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Archive for the ‘What is Sustainability?’ Category

[This post was written by Sam Medina, Charlie Zigmond, and Thomas Yabrough.]

The codependent pillars of sustainability (equity, environmental, economic) are typically not focused on as a whole, and therefore sustainable practices commonly fall short of their intentions or adversely affect another pillar. This concept of “sub-optimization” is a poisonous characteristic of haphazard attempts at being sustainable. People and organizations tend to focus on the environmental pillar of sustainability, with notions of the other less known pillars. In addition to this misconception, many systems of “sustainability” have been created, further “greenwashing” (having the appearance of sustainability without actually being sustainable) the public into thinking a specific set of actions will create an everlasting lifestyle that can be perpetuated for generations after.

This is a critical mistake for anyone to consider one pillar over another when making decisions about our lifestyle choices. Recycling electronics is simply a facet of sustainability, and the current definition needs to be reshaped in order to ensure that the goals of recycling are quantified, qualified, and are in common use to lead to the three-pillared version of sustainability. For example, (more…)

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[This post was written by Christopher Milton, Sara Davenport, Kimberly Sherwood, and Jan Steinbock.]

Our Growing Communities group is researching sustainability as it relates to local food systems, food bank gardens, permaculture and light pollution.

The idea of local food systems is a sustainability issue that is being addressed in society today, through such things as farmers markets, community gardens, and local fruit and vegetable delivery programs. However, the potential for sustainability from utilizing local food systems could be addressed much more extensively. Local food systems can provide fresh, healthy food options that make societies that utilize them more sustainable and more self-sufficient. Local food systems can also benefit communities by allowing them to see where their food is coming from and how important it is to take care of the earth that produces the food.

One component of a healthy food system are food bank gardens. There is little research available on food bank gardens, but community gardens are very similar Most peer-reviewed studies and news articles focus on the economic and social benefits of community gardens. Yet, as Brundtland stated, “The environment does not exist as a sphere separate from human actions, ambitions, and needed . . .” (Kates, 2005).

By gardening locally these groups are doing good things for the environment. (more…)

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[This post was written by Teresa Celestine, Scott Demming, Stephanie Lewis, and Stephanie McCarthy.]

Sustainability is not only defined in terms of how things should be done in order to reduce material consumption and waste, but practical in ways that are actually being put to use by various individuals and organizations. Speaking from a purely academic point of view, ideas about how to be sustainable are endless. People can dream up an infinite number of ways to reduce consumption and waste. Most definitions of sustainability are subjective, correlating to the perspective of individuals and their experiences. Moving beyond personal interpretation toward a common language would improve the general acceptance and commitment of individuals to further advance the cause of creating more sustainable behavior individually and by organizations. There are an equal number of infinite applied sustainability practices that could be placed into effect. The key component for sustainability in business operations is to strive for this common language and understanding about what is real and what is not. The last thing a start-up business needs is to commit to a sustainable idea that is not real, but is simply green washing. The costs for running a business are only magnified when considering the additional time; effort and money necessary to navigate a business with the additional layer that sustainability questions add to the endeavor.

The definition of a sustainable business today is not the same definition of a sustainable business ten or twenty years ago. (more…)

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[This post was written by Charlie Zigmond, Sam Medina, and Thomas Yarbrough. The post and complements previous students’ analysis of the question “What is Sustainability?”]

One of the more common perceptions people have with regard to sustainability is that it is strictly an environmental issue. Many people believe that if they recycle, or if they plant one tree to replace each one they cut down, they are being sustainable. The truth is that sustainability has multiple components, and many of the behaviors people commonly associate with sustainability are not enough in and of themselves to qualify as truly sustainable.

The UN sponsored Brundtland commission helped to flesh out a more meaningful definition of sustainability. This definition discusses the environmental, social, and economical aspects of true sustainability. The logic behind this is explained in “Sustainable Development: Exploring the Ethics of Our Common Future”:
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[This post was written by Jan Steinbock, Sara Davenport, Kimberly Sherwood, and Christopher Milton. The post and complements previous students’ analysis of the question “What is Sustainability?”]

What is sustainability? Is it a concept, a set of actions, or is it just the latest buzzword that companies and media groups are now using to bolster their rating and support from the “concerned” public masses? The truth, if there is a truth, is entirely debatable and far too complex to fully express in a single blog-post that is comprised of five hundred or so words; however, there are a few facts that we, a group of students involved in the study of sustainability, have agreed will help build a firm foundation for a working definition of sustainability in regards to issues that surround the topic.

