Sustainability: Keeping an eye on the big picture

“Sustainability” is an overused term. Depending on the context, it can mean a variety of different things. I refer to it as preserving our resources and planet so future generations can enjoy a quality of life similar to what we have now.

I believe more and more people are realizing we need to fully embrace the principles of sustainability to preserve our planet and ensure we have a future for ourselves and the generations that follow us. I don’t have a scientific study to prove this, but it seems to be a self- evident reality that will only gain acceptance as time goes on.

We are also nearing some tipping points for our natural systems, particularly our climate. Here, I could cite plenty of scientific studies, but I’ll spare my readers. This is particularly relevant after Hurricane Sandy, which may have been exacerbated by climate change. Indeed, science points to a very bleak future if we do not change our ways. Other resource crises we could soon face include a lack of fresh water and depleted fisheries. Managing these resources properly is all part of sustainability.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Across the globe, there are plenty of good things going on. One of my projects at the Voinovich School has been to document some of these initiatives in Ohio. In the industrial heartland, Ohio has become a surprising leader in green jobs, ranking near the top among all states. Consistent with one of our strengths, many of these jobs are in manufacturing.

This newsletter, put together by Brian Kaiser from the nonprofit Ohio Environmental Council, has been my main source.

However, it’s important that we still step back and look at the big picture to ensure we are on the right track. Despite all these initiatives, if the science shows we are not progressing quickly enough, it may be time to fundamentally rethink things we take for granted. Green business and good policy are powerful tools, but we might also have to change our lifestyles and consume fewer resources.

This brings me to a report titled, “Zero-Impact Growth Monitor,” put together by the consulting firm Deloitte. Can business really grow without having an impact on the environment? Could this be the answer? Many people think so. This is the kind of fundamental change needed if we are to rise up to what I believe is the greatest challenge of the 21st century: resource distribution. Around one billion people currently live in poverty and huge countries like China and India are rapidly industrializing, yet we are already over consuming the planet’s resources and approaching various tipping points within earth’s life-supporting ecosystems.

If we continue on our current path and perpetuate “business-as-usual,” it is a recipe for disaster. But if we bravely embrace new ideas like zero-impact growth and embed the principles of sustainability into our way of thinking across all disciplines, we might just get the job done.

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