What is sustainable/sustainability?
We hear the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability’ almost every day. But I find many people have questions about those terms. Is it about people and culture, our environment, or jobs and money? Is it about green homes, smart cities and energy planning? Is it about patronage to local business owners that care about and invest in your community? Is it about you and me or is it something for other people to worry about?
Sustainability is actually about all of these things and more. Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, permitting fulfilling the social and economic needs of present and future generations.
It’s a big idea to get your head around. It’s really about thinking about where your food, clothes, energy and all of your products and service comes from and deciding whether you should buy and consume these things. For example, you can buy timber imported from anywhere in the world. But do you know enough about the laws of foreign countries about the prevention of animal harm during the lumbering process? Do you have information about whether the local indigenous people support the harvesting, how much they get paid, or if their process depletes the soil so much that future harvesting will be impossible?
If an activity is said to be sustainable, it should be able to continue forever. It can be applied to almost anything from how we eat to how we create products and services. For example, a food company that creates food that is harmful to their consumers will eventually lose its consumers through sickness or the lack of income due to the lost productivity of sick consumers. The production of harmful food is not sustainable as a sound business model. However, if the case is that all consumers are completely in the dark, then there is a high rate of replacing those consumers indefinitely.
Some people say it is easy to recognize activities that are unsustainable because we know it when we see it. Think of the extinction of some species of animals, often due to the activities of humans. Or salinity (salt quantity) in our rivers due to changed land management practices. And at home, the amount of packaging you put in the trash that has to go into our overfilled landfills. Another example of unsustainable practices is real estate development that does not meet the needs of local populations. Eventually, people will vote with their pocketbooks and it will not be economically feasible for developers to make profits on homes and condos that don’t reflect a sustainable mindset; these properties are not energy efficient, they are too expensive to maintain, or their materials and designs do not contribute to the healthy lifestyles and social interactions that many consumers want today.
The Green Living area of the EPA website has more on this topic and you can drill down to your specific community here: Visit the Green Living area of the EPA website.