In my research as an undergraduate student, my team used an analytical tool known as Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). With this comprehensive method of analyzing industry, one can determine which practices have the most total benefit to society, the environment, and the economy in terms much more encompassing than profit.
If LCA is a tool, then “Sustainability” is a paradigm, a lens through which to view the world. It’s not a surprise, then, that sustainability has become a buzzword in our society, something often mentioned in conversations and advertisements yet seldom defined in its context. It has tendrils in all aspects of human life. I choose to define it generally as building capacity towards resilience and long-term progress. Those that view the world through the lens of “sustainability” are less focused on the product, and more focused on building the capacity of the resources necessary to make that product – “sustaining” those resources.
In my personal life, sustainability drives the questions I ask myself as I shop for groceries, produce waste, and consume energy. Are these eggs that I am purchasing coming from a source where the hens are raised ethically and with little impact on the environment? How much waste am I producing, and where can I begin to reduce this amount? Is it necessary for me to leave the fan on all day? What fuel is my energy being sourced from? Shouldn’t I walk the mile instead of drive it? Sustainability as my lens helps me to acknowledge my habits that perpetuate the degradation of natural resources. In acknowledging these habits and patterns, I can begin to see other paths that might preserve those resources.
But sustainability isn’t only applicable to the environment. Since it is a paradigm, sustainability includes preserving and building the capacity of our personal and economic resources as well. I can push myself to great extremes to accomplish my goals but if I don’t maintain my body’s health and my mental well being, it will be all for naught. The same goes for finances – if I spend all of my money purchasing plane tickets to get to a beautiful destination, how can I enjoy the destination with no funds, and how can I return home to continue to make more money for further adventures?
Sustainability as a map provides an irreplaceable guide for long-term success. It is our maps that create our stories and, as author Jonathon Safron Foer stated “… more important than reason in shaping habits are the stories we tell ourselves and one another.”
How do YOU define sustainability?
*Syllable pronunciation guide in post heading taken directly from dictionary.com.