to agree on the Charter in 1992, negotiations continued throughout the 1990s, and the representative played an active role in helping to articulate the vision and principles that appeared in the final document, which was released in 2000.

In 2002, ten years after the Rio Earth Summit, OPA’s representative led the Baha’i International Community’s delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Summit addressed the inter-related challenges of poverty, social disintegration, and environmental degradation. The representative worked closely with civil society and governments in the lead-up to the Summit. During the Summit, the Baha’i delegation engaged in discourses on the multiple dimensions of sustainability and widely disseminated a statement entitled “Religion and Development at the Crossroads: Convergence or Divergence?” that emphasized the important role of religion in development.

alternate textOPA representative Peter Adriance, second from right,
speaks during a panel discussion on “Moral and ethical
issues that must be faced in implementing the Bali roadmap.”

During annual meetings of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, held between 1993 and 2012, OPA collaborated with civil society organizations to contribute to discourses on thematic areas related to sustainable development – such as climate change and sustainable consumption and production – while emphasizing the ethical and moral underpinnings of these topics. In 2012, at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio + 20), OPA collaborated with others in offering input to the negotiating drafts; participated in discourses on a green economy, sustainable consumption and production, and governance; and helped to negotiate a civil society treaty entitled “People’s Treaty on Ethics, Spirituality, and Sustainable Development.”

For more information regarding Ethical Frameworks for Sustainable Development, view the Related Documents and Resources page of our website.