The ultimate leveller—talking equity

You can’t have sustainability without equity, and you can’t have equity without sustainability, says Warwick Murray, professor of Human Geography.

In the fifth episode of our sustainability-related podcast, Dr Sarah-Jane O’Connor sits down with co-head of the School of Education, Dr Hiria McRae (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu) and Professor Warwick Murray, to discuss equity, indigeneity, and sustainability both in education within Aotearoa New Zealand and in the world of fair trade internationally.

New Zealanders love the idea of a sustainable green future, but often these ideologies do little to address the communities who might be at the losing end of what an inefficient and unsustainable society looks like. This includes both developing nations, and marginalised communities within Aotearoa New Zealand. This is why equity is important.

“Working in the economically and politically marginalised parts of the world, we seek to understand what’s led to that marginality, how it’s experienced, and what the potential avenues out of that marginality might be,” Professor Murray explains.

“I've been focusing on what we call ethical trade, fair trade, environmental sustainability, trade that is certified as environmentally sustainable, and how that enters into communities.”

Professor Murray explains that fair trade is often associated as a positive concept, but what this means and how it reflects sustainably and ethically isn’t always considered.

While Professor Murray looks abroad, Dr McRae is focussed on oft-marginalised Māori communities and providing Māori students with education that can help them achieve their goals. “Typically, Māori students have lower participation in science education, especially, when you come into a senior science area.”

Dr McRae discusses how many careers, such as pilots and engineers, have clear career pathways, whereas careers with environmental focusses are slightly less direct, and more difficult to get into to because of this. “You have tamariki from quite young ages, who are extremely aware of environmental issues that are impacting their whenua and marae. They want the skills and knowledge to be able to clean up their awa.”

Dr McRae and Professor Murray agree that students at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington are aware of the connection between equity and sustainability, and are interested in making change within communities. “This connection between sustainability and equity is something students are aware of. We need to be educating them how to make choices themselves,” says Warwick.

Dr McRae is excited about the progress of The Living Pā. “We will be the first tertiary institution to have an indigenous sustainable learning environment in the world. This will be an exciting model to have—and at the centre will be our laboratory: our tikanga, stories, and Māori pedagogy.”