Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely. To define what environmental sustainability is we turn to the experts.
Herman Daly, one of the early pioneers of ecological sustainability, looked at the problem from a maintenance of natural capital viewpoint. In 1990 he proposed that:
- For renewable resources, the rate of harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration (sustainable yield);
- [For pollution] The rates of waste generation from projects should not exceed the assimilative capacity of the environment (sustainable waste disposal); and
- For nonrenewable resources the depletion of the nonrenewable resources should require comparable development of renewable substitutes for that resource.
This list has been widely accepted. It’s an elegant abstraction, one that made me pause and read it three times when I first encountered it. The list can be shortened into a tight definition. Environmental sustainability is the rates of renewable resource harvest, pollution creation, and non-renewable resource depletion that can be continued indefinitely. If they cannot be continued indefinitely then they are not sustainable.
Basically the world’s standard definition of environmental sustainability is sustainable development, which means sustainable economic growth, which is an oxymoron. No form of economic growth can be continued indefinitely. Furthermore, all economic growth today is terribly environmentally degrading.
Thus it’s impossible to be sustainable and achieve economic growth at the same time, now and for at least the next 50 years or so. That’s why definitions like the one on this page must replace the world’s standard definition of sustainability.
The goal of environmental sustainability is to conserve natural resources and to develop alternate sources of power while reducing pollution and harm to the environment. For environmental sustainability, the state of the future – as measured in 50, 100 and 1,000 years is the guiding principle. Many of the projects that are rooted in environmental sustainability will involve replanting forests, preserving wetlands and protecting natural areas from resource harvesting. The biggest criticism of environmental sustainability initiatives is that their priorities can be at odds with the needs of a growing industrialized society.
Mismanagement and overuse of India’s once abundant forests has resulted in desertification, contamination, and soil depletion throughout the sub-continent. This has serious repercussions for the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Indians that live off the land. In Rajasthan alone, it is approximated that nearly five million tribal people (as of 2004) rely on the collection of forest produce as their only source of income or nourishment. Without continual access to forest products such as fruit, honey, or firewood these communities experience debilitating hunger and are reduced to extreme poverty.
Stewardship is a way of life, a life of accountability and responsibility acknowledging God as Creator and Giver of all. Stewardship involves responsible management of our God-given resources of time, talent, and treasure.
Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. Aldo Leopold (1887–1949) championed environmental stewardship based on a land ethic “dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.”
Regardless of your job or where you live, you can lessen your impact on the environment while at home, out in your community, commuting to work, or working at your desk. You can help by:
- Using less paper;
- Turning off lights when you leave a room;
- Using the energy- saving settings on your computer;
- Eating waste-free meals;
- Recycling your paper, cardboard, and beverage containers;
- Making double-sided copies;
- Taking public transportation, walking or biking instead of driving;
Environmental performance by achieving the following goals
- Energy efficiency: Reduce energy intensity 30 percent by 2015, compared to a Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 baseline.
- Greenhouse gases: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions through reduction of energy intensity by 30 percent by 2015, compared to a FY 2003 baseline.
- Renewable power: At least 50 percent of current renewable energy purchases must come from renewable sources (in service after January 1, 1999).
- Building performance: Construct or renovate buildings in accordance with sustainability strategies, including resource conservation, reduction, and use; siting; and indoor environmental quality.
- Water conservation: Reduce water consumption intensity by 16 percent by 2015, compared to a FY 2007 baseline.
- Vehicles: Increase purchase of alternative-fuel, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles when commercially available.
- Petroleum conservation: Reduce petroleum consumption in fleet vehicles by 2 percent annually through 2015, compared to a FY 2005 baseline.
- Alternative fuel: Increase use of alternative-fuel consumption by at least 10 percent annually, compared to a FY 2005 baseline.
- Pollution prevention: Reduce use of chemicals and toxic materials and purchase lower risk chemicals and toxic materials.
- Procurement: Expand purchases of environmentally sound goods and services, including biobased products.
- Electronics management: Annually, 95 percent of electronic products purchased must meet Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool standards where applicable; enable ENERGY STAR® features on 100 percent of computers and monitors; and reuse, donate, sell, or recycle 100 percent of electronic products using environmentally sound management practices.