There is no such thing as a standard Earth Charter program. Around the world, communities, individuals, businesses, educational establishments, and local governments are using different means to translate symbolic support for the charter into practical action and behavioral change.
In parliaments and town halls…
Three years after its launch, actual adoption of the Earth Charter by local governments remains limited, with the most enthusiasm demonstrated in the United States, Eastern Europe, Spain, and parts of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. In April 2001, the parliament of Tatarstan, a semi-autonomous Russian Federation republic, became the first provincial government to embrace the Earth Charter as a guide for state policy and practice. With a mixed and potentially volatile population of Muslims and Orthodox Christians, the republic has made non-violent resolution of conflict a cornerstone of its constitution and its leaders view the Earth Charter as a means to this end. The Tatarstan government has analyzed its key laws and policies against Charter principles and is introducing the document into school curricula (EarthEthics 2002:36).
In April 2002, Puerto Rico’s senate followed suit, voting to support the principles established in the Earth Charter, to adopt them as a guidance system in its “formulation of public laws and politics,” and to exhort the territory’s government, educational system, and business, science, and media organizations to do likewise (Alvarez 2002). The document has also been endorsed by 99 cities and towns in the nation of Jordan (Earth Charter Initiative 2002:8).
In the United States, where Local Agenda 21 has generally been slow to take off, the Charter has made significant inroads into local government consciousness. It has been endorsed, among others, by the 1,000-member U.S. Conference of Mayors and the 400-member Florida League of Cities (Earth Charter Initiative 2003).
At a global level, the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) endorsed the Charter and is encouraging its 380 municipal members to apply its principles (Earth Charter Initiative 2003). Some local authorities are already doing this in practical ways. The city government of San José, Costa Rica, for example, has implemented an Earth Charter training program for over 1,800 employees, including the police, sanitation, and health departments. Workers are encouraged to incorporate its principles into their daily activities (Earth Charter Secretariat 2003).
The Earth Charter’s ethical framework has struck a strong chord with educational institutions. The Charter is central to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s efforts to develop teacher training programs on sustainable development for schools and universities. Its principles have also been endorsed by the International Baccalaureate Association and by dozens of university departments and hundreds of schools worldwide.
In universities, the Charter is being used both as a framework for philosophical discussion and as a starting point for developing practical policies. At Michigan State University, for example, a course entitled “Earth Charter: Pathway to a Sustainable Future” grounds environmental study in real world problems. Students are given practical projects which reflect Charter principles, including designing and building a composting system, transforming cafeteria food waste into nitrogen-rich compost, and developing a campus recycling strategy (Earth Charter USA 2003b).
The United States has seen some of the strongest and most spontaneous reactions to the Earth Charter’s call for a new, ethical world order. A diverse group of strangers including a Philadelphia printer, a single mother in Portland, a Buddhist in San Francisco, and a former mayoral candidate in Indianapolis pooled resources over the Internet to launch community networking summits under the umbrella “The Earth Charter: A Declaration of Interdependence” (Roberts 2001). Around 700 U.S. organizations representing 40 million members have endorsed the Charter, including the Sierra Club and Humane Society of the United States.
In other nations, the Earth Charter is being used as a community development tool. Elizabeth Ramirez, an environmental educator in Costa Rica, has used its principles in working with impoverished village women in the remote, mountainous regions of Laguna Hule and Río Cuarto.
After studying individual Charter principles, villagers have planned and carried out activities that protect local landscapes, enhance women’s status, and reinforce traditional cultural and social values. A children’s movement, the Defensores Verdes or Green Defenders, has also been formed. Its members act as guardians of the natural environment within their homes, schools, and communities, creating vegetable gardens and wildlife refuges, replanting a forest area, and opposing the development of a lake, among other activities (Vilela 2003).
In the business world…
In general, engaging with the business community has not been a priority for the Earth Charter Initiative; nor have trade associations, other than the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, flocked to endorse its prescription for change. One exception is the Australian investment banking industry, members of which met with 40 civil society groups in October 2001 to discuss using the Charter as a framework of principles for the ethical investment industry (Manning 2001). While no industry-wide agreement was reached, Earth Charter Australia is now working with individual corporations on establishing broad sustainability criteria to evaluate companies’ performances. The Calvert Group, a leader in the field of socially responsible investment, has unilaterally endorsed the Earth Charter as an ethical guide.