More on Sustainability
There are many approaches to understanding sustainability. Several include:
The Natural Step* is a framework that can help guide our actions toward sustainability. It calls out four system conditions that define sustainability in scientific terms.
In a sustainable global society, the ecosphere is not subject to systematically increasing:
1. Concentrations of substances extracted from the earth’s crust
Examples: Fossil fuels, metals, and minerals
2. Concentrations of substances produced by society (synthetics)
Examples: Persistent substances (DDT, PCB’s…), plastics, Freon
3. Degradation by physical means
Examples: Over-harvesting (forests, oceans...), eliminating biodiversity and in that society:
4. People are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their basic needs
Examples: Overpopulation, unlivable wages, environmental and social inequity
*Developed in 1989 by Swedish oncologist Karl-Henrik Robert and a peer group.
The Triple Bottom Line means success goals are established for each of the three interdependent areas of environment, economy and society, providing a more complete means for accounting than only looking at traditional economic factors.
Nature is a closed-loop system with zero waste, allowing cycles to continue indefinitely (as long as the sun shines). For Sustainability it’s necessary to rethink processes and decisions that cause wasted resources in order to keep all resources in the active material stream (called closing the loop). Without a closed-loop waste seeps out of the system, eventually resulting in a system shutdown.
A Zero Waste strategy is a bold vision that includes a sustainable endpoint. It will lead to faster innovation and movement far beyond incremental approaches.
The Ecological Footprint is a resource management tool that measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology. In a sustainable world, society's demand on nature must be in balance with nature's capacity to meet that demand.
Since the late 1980s, we have been in overshoot. The global Ecological Footprint is now more than 23% larger than what the planet can regenerate – people are turning resources into waste faster than nature can turn waste back into resources. Humanity is no longer living off nature’s “interest”, but drawing down its “capital”. The U.S. Ecological Footprint is so large that if the rest of the world had the same lifestyle, we would need over 5 planets to support us over time.
Natural capital refers to the earth’s natural resources and the ecological systems that provide vital life-support services to society and all living things. These services are of immense economic value; some are literally priceless since they have no known substitutes. Current practices typically fail to take the value of these assets into account, resulting in degradation and liquidation of natural capital by wasteful use of resources such as energy, materials, water, fiber and topsoil.
The concept of natural capital and an accounting method that considers it, are important for any sustainability effort.
The Natural Step