How Do We Sustain Sustainability?

sustainable
adjective
1. able to be maintained at a certain rate or level: sustainable fusion reactions.
• conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources: our fundamental commitment to sustainable development.
2. able to be upheld or defended: sustainable definitions of good educational practice.

The words sustainable and sustainability are thrown around a lot these days. It’s become a “garbage can” word in which we toss all concepts related to this “ecological balance” of “natural resources”. It’s a convenient shorthand for a much larger set of complex ideas and terminologies. I am guilty of it. I typically tell people that I write a blog about food and sustainability. By some of the blank stares I get in return, I am guessing they are wondering what the hell does that mean? And it’s a valid question! With the word sustainability used so frequently and…well, carelessly, what the hell does it mean?!?

That’s why I started with the dictionary definition, so that we can ground ourselves in the basics. I guess what we are assuming is that humankind is on perilous path of depleting all of our natural resources, and so we rightly want to change that! We want to sustain our resources for as long as we can, for as long as humans inhabit this planet. It would suck for future generations to not have any resources because of our negligence, right? Is that then what sustainability means? This latest swell of environmental and social action? This green movement that has taken the world by storm? Corporate responsibility, local and organic food, alternative energy sources, zero carbon footprint, reusing and recycling, triple bottomline practices and anything else you want to lump with this term “sustainability”?

When distilling the word to its fundamental definition, it’s not surprising that sustainability is confusing and messy. No small task to get 7 billion people to agree on the best way to preserve and sustain our natural resources! It’s hard to imagine achieving any kind of unified consensus. Add the layers of politics, capitalism, poverty, history, geography and both selfish and selfless motivations to be sustainable (or not) – and you have a clusterfuck! Yes, I tend to be cynical…or, as I like to rationalize it, I tend to be pragmatic. What chance do we have in sustaining our planet with so many complex, and often opposing, forces? Now I do think we can all agree that we could sustain the debate about sustainability for a long time!

In the end, maybe sustainability is more of a personal matter. I can’t say that I act in sustainable ways because I care about future generations. No, I like to focus on the limited time I have on this planet. Call it selfish, but this is all I got. And, while I am here, I want to have a sense that I am doing good. I want to live in harmony with Mother Earth, and so I am trying to take only what I need. My mantra is: leave the planet better than how I found it. And hopefully I can influence those around me to do the same! These are some of my personal beliefs and principles. Sustainability to me is about that sense of doing good. Now that would be a wondrous sustainable movement – imagine 7 billion people motivated by a sense of trying to do the right thing.

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