THE EARTH CHARTER – by Harper Smith from WithItGirl

When I first learned about the Earth Charter, I thought it was just another document describing various ways that we as a society should aim to be better. However, I now know that it is so much more. The Earth Charter is a movement that has connected people from all over the world fighting for a better future in all areas of life for everyone. The Earth Charter movement has been developing for the past twenty years. Youth have always been an important part of the EC movement, though the youth program has changed and evolved since 2000 it continues to pave the future of sustainability and inclusion as a way of life. Youth, and all people in general, from around the world are coming together to achieve a healthier and more sustainable way of life for future generations.

The Earth Charter was discussed and drafted for over a decade in the 1990s and involved people from all over the world in order to create a document that was focused on cross-cultural goals and shared values for a more sustainable world. It was launched in the Netherlands in 2000 to serve as a guide for the transition towards sustainable development. The document is filled with sixteen principles of how to implement a more sustainable, diverse, and equitable way of life that paves the way for a more eco-conscious future. There are many ways to implement the Earth Charter into one’s life, whether it be on an individual scale or throughout a whole community.

I had the opportunity to talk to two amazing women involved in the Earth Charter movement. I spoke with Amanda Bennett, the youth program coordinator, and Emma Feyeux, a young leader from France and a university student at the Sciences Po Aix in the South of France who is implementing the Earth Charter into her community and her everyday life. Both of their stories motivated me to get more involved and encouraged me to complete their course titled Leadership, Sustainability, and Ethics (LSE), which is offered by Earth Charter International as part of their work as UNESCO Chair on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) with the Earth Charter. Earth Charter Center for ESD is located on the UN Mandated University for Peace campus in Costa Rica. I am also now a Young Leader with the Earth Charter International.

Before all of my involvement, I had the chance to talk with Emma about her relationship with the Earth Charter movement and what it means to her. Emma got involved in the Earth Charter when she was looking into different NGOs and their work within the realm of sustainability. And it was through this research that she came across the “Leadership, Sustainability, and Ethics” course offered by the Earth Charter and the University for Peace in Costa Rica.

Enrolling in a group programme came at the right moment, as well as finding something bigger to refer to in my activist journey: the Earth Charter– [it] really became a moral compass [and] also a support platform for a lot of my projects. – Emma Feyeux

Emma discussed how joining the Earth Charter movement really helped her connect with youth from all over the world and allowed her to see what sustainable developments are being made in other countries and make comparisons with her own. She has been able to join many of the Earth Charter workshops and has been involved in webinars for Earth Charter International’s secretariat, including moderating one about the Importance of Intersectionality with four other young women. Emma also was in a webinar discussing Youth Leadership in a Changing World that I had the opportunity to attend in August of 2021. In addition to that, she recently wrote a paper, along with another Earth Charter Young Leader, regarding the promotion of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), one of the main fields of work for the Earth Charter. ESD aims to empower and encourage people to make “informed decisions for the sake of environmental integrity, economic viability, and a just society.” Emma and her co-author had the opportunity to present this paper where they dove into a critical review of processes and behaviors through “action-oriented and value-based learning” at the International Conference for Sustainable Development in September.

These experiences were so empowering, to acknowledge that you can speak your truth as well as create a platform for people to talk and connect and that if I can do it, everyone else can definitely do it if they get the chance to learn the right tools and to make supportive connections. ~Emma Feyeux

Outside of the Earth Charter, Emma is also involved in two organizations in France– the Notre Affaire à Tous, which is working for the rights of Nature, and the Association of Protection of Nature and the Animals at her university, where she serves as the events officer. The Earth Charter has had a profound influence on her life and has helped her feel motivated to continue to fight for a more sustainable and eco-conscious future.

I still have moments where I feel extremely anxious or powerless, but I try to learn that it’s an absolutely healthy reaction and that it’s okay to take a break, but also that I’m working with awesome people that try to make a difference and that we have fun together doing that. ~Emma Feyeux

Amanda Bennett is the Youth Programme coordinator for the Earth Charter International and is also one of the coordinators of the Leadership, Sustainability, and Ethics course that I completed. She is from Costa Rica, but grew up in South Carolina and completed her education with a master’s degree in public policy in the United States. She discussed how the LSE course can help people who want to get involved in the Earth Charter and sustainability efforts. Additionally, the course creates a space where people of all experience levels, backgrounds, and ages can communicate and discuss various environmental and ethical topics and how they compare in different parts of the world. Amanda discussed how the Earth Charter really aims to shift human thinking from being egocentric to maintaining a more ecocentric view in a way that is accessible and easy to understand.

I think the older we get we can see how things change… and from traveling and hearing about different people’s stories I began to really care about our common home. What I like about the Earth Charter is that it understands the systemic vision and it really emphasizes the need to protect human rights and to protect these relationships among humans. But also, it emphasizes the need for us as humans to respect the needs of other species on our planet that we are sharing a home with. ~ Amanda Bennett on what the Earth Charter means to her.

There is not much exposure to the Earth Charter in the United States today so when I first was told about it I had no idea what I was about to dive into. However, upon doing research and learning more about the Earth Charter’s values I think that it is an important document and movement that takes action rather than just stating what people think should be done. Through the LSE course, I had the opportunity to discuss and learn about topics from sustainability to systems-thinking, collaborative solutions, and much more with people from all over the world. It has been a super eye-opening experience to learn alongside people with completely different life experiences and expertise than me. By using the Earth Charter to guide my learning, it has helped me come up with tangible ideas and solutions to problems I am seeing in my community. I have also learned that there are not many youth programs in the US that currently are implementing the Earth Charter and, hopefully, at Withitgirl we can help create more exposure for the movement.

At the end of the LSE course, I hosted a workshop about the Earth Charter and how its principles relate to and can influence women’s surf/skate culture in a positive and inclusive way. We also discussed how American surf culture specifically can be influenced and bettered by the principles of the Earth Charter and how they can help counter stereotypes in the surf and skate worlds. I hosted the workshop via Zoom and had a variety of surfers and skaters attend with ages ranging from students on my former high school’s surf team to adults in my community. Our discussion was very eye-opening, as the majority of people who attended had never seen or heard of the Earth Charter before. However, they all began to understand its importance and how it could be used to help bring attention to and mitigate the stereotypes that are prevalent in surf and skate communities. Currently, I am in the process of becoming a Youth Leader through the Earth Charter International where I plan to facilitate more workshops and bring more awareness to the Earth Charter movement in the United States.

Through talking to different members of the Earth Charter movement and learning about it firsthand, it has become very clear that the Earth Charter is not “yet another text aiming at an ideal world, but [a community of people] that are all working in the right direction for a more inclusive and sustainable world, in their own field of interest and cultural context” (Emma Feyeux). Surfers should be some of the first people wanting to get involved in this movement, as there is such an emphasis on the importance of sustainability and the preservation of resources for future generations. By respecting both the ocean and the people who surround it, surfers and ocean lovers everywhere can implement the Earth Charter’s principles into their daily lives. There are many ways to get involved in the Earth Charter movement and help create a more sustainable world for future generations. By implementing these principles into your lifestyle, both in and out of the water, we can all work towards creating a better world for generations to come!

Harper is a student at the University of Oregon originally from Los Angeles, CA studying education and global service. She is a contributor for Withitgirl and a Young Leader for the Earth Charter International. She enjoys surfing, making art, and camping in her free time!

Withitgirl offers scholarships to women, girls & people who are interested in completing the Leadership, Sustainability, and Ethics course. Please send a request through our contact page.