Sustainability is meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. In addition to natural resources, we also need social and economic resources. Sustainability is not only about preserving the environment. Built into most definitions of sustainability, we also find concerns about social justice and economic development.
What exactly does an ecological or sustainable life mean? Different people use different definitions, but it all boils down to one basic concept: the earth’s resources shouldn’t be depleted faster than they can be replenished. Everything else comes from this concept, including caring for the environment, animals and other living things, your health, your local community, and communities around the world.
If you look at all the different types of resources, from fossil fuels to forests, farmland, and wildlife and the depths of the ocean to the air you breathe, you can easily see how everything is connected and how your actions that you take today may affect the future.
Think of the concept of sustainable living as something similar to your family budget. If you spend more than you make each month and neglect your bills, the collectors are calling and if you continue down the same path you will end up owing so much that you cannot pay it back. On the flip side, if you are careful (maybe even save a little) with your monthly expenses, you can live within your means and make everyone, especially yourself, happy.
The planet is no different. Right now, your resources are running out faster than they can be replenished. The call of debt collectors is getting louder with the clear implication that if nothing changes, bankruptcy is imminent. Fossil fuels like oil are becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to extract from the ground, and their supplies are dwindling. Burning fossil fuels to power homes, vehicles and industries release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as well as pollutants that affect the health of the planet and its people.
Other resources are also in trouble, including water. In some parts of the United States, drought conditions are becoming more common and widespread. The debates about where to find water sources continue: diverting it from other areas, drilling underground aquifers, or even building desalination plants to remove salt from seawater. One possible effect of global warming is the further reduction in groundwater sources. Reducing people’s need for water sources is essential to continue to have enough water for everyone.
Fortunately, it is not too late to change the situation and make the changes the planet and its people need for a safe, healthy, prosperous, and compassionate future. But changes have to happen quickly: According to the United Nations, some parts of the world are approaching the tipping point, after which the damage will be irreparable. A useful way to understand your environmental impact is to measure your carbon footprint.
Think of it as a way of describing the amount of land you need to grow your food, extract your energy sources, transport your goods and services, and dispose of your waste. Every day you make decisions that have an impact on the planet: for example, choose between the car and the bycicle or choose fresh local or organic food instead of packaged and processed food that has been transported over long distances. Think about the impact each individual has.
CO2 emissions are another measure of your ecological footprint. Carbon is released when many materials, particularly fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, are burned by vehicles and airplanes; through the manufacturing processes of many consumer goods; and for heating, air conditioning and electricity for your home. The Earth Day Network, a network of environmental organizations and projects, estimates that there are 4.5 hectares of biologically productive land per person worldwide. However, the average US ecological footprint is 24 hectares. This means that many people are consuming more resources than the planet can afford.
Sustainability is a systemic concept, relating to the continuity of economic, social, institutional, and environmental aspects of human society. It is intended to be a means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members, and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals in a very long term. Sustainability affects every level of organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire planet.
“Sustainability” implies that the critical activities of people are (at least) ecologically sensible, socially and economically viable and will remain so for future generations.
What Sustainability Is?
Where does the term come from??After four years, the Brundtland Commission published its final report, Our Common Future. It defines sustainable development as: development that meets the needs of the present without impairing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The Commission has succeeded in integrating environmental protection with social and economic concerns on the global development agenda. Sustainability is a holistic approach that takes into account the ecological, social and economic dimensions and recognizes that all must be considered together for lasting prosperity.
Sustainability is a worldview in which current and future generations are reasonably healthy; communities and nations are safe, peaceful and prosperous; there is economic opportunity for all; and the integrity of the life-supporting biosphere is restored and sustained at a level necessary to make these goals possible. All four dimensions of sustainability must be addressed to achieve this vision.
—Anthony D. Cortese and Debra Rowe, “Higher Education and Sustainability Overview”
Sustainability is achieved when all people on Earth can live well without compromising the quality of life for future generations.
—Rolf Jucker, “A Vision for a Sustainable University”
Sustainability is an ideal end state. Like democracy, it is a lofty goal whose full realization eludes us. Because of this, there will always be conflicting definitions of sustainability. We know that these definitions will always encompass the well-being of people, nature, our economy and our social institutions working together effectively over the long term.
—Alan AtKisson, “The Compass of Sustainability,” 1998
“Sustainability is “a process that helps create a vibrant economy and a high quality of life, while recognizing the need to conserve natural resources and protect the environment . It expresses the principle that future generations should live in a world that the current generation has enjoyed but not detracted from.”Clough, G. Wayne, Jean Lou Chameau, and Carol Carmichael. “Sustainability and University”. The presidency, winter 2006.
Sustainability is a concept system that relates to the continuity of economic, social, institutional and ecological aspects of human society.It should be a means to shape civilization and human activity in such a way that society, its members and its economy are able to meet their needs and to express their greatest potential in the present, biodiversity and natural ecosystems and to plan and act as needed to maintain these ideals in the long term.
Sustainability affects all levels of the organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire planet. Most literature and evaluation tools reflect this emphasis. However, there is growing recognition that sustainability cannot be achieved without addressing social justice issues.There are no sustainable communities and institutions without social justice. Human appreciation of the entire community is an essential part of true sustainability. An academic institution committed to sustainability must help students understand the roots of current injustices and motivate them to seek justice and humanity in full integration with understanding the roots of environmental degradation and modeling environmentally sound practices. — John B. Cobb Jr. , Sustainability and the Liberal Arts, Conference 1998