Sustainability- The Concept

Much conversation is arising from the Conservation Cup! As a member of the “Switch it off” Conservation Cup team at John Paul College, Rotorua, and also being involved earlier this year in the Enviro Challenge 2015, I have seen the change that is occurring in our school, from first interests to full involvement in the Conservation Cup Campaign with teachers and students eagerly “switching off!”

Amongst these conversations one particular concept has arisen most frequently: Sustainability. As a student currently studying Geography, I have often come across this concept in my studies as well as in my community. Widely used by a number of different areas including geography and ecology, to social areas and everyday language, Sustainability is one of the reasons why we are reducing our energy usage- to care for our resources and natural environment for future generations.

But what does the concept of Sustainability actually mean?

The ecological definition is to endure, while the geographic definition is the “ability to meet the needs of the present without harming future needs”. The Collins Compact Dictionary defines “to sustain” as “to maintain or prolong”.

Many people in the wider New Zealand society, including some of my peers, know of the concept of Sustainability, but many only identify the concept as being about caring for the environment. However, this caring for the environment is interestingly only one of the three key so-called “pillars” of Sustainability. As well as the environmental pillar, there is also the economic and social pillars. So, when discussing whether an activity, action or idea is truly sustainable, not only must the impacts on the environment be considered, but also the impacts on society, people, and also the economy, of a region, nationally or even smaller, such as a school community.
To give an example of these “pillars”, I will use the idea of energy usage of a New Zealand high school, such as my school, John Paul College. During the Conservation Cup Competition, those high schools competing will be reducing their schools energy consumption by as much as possible, with measures used including turning off lights, heaters and also computers and other electronics. From the environmental pillar, this action of “switching off” has many positive impacts on the environment. From the economic perspective, there is also much to be gained from reducing energy consumption. However, the third pillar, social impact, must be considered for the action to be truly sustainable. Positive social benefits include the school continuing to function effectively with careful planning, while working together on a unified cause. Some negative social impacts such as cold classrooms and slow computer restart time can be reduced by adapting the way energy usage is reduced to meet all three pillars of Sustainability. So, Sustainability can be summarised in three key pillars of social, economic and environmental, as well as the key definition of to endure. To protect our resources and society for future generations these pillars must be considered as to whether we are actually being truly sustainable.

To give an example of these “pillars”, I will use the idea of energy usage of a New Zealand high school, such as my school, John Paul College. During the Conservation Cup Competition, those high schools competing will be reducing their schools energy consumption by as much as possible, with measures used including turning off lights, heaters and also computers and other electronics. From the environmental pillar, this action of “switching off” has many positive impacts on the environment. From the economic perspective, there is also much to be gained from reducing energy consumption. However, the third pillar, social impact, must be considered for the action to be truly sustainable. Positive social benefits include the school continuing to function effectively with careful planning, while working together on a unified cause. Some negative social impacts such as cold classrooms and slow computer restart time can be reduced by adapting the way energy usage is reduced to meet all three pillars of Sustainability. So, Sustainability can be summarised in three key pillars of social, economic and environmental, as well as the key definition of to endure. To protect our resources and society for future generations these pillars must be considered as to whether we are actually being truly sustainable.

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