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Actions for Sustainability: best of all worlds

Global Sustainability Institute

Faculty: Science and Engineering
Course: PhD in Sustainability
Category: Student blogs

10 August 2015


Obehi Frances Sule, PhD Sustainability candidate, talks to the Global Sustainability Institute about finding a way to the best of all worlds, by putting sustainability into action - the rise of mains water provision instead of rainwater harvesting and walking and cycling, instead of carbon heavy transport.

Do things have to get bad before they get better?

Grasping the concept of sustainability doesn’t require that much imagination. Looking back, it has been a key concern for our ancestors and many of us will be practising some aspect of it, or seeing it in action around us on a daily basis without giving it a second thought. But in many ways, we are moving in the wrong direction.

First up: what does ‘sustainability’ even mean?

There are lots of definitions thrown around, but it boils down to living within the earth’s limits, safeguarding it for future generations and ensuring the safe existence of the other species we share the world with. The concept inspires us to rethink the way we do things, especially our economic pursuits, which are recognised to be the main cause of many social and environmental problems. Just look at the amount of dirty pollution caused by clothes factories and the conditions some workers endure. On top of that, sustainability also encourages respecting cultural diversity, calling for a fair and just world for all.

Actions for sustainability can be found everywhere...

For instance, before the major shift to mains water, rainwater harvesting (RWH) was used as far back as the second century AD in the Western world, and is common practice in developing countries, particularly rural areas of Africa and Asia. However, this use of RWH is slowly eroding in underdeveloped countries as they are keenly moving on to mains water – this would not be such a big problem if it weren’t for the water wastage in the system due to escalating demands and resulting water scarcity. As water stress is becoming a major global issue – one-third of the world is impacted by a lack of water – countries are being encouraged to actively promote RWH for both agricultural purposes and household usage.

Another example of this unsustainable path which Western countries are keen to address is the move from walking or cycling to other means of carbon-heavy transport, such as cars. As carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere the pressure mounts on Western governments, such as the UK's, to cut emissions. They are, in many ways, encouraging citizens to revert back to walking/cycling – you don’t have to travel far now to find a bicycle lane through a busy city centre. However, as livelihoods begin to improve in developing countries, most are eager to show off their new wealth by owning cars, whereas for centuries previously walking and cycling had been the major means of transportation.

Far from saying that developing countries shouldn’t invest in clean water and transport, these examples beg us to question: must things go so badly wrong before we learn the importance of some of our existing approaches to sustaining the Earth? Is it not time to take a step back and celebrate those sustainable local practices that don’t need changing in the first place? Surely the answer is to start working together and learn lessons from each other – that way, we will get (and keep) the best of all worlds.

Please share your ideas, or any sustainable actions and practices from around the world, which should be preserved.


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