FDSD is a London-based think tank that explores and helps build the relationship between flourishing democracy and sustainable development. Our work takes three forms:
- Research. We identify, document and share governance innovations to support the development of practical solutions.
- Advocacy. We gather the evidence, and make the connections, needed to advocate for political reform and institutional change.
- Dialogue. We convene multi-stakeholder forums, and open spaces for dialogue, to change a climate of thought and shape policy and practice.
Across all our streams of work, we help to develop the tools and tactics needed to equip people, organisations and governments to better think, plan and act for the long term.
The Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development is led by a group of trustees who are also directors of the company. Associates bring their knowledge, skills and experience to help us take forward FDSD’s agenda.
FDSD started life as the Environment Foundation in 1983 with funding from the international insurance industry. It was probably the City of London’s first major initiative to address the environment. Today, that start-up funding forms part of our modest endowment. However, there is no longer any formal link with the insurance industry.
The Foundation catalysed change from the outset, both in markets and in the minds of decision-makers and opinion-formers. For example, we worked with the FT, RSA and Shell on award schemes such as the Better Environmental Awards for industry to celebrate and encourage replication of the best technologies and practices. These led to the Queen’s Awards for industry and Better Environmental Awards at the European level. There was also seed funding for research projects and travelling Fellowships.
From 1992-2006, the Foundation organised high-level consultations at St George’s House in the grounds of Windsor Castle. The last of the Windsor consultations focused on the challenges of sustainability in rapidly developing countries such as India and China.
From environment to sustainable development
Over time it became increasingly apparent that there was a need to address the broader context in which environmental decisions are made. Activities shifted to encompass the interrelated environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development.
As the Environment Foundation widened its remit, it had to persuade the Charity Commission for England and Wales to accept that “promotion of sustainable development for the benefit of the public” should be accepted as a charitable objective, which led to a legal battle. In 2003, the Charity Commissioners reconsidered. We are proud that other charities can now adopt sustainable development as their goal.
The inspiration for FDSD came from a public event at the Dana Centre in 2008, a consultation that explored the links and tensions between sustainable development and democracy. Here was an issue that was getting very little attention and clearly needed more.
We therefore refocused our mission and changed our name, in July 2009, to the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development (FDSD). Since then, we have focused on raising awareness through events, articles and blogs; researching different aspects of the relationship between democracy and sustainable development; and working on democratic innovations.
FDSD is often a catalyst for action or new thinking. We were one of the inspirations behind the Alliance for Future Generations (AFG), which works to ensure that long-termism and the needs of future generations become part of UK democracy. Along with other members of the AFG, our proposal for a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations became part of Rio+20’s ‘Zero Draft’ document, further developed in ‘Committing to the future we want: a High Commissioner for Future Generations at Rio+20‘ and ‘The Mandate of a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations‘.
And, in 2013, we developed a People’s Manifesto for Democracy and Sustainability from the inputs of people around the world, to widen engagement, spark further action and rebalance the tendency for this issue to be discussed mostly by NGOs and policymakers.
FDSD’s work arose from an endowment given to the Environment Foundation (the forerunner of FDSD) in the 1980s by the international insurance industry. We have supplemented this resource with individual grants.
We were also awarded a ‘Future of Humanity’ grant by Foundation for the Future for a two-year research project on The Future of Democracy in the Face of Climate Change to 2100.
The Esmée Fairburn Foundation supported an event on Democracy and Sustainability. The Pacific Institute and International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) provided project-based grants for our work The ISO 26000 international guidance standard on social responsibility: implications for public policy and transnational democracy. And WWF-UK and the World Future Council funded research for a proposal to establish a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations.
Many thanks to all our funders for their support.
Partnerships are central to our work.
Since 2009, we have worked with:
Capacity Global; Club de Madrid, Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, Involve, Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, 21st Century Trust; The Dana Centre; Salzburg Global Seminar; UK Environmental Law Association; The Office of the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations; Schumacher College; WWF-UK; Pacific Institute; International Institute for Environment and Development; Chatham House; UK Youth Climate Coalition; UNICEF-UK; Goodenough College; Intergenerational Foundation; Alliance for Future Generations.
We would also like to acknowledge the work of a number of other friends and collaborators who helped to launch our work on democracy and sustainable development. They include Keith Burgess, Tom Burke, Lucy and Sir Geoffrey Chandler, Ian Christie, Dawn Emling, Sam Lakha, Tim O’Riordan, Sara Parkin, Mike Shanahan and Tim Smit.