Cultural Adaptation

Culture as the Core

This Working Group brings together people who recognize that cultural change is required for any shift towards sustainability, across a range of spatial scales. Culture has been called the “fourth pillar” of sustainability, to put it on par with society, economy and environment. But the pillar model assumes that culture is restricted to the art, literature and leisure-time entertainment we consume. In reality, culture embraces a broad, evolving set of patterns and processes that reflect who people are, what they think and how they act as individuals and groups. This puts culture at the core of sustainability work.

The American writer Wendell Berry touches on the deeper meaning of culture in an 2005 essay about renewing husbandry, which he defines as "the name of all the practices that sustain life by connecting us conservingly to our places and our world, the art of keeping tied all the strands in the living network that sustains us (Orion, 2005, p 1104)."  He goes on to suggest that "this communion is a cultural force that can exist only be becoming personal (p 1105.)" 


Canada’s national identity is partly based on a rich, multi-cultural social structure. Instead of a “melting pot,” Canadians have chosen to be a “mosaic” of cultural diversity, and Saskatchewan is an excellent example. Saskatchewan people reflect a mixture of races, colours, creeds, religions, languages, nationalities, ethnic origins, and places of birth. This diversity is recognized by the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, which notes that multiculturalism “promotes the understanding, respect, appreciation, and acceptance of all people as equal in our society.”

The fact that Saskatchewan is home to many cultures means that there is wide range of knowledge and strengths related to sustainability in this region. For instance, reverence for and stewardship of the land is a basic principle of First Nations culture, whereas many immigrant cultures are known for their resourcefulness. It follows that RCE Saskatchewan is in a strong position to build a community of communities, bringing together a variety of approaches and capturing synergies to build sustainable livelihoods for everyone.

ESD Research

Here are some focal points for ESD research aimed at Cultural Adaptation:

  • Circumstances that isolate people from Nature and from each other
  • How we assess the health of our economies
  • Activities that ignore or overlook the limitations of eco-social systems
  • Consumerism as a source of fulfillment
  • Attitudes and actions that oppress Nature and other people
  • Over-emphasis on science and technology
  • Disparities arising from industrialized production and globalization

Some other issues in this area:

  • The poverty, vulnerability, and inequality (both of opportunity and resources) confronting different cultural groups, especially First Nation's people.
  • A lack of tools and mechanisms for assessing whether ESD is fostering a culture of sustainability.
  • The role of culture and cultural perspectives in adaptive management.

Glenn Sutter, Ph.D. Co-coordinator, Cultural Adaptation Working Group