Sustainability: What Words Really Mean

by Melissa Lockwood, Marine Biology with Sustainability minor ’12

Green. Organic. Low carbon output.  Recyclable. Conservation.  Alone, these words can have a variety of meanings. Green might be your favorite color, or it could be a term referencing environmentally friendly actions. Organic could mean something grown without artificial fertilizer/pesticides or a carbon based life form. The point is, words have many, many different meanings. Sometimes definitions get a little fuzzy. Unfortunately, this conundrum has created a group of words that people often avoid in every day conversations, for fear of being misinterpreted. Sustainability is one of the words at the top of that list.

A wonderfully simplistic yet comprehensive definition for sustainability comes from something called the Brundtland Report. Yes, it’s old and not the most thrilling read, but it has some really good information. It defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In other words, “Don’t screw up the world now and leave the mess for our children to clean up.” Of course you must be thinking “That’s pretty straight forward. Why would sustainability be on a list of forbidden words?” An excellent question!

Flame the comments if you wish, but let’s face it: we’re not exactly doing everything in our power to create a sustainable world. Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of people out there doing everything they can to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, save water and electricity, and so on. But it’s not enough.  Doing enough means change–the number one forbidden word.  Change can be scary, but it can also be totally awesome. Learning about the options out there can help make people’s feelings of change fall in the second category.

Throughout the following weeks I will be sharing some of the coolest sustainable technologies and practices in use around the world.  Some things are out there and ready to be used, but a lot of these are not part of everyday life…yet. Additionally, I’ll keep an up to date account of what Florida Tech is doing to become a more sustainable campus.

If you can’t wait until the next post, go check out WorldChanging.  The site is a sustainability wiki that has been turned into a book (used in the ISC 4000 Sustainability class).  And finally, an assignment for you: Add your definition of sustainability in the comments. How many definitions can you come up with?

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