WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What is sustainability? And does it work at all?

BY BARBARA BEIERTZ

foto: koolshooters von pexels

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What is sustainability? And does it work at all?

BY BARBARA BEIERTZ

foto: koolshooters von pexels

If you ask search engines about “sustainability”, you get more than 358,000,000 search results within 0.37 seconds. No matter if it is the German Bundestag, management consultancies, economics encyclopedia, industry and agricultural associations – everyone feels obliged to give their definition of sustainability. And so, sustainability has become an ethical principle (according to the German Bundestag*). One that is not limited solely to environmental protection and nature conservation, but also deals with the topics of ecology, economy, and social issues. And it calls for a holistic view of societal challenges. In doing so, responsibility for the people living today is combined with responsibility for future generations. (translated from German)* So far. So good. Or rather: So bad. There is hardly any other topic that is as controversial as sustainability. Some subordinate everything to it in order to save humanity from extinction. Others regard it as a form of ecoterrorism. And now what?

All a matter of balance?

If you look at the roots of the concept of sustainability, you are thrown all the way back to the forest industry of the 18th century. Back then, sustainability meant only taking as much wood from the forest as it could grow back. Sounds reasonable.

In 1987, the so-called “Brundtland Commission” of the UN developed this idea further: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”** Sounds good, too. Of course, one wonders what the needs of future generations will be. Children? A house of their own? A floating vehicle? Prosperity?

Sustainability is everything - except easy.

Can the sustainability principle of a manageable system – like a piece of forest – be so easily transferred to a very complex system like our global society? Probably not, because in such dynamic systems – and that is what our society really is – the only constant is change. No matter if it is caused by a pandemic, by technical innovations, population growth, refugee movements, or crashes of stock exchanges and banks. Which again means that there can be no easy solution.

An example:

Today we are dealing with the contentious issue of whether organic farming can feed the soon to be 8 billion people on earth. As things stand today – with food waste, eating habits, meat consumption, use of agricultural land for energy production – it will certainly be difficult. Meaningful solutions and changes are necessary. Conventional agriculture with the consequences of overfertilization, the use of pesticides, water shortage, extinction of species, and desertification does not really contribute to the solution.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, check out this blog post. 

Or let’s take a look at regionally grown food. It can be – but not always is – the most climate-friendly option. It depends on the season. Here is an example for tomatoes: Coming from Germany, grown in a greenhouse, they have a CO2 footprint of 1.9kg per 1000g in winter. During summer season it is only average of 0.3kg.*** So one might ask: Why do you actually need tomatoes or strawberries or raspberries in winter?

But sustainability is not dogmatic either. And that is not exactly comfortable.

So (unfortunately), there is not a simple “this is how it’s done” solution. It requires the intelligent use of all instruments, all methods, all technologies. Well-thought-out by taking into account as many consequences as possible (e.g., the rare earths of the batteries of e-cars). Flexibly applied. And with respect for the needs of all stakeholders.

Of course, this is not really comfortable. In fact, quite the opposite. In this regard, sustainability may actually mean sacrifice. To stop mental laziness (to be frank). First of all, anyone who wants to act sustainably – in other words: In a holistic, long-term, and socially responsible manner – needs courage. Courage to question things. To doubt things and to discuss them. In order to develop solutions that actually work – the chances of making the world a better place have never been greater.

What is your opinion? What do you think about this topic and what do you do to “sustainably” drive change? Or maybe you don’t want that at all? Tell us about it in the comments, we are very curious to hear your opinion.

*www.bundestag.de/ausschuesse/weitere_gremien/pbne/vorstellung/was-ist-nachhaltigkeit-890694
** www.un-documents.net/ocf-02.htm
***www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/6232/dokumente/ifeu_2020_oekologische-fussabdruecke-von-lebensmitteln.pdf

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