What does sustainability mean to you?
Posted on October 01 2020
What Does Sustainability Mean?
One of the upsides to the COVID slowdown of my life is I have had more time to think about big picture ideas. Sustainability is a term that gets thrown around a lot but what does it actually mean?
Oxford Dictionary defines it as: "The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level" or "avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance". I think both of these definitions are too removed from our everyday perspective to be helpful for guiding our actions.
"I define sustainability as meeting my needs today without harming my ability to meet those needs again in the future."
Using this definition we move away from an ethics based on altruism and towards one that recognizes the fundamental dependency of all life.
As applied to the environment, it’s a recognition of the fact that everyone of us (even the city dweller that has not stepped on a patch of dirt in years) are fundamentally dependent on the earth’s ecosystem to stay alive. No amount of technology can alter the fact that us mammals need plants to convert solar energy into sugar.
"We can’t break the eco system that supports the human race and still expect to live."
We need replace the idea that we can continually extract energy and resources from the planet without giving anything back. In th place of "take, make, trash" we need to start looking at the world from a systems perspective that acknowledges the cyclical nature of our eco system.
I would encourage you to not stop at the lens of conscious consumerism. It's not enough to simply try to build little islands of ethical behavior within an out of balance system. Instead, we need direct activism to bring the concepts of sustainability into government policy and the legal system.
"Polluted rivers and injured workers are not driven by the demands of the fashion industry. These negative effects are the result of a legal system that does not include an understanding of sustainability."
So I believe the first step in building the world we want to leave for our children is to simply take the definition of sustainability mainstream. We need to normalize the idea that taking care of planet is an essential consideration.
For those of you who are doing the work in sustainability, what would you add or subtract from this definition? My DM's are open and I love to hear additional perspectives on how to define sustainability.