Introducing: Green Business Blog
Welcome to the inaugural Green Business Blog. In this first blog, I have zoomed out to offer an overview of sustainability and why it is important. Subsequent blogs will zoom in and focus on particular issues relating to sustainability. The sustainability puzzle is complex involving most facets of life and business, with individual pieces defined by choices made. Identifying connections and relationships is core to solving the puzzle of sustainability.
Sustainability – What is it?
With the word ‘Sustainability’ and the term ‘Sustainable Development’ used in varied contexts with wide-ranging implications and timeframes, this blog will endeavor to narrow the scope of sustainability to its most fundamental aspects.
Sustainability as fundamental to life
Social, economic and environmental elements are fundamental to modern human life. Sustainability guarantees sufficient resources to carry on life, meaning adequate water, food and shelter from the elements to survive. Sustainability is closely associated with carrying capacity. As a biological assessment, carrying capacity is the number of a particular species that an environment can sustain. In the case of global human population, limiting factors such as food, water, competition, sanitation and disease are major factors in determining carrying capacity. Distribution is a factor that complicates the 21st century human carrying capacity calculations due to inequity resulting in uneven consumption rates. Earth may carry 15 billion Indians or it may carry 1.5 billion Australians, reflecting the variation in consumption and pollution rates. In fact, the rate of resource consumption and pollution for the average American, European and Australian requires the resources of four Earths to achieve sustainable consumption and waste assimilation.
The road to unsustainability
Before dramatic improvements in living standards around the time of the industrial revolution, global sustainability was achievable, with the environment providing the exchange of death and decay to provision life giving products and services. Ecosystems are the vital organs of the environment and rely on biodiversity to form complex webs of life. As biodiversity loss increased, ecosystems suffered unhealthy influences as global human populations flourished. As biodiversity loss weakens the web of life, ecosystems decay and die, weakening the environment’s promise of provision.
The documented importance of sustainability
About fifty years ago, several of the sharpest minds in the world published “A Limit to Growth”, warning of environmental degradation. During the 1980’s, economic and social cost increases due to diminished ecosystem services grew measurably. Subsequently, the United Nations established an independent commission to develop a document designed to guide global sustainable development. The resulting document ‘Our Common Future’, also known as the Brundtland Report, was released in 1987 and provided the following definition: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Thousands more documents have since been published on continued environmental degradation, based on science with checks and balances to ensure validity. Using modern technology, scientific institutions have refined the measurements to accuracies delivering a focused view of our collective situation.
Water management is an example of unsustainable development, as defined by the Brundtland Report
The three basic requirements for human life are fresh water, food and shelter. Fresh water availability is captured and stored precipitation and runoff. Groundwater is stored in underground aquifers, recharging at variable rates across the planet. Aquifer recharge rates range from a few days of unimpeded flow to hundreds of years seepage through layers of sediment. Human development at the surface can compromise groundwater capture, impeding the rate of groundwater recharge. Food and textile supply predominantly depend on fresh water supply. Sustainability demands fresh water recharge at a rate equal to or greater than discharge. Unfortunately, global ground and surface water reserves of fresh water continue to diminish while drought events increase in severity due to changing rain patterns and snow melts. The most basic accounting method to assure a sustainable bank balance is to consume interest only; in this case, the rate of fresh water recharge equates to ‘interest’. Current consumption rates are above ‘interest’, thus reducing the bank balance.
Imagine the environment as a financial investment. With wise management, the investment will maintain its value and continue to provide sustenance. With reckless, risky and shortsighted management, the investment will most likely dwindle and eventually fail to provide sustenance. The investment will not endure, thus the investment holder will not maintain security. In the case of the environment, there is only one investment option for the currently 7.4 billion people sustained by their common investment. Humanity may continue as “occupants in a car heading at speed towards a brick wall while arguing about who is driving,” or it may reconnect with it’s one and only enduring investment option.