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What is sustainability

What is sustainability?

I think there are a lot of people asking that question these days.  To put it simply, it is the ability to endure.  Wikipedia explains sustainability  at the following link:

Sustainability encompasses many aspects of the global community in which we find ourselves these days.  It relates not only to environmental endurance, but societal endurance as well.  I recently sat down with the Sustainability officer for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who reminded me of the social aspects of sustainability.  For a proposition such as, that means the social responsibility demonstrated by businesses should play a role in the overall ranking we give them.  In a similar vein, a stock analyst by the name of Ronnie Moas, while on the financial program CNBC recently downgraded Apple, Amazon, and others based on their lack of social responsibility.  Specifically, at Apple Moas rejected the rates at which Apple pays employees who make their products abroad.  At Amazon, Moas relayed anecdotally, a story of CEO Jeff Bezos telling his employees they weren’t working hard enough while he vacationed on his yacht.

Back to my conversation with the sustainability officer, we covered a lot of topics of opportunity including renewable energy, and conservation.  For someone who spent over 15 years in different roles related to sustainability at different universities, the bottom line message of the most important thing we can do is conserve.

1. Conserve water – In the U.S., because we always have fresh, potable water at our disposal, we have a tendency not to think about the extent to which we waste it.  Each time we turn on the faucet we should think as if we have a limited water supply, and do everything we can to use as little water as possible.  Practically speaking, don’t let it run while you wash your hands, brush your teeth, wash your dishes, etc.  The key is to be mindful at each step.

2. Conserve electricity – Replace incandescent bulbs with CFL, replace appliances (when necessary) with Energy star rated new ones, turn off lights when not in the room, turn off the television when not in the room, use dehumidifiers in the summer to keep your home comfortable at higher temperatures (use less A/C).

3. Conserve fuel – Use your car as infrequently as possible.  Keep the thermostat low in your home when you’re not home, or when you’re sleeping.

So, to get to the heart of sustainability, one must ask “how long can we continue to do this?”  How long can we ignore the mounting piles of trash, acidification of our oceans, global warming, deforestation, etc.?  Jeremy Irons directed an incredible documentary on the extent to which the trash we create is slowly going to poison our oceans, marine life, and ultimately…us.  Trashed is the name of the film, and we highly recommend everyone watch it.

We all need to put serious thought into the decisions we make every day.  Think about the long term impacts of the things we buy, what happens to the product after its usefulness is over?  Does the company treat its employees (at all stages of the supply chain) fairly?  Think about the restaurants we patronize, do the businesses we support care about their impact on the environment?  Overall, how can we mitigate our impact on the environment?




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