What Is Sustainability?

21/10/2016 12:25

Trashed Earth by Vaulta - Sourced through CC Search

As The buzzword of the moment, one has to ask oneself what is the true meaning of sustainability? In a nutshell, it is a systemic shift in culture towards the triple bottom line; that is, putting planet and people on a level playing field with profit when it comes to innovation.

Sustainability is the sum of its parts in that it is comprised of a number of things which span all sectors. Commonality is derived from the want to do things differently, better, and in a more eco-conscious fashion. One might argue it is a chicken and egg situation; is the need for more sustainable consumables and processes driving innovation, or is innovation leading us through this technological and cultural revolution?

If you think about it, sustainability is a form of revolution - it is expelling the old, and instating the new; it is a process change, a system challenge, and a thought overhaul. It brings together the social sciences, psychological science, and the traditional sciences to create solutions that help civilization combat the problem of impending climate change. Through advances in research, strategy, an increasing amount of data and the analytic tools to decipher it, the world is very much experiencing a sustainability revolution in terms of culture, economy, environment, and technology.

Culture challenging

We have come to live in a very unsustainable fashion. We buy cheap poorly made items 100 times over before it crosses our mind to mend them. We are awful at recycling, and even when we do it there is a chance it is shipped half way around the world to be processed. We live by the fictitious use-by dates on our food, and we consume far more animal produce than we were ever meant to. We are reliant on energy from unsustainable sources such as fossil fuels. We are creatures of habit - so changing these facets of our culture will be no mean feat.

To challenge a culture, one needs to show that there is a better way. Better in every sense which appeals to the masses - economically, socially, and most importantly - easily. Community farms, and cooperatives are springing up all over the world, and these collaborative enterprises are one example of culture change. Such initiatives have shown to influence behaviour change and improve wellbeing. They give people a sense of ownership over the process and the end result, which means that things are done for the benefit of the people and the environment, not just for the money.

Economy shifting

With a change in culture comes a change in structure Societies worldwide are governed by the laws of capitalism at present, but capitalism doesn't fit with the sustainable revolution, because it isn't, well, sustainable. As the old adage goes; it would take three whole planets for the world's population to live the way we do in the west. 'Developing' countries are being pressured to move towards the capitalist model when it is literally impossible for all to live under that system. Capitalism relies on the dichotomy between the rich and the poor, and as the poor develop, the system begins to crack.

Instead of greed, the world must move towards a more balanced system that values the triple bottom line of economy, environment, and people. A move towards the circular economy could bring about such a shift, minimising waste, utilising that of which we have ample, and protecting that which we have already desecrated. Right now this seems like a faraway dream, and nightmare to those for whom the current system serves well. But they are the few, and the many are awakening to the need for change.

Environment saving

Only with a shift in the economy can we start to save the environment. Capitalism is built on consumerism, waste, and putting profit before people and planet. It is, as are we, a cancer for the earth - and sustainability is the cure. In every facet of our lives we must be looking at how we can do things better to protect the environment. That in a nutshell is the ethos of sustainability. Climate Change is now an undeniable fact, which is already wreaking havoc with parts of our planet as weather continues to get more extreme, sea levels rise, and species become extinct. Some argue it is already too late, and that the Paris Agreement isn't enough, but we have to try through living more sustainably.

Technology leading

What ties it all together, and what leads the change; innovation is everything when it comes to sustainability. Technological advances are why solar is becoming cheaper and more accessible, its why wind power is now a viable alternative to fossil fuels, and its why we now have hybrid and electric cars. Developments in architecture are equally important as those in fuel and transportation, with buildings now being more than just an inanimate thing, but self-heating, cooling, and my personal favourite trend - rooftop gardens. Smart meters are another example of a sustainability driven innovation which has revolutionised the way we live for the greener. Without tech, none of this would be possible, and we would be further behind than we already are - technology is leading the sustainability revolution. And long may it continue.