The root of the word sustainability basically means to keep something going. In itself, it has many different meanings, but what interests us is how it is applied to human development.
Sustainable development is defined in the paper Our Common Future (1987), released by the Brundtland Commission, also known as the UN World Commission on Environment and Development as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable practices support life and the continuation of it, on all fronts. The secret is in the harmonization of the ecological footprint, and our biocapacity.
When we talk about sustainability it is important to first establish what is not sustainable. Essentially, this means everything that interferes with the core of the concept.
Water usage and quality
Water is life. Throughout its existence, humankind has situated its life and activity near rivers, lakes, and seasides. That’s where water misuse started, due to a lack of knowledge of a sustainable way of living . Water-related issues are often the most severe on the economic and social front. Since the 1992 floods and droughts in the US, 4.2 billion people have been affected by disasters that have cost $1.3 trillion of damage. Water can be a serious challenge for sustainability but if it is managed responsibly it can be at the core of sustainable development.
Water usage is directly linked to the pollution of the oceans. Every year more than eight million tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean. The effects are devastating. The trash that goes into the ocean is eaten by fish. Through them, it is transmitted into our meals, and so it affects our health. But even though there are more plastic bottles on the ocean than marine life, plastic is not the worst polluter of the oceans. Most of the pollution comes from land-based sources like oil, dirt, farms, etc. Oil, as well as various toxic metals, are the deadliest polluters of the ocean.
Another big problem is the uncontrolled use of natural resources. With the population and their demands growing, the world is heading towards resource drainage. We are using natural resources faster than they can regenerate, and we are draining living systems. Take, for example, deforestation. Approximately 7.3 million hectares of forest are lost each year. The Amazon forest alone produces 20% of our oxygen, and forests prevent landslides when there is flooding. They also provide the base (raw material) of many of the products that we use daily, so we cannot do without them.
There are some problems that many of us have not even heard about. We might be ignorant or even disgusted by this, but the fact is that 2.3 billion people still lack basic sanitation services, and among them, almost 892 million people still practice open defecation. Poverty has caused millions of people to die from feces infections. This is best shown in the documentary “The world’s toilet crisis.” We see the imbalance between developed and undeveloped countries best in these effects. We see the basic needs they lack and the basic living conditions. These are all outcomes of non-sustainable living.
These are just some basic problems caused by the lack of a sustainable development plan. Some may say that this has also been caused by a lack of information or knowledge. Others might even say that it is in our nature to meet human demand through colossal damage to nature. But recent activities and innovations have really changed the perspective on this. Each day we see new efforts to combat negative behavior towards nature.
Unsustainable resource management
With all these things in mind comes the question, is the problem physical? Do we just not have enough resources to fulfill all human needs? The answer can be found in a breakdown of the problem, and in fact checking. The fact is that we produce enough food to feed 10 billion people. So why hasn’t world hunger ended?
Another example. The sun produces enough energy in 70 minutes to provide the whole planet with electricity for a whole year. But the energy industry is mostly focused on energy from fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) which is a non-renewable resource. At the moment only 13% of the world’s energy is provided through renewable resources. In 2015 only 10% of the energy consumed in the United States came from renewable energy resources.
So the problem is not in the lack of resources. The root of the problem is bad resource management, or in other words, the lack of sustainable resource management, leading our resources running out.
It is extremely important to distinguish between environmental conservation, sustainable development, and growth. Simply growing economically and socially is not the ideal way to move forward. If we only take into account the short-term economic advantages, the way we have been growing will result in an unsustainable economy. But total environmental conservation isn’t development either. We can’t live without natural resources. This is where sustainability comes into play. A sustainable society makes sure it uses its resources responsibly and finds ways that those resources can be available for future generations too.
Why we need sustainability
The broad approach to a sustainable and healthy development is to create a framework, planning the way we live and the way that we want to live. We need to understand that sustainability doesn’t mean that we should neglect ourselves and focus on saving the planet. The Earth has existed and sustained far longer than we have been around; it will survive. Sustainability is for all humankind and living things. It is for the future and for our children. It is vital that we learn to fully utilize our resources in a responsible way, and that we think about the future.
We also need sustainability for-long term economic development. An economy without resources ceases to exist. The implementation of sustainable practices has raised revenues and helped companies in their long-term development strategies.
Sustainability has also to do with the quality of life. All of the factors discussed above, in various ways cause social inequality, uncertainty about our economic future, and many other factors that impede sustainability.
From all this we can gather that sustainability is not something we can neglect, it is something we should have considered many years ago. It benefits all of us, together and individually. It gives us a better today and guarantees us a future.