J500 Media and the Environment

What does sustainable mean? Does it mean anything or everything? by christinewerem
July 14, 2009, 5:37 pm
Filed under: Energy + Climate, J840 Week 5, Waste + Recycling | Tags:

Through my class readings and discussions I’ve concluded there is a single definition for sustainability. While Bob Doppelt includes an encyclopedia definition in “Leading Change Toward Sustainability” he goes on to say the companies that lead in sustainability must be lucid in their efforts to understand the end sustainable goals. While Doppelt says sustainability means to use a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged, a Washington University microsite from 1999 defines sustainability the same way, “Sustainability means using methods, systems and materials that won’t deplete resources or harm natural cycles.”

I could go on but all definitions I found for sustainability said the same thing. My definition of sustainability is to buy, build, recycle or throw away those materials that will not harm environmental systems. I think this definition can encompass a variety of sustainable initiatives including building (LEED, materials chosen, using solar panels, rain buckets, etc.) buying organic or sustainable products in both business and consumer levels, throwing away only those materials that cannot be recycled or reused in a safe manner that doesn’t harm the environment.

My definition helps define the grey areas green sustainability still has within the public. While the term sustainability has a defined definition because, the term “green’ does not. ‘Green’ is a catch all phrase that is wishy-washy in my opinion. Anything that is considered sustainable should be specific, i.e., all materials used for the product should be recyclable or used to decrease the harm within the environment.

Anything that is labeled ‘green’ should not be considered sustainable because many green products are only partially environmental friendly. For example, Starbucks’ coffee cups are only 10% recycle and some communities do not have the ability to extract the recyclable part from the non-recyclable part so they throw the cups away. Hybrid cars, should also be considered green (verses the 100% electric cars) because the products the car is created out of are non-recycle and the majority of these products cannot be re-used.

The point of this tirade is to say my sustainability definition should be all or nothing- sustainable products should be 100% recyclable and environmentally friendly whereas green-labeled products are partially environmentally friendly.

I think these are fair definitions but some people may disagree. Do you?

Christine W.


2 Comments so far
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You make some strong distinctions between sustainable and “green” efforts in regards to the environment, but where does social justice fit into your definition of sustainability?

In “Leading Change Toward Sustainability,” Doppelt stresses the importance of social equity in pursuing sustainability. For instance, when social unrest, economic hardship and poverty exists, people will do whatever they need to in order to survive. They will destroy rainforest, exhaust soil and overharvest.

Can we be sustainable if we’re still “harming” and neglecting our social systems as well?


Comment by CheriL

Hi Cheri,

Thank you for your comment. I completely agree people will do whatever it takes to survive when their natural rights are endangered. Doppelt stresses social equity throughout “Leading change Toward Sustainability.” For example, chapter four stresses social equity through corporate sustainable acts and points out ROI can be larger for sustainable companies than non-sustainable. But according to my definition of sustainability, people or corporations cannot be 100% sustainable if ALL efforts do not go around full circle. In my opinion, sustainable acts exhibit social equity and green acts partially exhibit this.

Thanks again,
Christine W.

Comment by christinewerem

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