Friday, November 17, 2006

Sustainability Beyond Sterotypes

The current impact that the global population has on this earth is undoubtedly unsustainable. There are too many indicators telling us that this is true such as global warming, soil degradation, deforestation, war, species extinction, increasing number of forest fires, declining fisheries, massive economic polarization and social inequalities. The international drive to become “westernized” or a developed first world nation has led to environmentally and socially destructive patterns of development, extreme over-consumption, pollution and deepened the dependence on non-renewable resources.

It’s obvious that this mess the world is in right now is a complex issue. Complex issues generally require a complex answer. Because of these complexities many of us believe that we have no control in pushing for a sustainable tomorrow and that it is up to big business and government to solve the problems. But in reality, we all have the power to make change, and I personally believe that we all have the responsibility to do so.

Becoming more sustainable in everything that we do is very important and an imperative aspect to creating this needed change. The term itself - sustainability - is becoming such a buzz word in the media, in businesses and in academic literature, that in many cases it is losing its true meaning. So then what exactly does the term sustainability mean?

The more commonly used definition was put out in 1987 when the World Commission on Environment and Development formed the Brundtland Report which stated “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs”. This is a comprehensive definition, but doesn’t explain how to go about doing this.

So then there are other definitions that use the three legged stool analogy for explaining sustainability and the importance of balancing the triple bottom line. The three legs represent the 3 E’s of sustainability – the Environment, the Economy and social Equity, and the top of the stool is a governing body making sure all this balancing happens. These are only two quick examples of how to define this term, there are many other approaches.

But the fact is you can’t really define sustainability as anything more than a principle. What is a principle? A principle is just a point of departure, a place to start. Sustainability is a place for us to start examining our lives and trying to improving the vast problems our planet faces. Sustainable principles could be seen as the values your parents instilled in you growing up. These principles should guide you in your everyday life.

Also, I think it is important to note that sustainability shouldn’t be associated with stereotypes. Since writing this column I have run into many individuals who label me just because I advocate sustainability. I am not a hippy, or a vegan, or a communist, and I am especially not a tree hugger. All these labels carry a negative connotation for some people in society, making the principle of sustainability unattractive to them. Sustainability is more than just environmentalism; it’s about understanding that there are consequences to our actions which we will face together. Sustainability isn’t just simply shutting off the lights when you leave a room, or buying only organic food, it is about so much more, like promoting peace, living a healthy lifestyle, striving for an equilibrium, or avoiding consumerist urges.

As you can tell, there isn’t one answer or one set definition on what sustainability is, or how one goes about reaching it. It has to be defined and used within its context. I urge you to sit down and thoroughly think of how you would define sustainability and what it means for you and then act to incorporate these values and principles into your lifestyle.

1 comment:

Craig Mackintosh said...

RE: Links to/from Sustainable Steps

Sorry, I couldn't find a contact link, so am resorting to using a comment instead. :o)

Thanks for your informative site!

I'm writing, in the first instance, to let you know that I've added a link to your website to our blogroll. You'll find it in the appropriate category on the right side of this page:

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At present the primary 'engine' of our business is still in testing stage, and is due to be realeased in its first incarnation early in 2007. In the meantime we would like to make our presence and intentions known to as many people as possible. It is our ambition to work together with thousands of people and businesses to help reduce or reverse the impact of our current modern lifestyle - by providing information, encouragement and even financial incentives to change it!

We would be very grateful if you could provide a link to our blog. You may even find us an interesting subject to tell your own readership about!

We would welcome any feedback on our site or questions re our services.

With kind regards

Craig Mackintosh
Blog Editor