Misconceptions Of Sustainability

Sustainability is an often misunderstood concept. People and corporations tend to overuse the word and it starts to lose its meaning. Today, its definition has become more closely associated with environmental protection, but in reality sustainability is about finding balance between economy, society, and environment while ensuring the goals of the present do not jeopardize the goals of the future. For example, a sustainable farm will have no detrimental effects on the environment, benefit the community, and turn a profit. If one of these three facets of the farm is not true then the farm is not sustainable. A farm that produces no profit will run out of money and shut down; a farm that has a harmful effect on the environment will lose its crops and shut down; a farm that has a negative effect on its community will lose support and business, and eventually shut down. As shown in this example, environmental protection, social development, and economic development are the three pillars that hold sustainability up: if one is removed, the concept collapses.

While the concept is relatively easy to understand, the implementation of the idea is quite difficult. The way our society is modelled tends to put finances first. The drive to turn a greater profit, leads to shortcuts in environmental and social areas. Corners get cut and processes become unsustainable. This unsustainability is not always an immediately apparent problem. Pollution released from a factory into a river will not have an abrupt effect on the ecology, but years down the road the river and its surrounding environment will have sustained a noticeable negative impact. Instead of paying the extra money to capture this pollution before entering the river, the factory has directly hurt the environment and indirectly hurt the society that may have taken advantage of this river system for recreational activities or future development. To fix the problem, money must then be spent to remediate the river and its surrounding ecology. Through this hypothetical example, we see that if one of the pillars is neglected, it will have a negative impact on all three, eventually. The purpose of this example was to highlight the importance of long-term decision making. If the environment is sacrificed for money, there may be more financial gain in the short term, but eventually someone is going to have to pay for the unsustainable decision.

The purpose of this post is to encourage the consideration of sustainable choices in day-to-day life. As members of the construction industry, we have the rare opportunity to affect the decisions made for new developments. Take advantage of the position. Evaluate choices being made for projects. Suggest alternatives that are more sustainability conscious. Apply a voice to the project that considers all the pillars of sustainability, not just the financial.

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