We hear the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability’ almost every day. But what does it mean exactly? Is it about people and culture, our environment, or jobs and money? Is it about cities or the country? Is it about you and me or is it something for other people to worry about?
Sustainability is about all of these things and more.
Sustainability is an ability or capacity of something to be maintained or to sustain itself. It’s about taking what we need to live now, without jeopardising the potential for people in the future to meet their needs.
If an activity is said to be sustainable, it should be able to continue forever.
Some people say it is easy to recognise activities that are unsustainable because we know it when we see it. Think of extinction of some species of animals, often due to the activities of humans. Or salinity (salt) in our rivers due to changed land management practices. And at home, the amount of packaging you put in the bin that has to go into landfill.
Living sustainably is about living within the means of our natural systems (environment) and ensuring that our lifestyle doesn’t harm other people (society and culture). It’s a big idea to get your head around, for all of us. It’s really about thinking about where your food, clothes, energy and other products come from and deciding whether you should buy and consume these things. For example, you can buy timber imported from other countries to use in your home, but do you know enough about the rules in place in those countries to prevent animals from being harmed during the timber harvesting process, or if the local indigenous people support the harvesting, or how much they get paid?
Increasingly our lifestyle is placing more and more pressure on natural systems. Scientists continue to investigate how human interactions with natural systems can be improved and sustained.