First off, sustainability can no longer be defined as a uni-dimensional system. (more…)

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[This post was written by Teresa Celestine, Stephanie Lewis, and Scott Demming. The post and complements previous students’ analysis of the question “What is Sustainability?”]

In theory, sustainability practices seem straightforward. To put it simply, try to do what ever you are doing in a way that will allow it to continue on, hopefully forever. This applies to economic, social, and environmental factors. In this three part theory, as initially introduced by the Brundtland Commission in 1986, we see that each factor can be equally important to the goal of sustainability[1]. This seemingly simple theory, however, is difficult to put into practice, especially in today’s business world.

Current practices and cultural awareness of sustainability measures are a far cry from what they were 30 years ago. Yet, (more…)

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[This post was written by Michael Aitchison, Donovan Jackson, and Stephanie McCarthy. The post is in response to our tour of the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center and complements previous students’ analysis of the question What is Sustainability?]

Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center

On June 30, 2011 our class conducted a self-guided of the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, also known as the Ecotrust Building, located at 721 NW 9th Avenue, in Portland. One of the building’s many ecofriendly features is its ecoroof. Unfortunately, we were unable to view the roof, but the information in our field guide piqued our interest. Ecoroofs are not only beautiful to look at but they also make real environmental and economic sense. Ecoroofs greatly extend the lifespan of a roof, reduce stormwater runoff, and also reduce energy consumption by decreasing rooftop heat loss. The vegetation planted on the ecoroof at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center was carefully selected from Pacific Northwest native plants and seeds. These native plants, a mix of grasses, wildflowers, and succulents, are drought tolerant and once established need very little watering and maintenance. The ecoroof is part of the sites stormwater management system that helps to minimize rainwater runoff, including pollutants and sediment, from flowing into the Willamette River. This stormwater system, which also includes bioswales, captures at least 90% of the rainwater falling at this location. The system is funded in part by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services.

What is a green roof?

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Lauren Wheeler wrote an interesting reflection on historian William Cronon‘s plenary talk at the 2011 American Society for Environmental History conference in Phoenix a few weeks ago. Wheeler’s reflection is titled “Reflection on Sustainability: Cronon’s 2011 ASEH Plenary Address,” and Cronon’s talk was titled “Sustainability: A Short History for the Future.”

Among other things, Wheeler has the following to say: (more…)

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I attended the 2011 American Society for Environmental History conference in Phoenix a few days ago. One of the sessions I attended was an interdisciplinary round table discussion, titled “Sustainability and its Discontents.” Political science professor Thomas Princen brought up a number of thought-provoking points that are relevant to our work here with the SHP.

Princen works in the arena of formulating and applying social science frameworks that are future-oriented and normative, so as to devise solutions that will help society avoid catastrophe. He sees “sustainability” as an important, if contentious, concept, on the same level as “peace,” “freedom,” “progress,” and “democracy.” Critics may claim that “sustainability” is meaningless because it can be so vague, but Princen argues that the concept, nevertheless, is essential because it helps frame a constellation of topics and issues that are essential to present and future generations. The concept of sustainability has three key elements, in Princen’s view:

    1) Provides a long-term outlook

    2) Encourages consideration of systems approach that reflects more accurately the complex interactions between nature and society

    3) Is a scalable concept that can be applied from the household level to the global level, and at all points in-between

Princen provided a clear and concise rule-of-thumb that he applies when people bring up “sustainability.” He asks: “sustaining what, for how long, and for whom?”

Princen’s final point involved asking a “dream team” of historians to provide examples to shed light on five areas he finds critical to implementing sustainability measures in the present and future. These are:
(more…)

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[This post was written by Megan Foster, Grant Russ, and Tina Xiong, and complements previous students’ analysis of the question What is Sustainability?]

An elevated level of equity would be ideal through the aspect of civil society as the center piece placed in between the economy, the state, and environment. From this perspective, each neighboring sphere to civil society is still necessary to keep sustainability in balance. Appropriately, though, the state, operated by the means of democratic governance, would garner the most attention since it in turn largely manages equity to civil society. As civil society becomes more of the focal point by the democratic institution it would allow such equity of access and discourse on a large body of thought and literature for the civil body to express its interest and mediation on the path towards sustainability.

Democratic institutions also allow advantages for a larger portion of civil society to take part in political freedoms and participation, which is also needed during this long enduring trek towards sustainability. Sustainability itself nearly focuses on the following three similar dimensions as of civil society: the social, the environment and the economy. Equity would naturally gravitate to this central core of dimensions and thus produce a more dynamic, growing and accessible opportunities for civil society, and sustainability.

As Gary L. Larsen puts it (more…)

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