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A window view on Sustainability, through a long winding slow train!

The blog ‘Fractured Sustainability’ by Neal H.Levin is the prompt.

Fractured Sustainability

 

Following Neal’s statement, ‘to go far beyond’ to first understand the subject, I looked up for a timeline and landed here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_environmental_events

The wikipedia appeared right place to start.

 

The timeline is from 10th Millennium to 2009 AD.

Till the 1st Millennium BCE the mankind appears to have been merely experiencing the nature’s ways.

From 1st Millennium BCE it appears that concern for environment was started in a small way. For example,

250 BCE – Ashoka introduces animal welfare legislation in India; Circa 200 BCE – Sri Lanka first country in the world to have a nature reserve, King Devanampiyatissa established a wildlife sanctuary.( Of course, regarding implementation we would not know much!)

 

Then onwards, probably we find far and between some actions in favour of environmental protection.

676 – Cuthbert of Lindisfarne enacts protection legislation for birds on the Farne Islands (Northumberland, UK).

1366 – City of Paris forces butchers to dispose of animal wastes outside the city (Ponting);

1388 – Parliament passes an act forbidding the throwing of filth and garbage into ditches, rivers and waters. City of Cambridge also passes the first urban sanitary laws in England.

 

As we traverse down the timeline, we can identify in the similar way, other actions in favour of environment.

 

It is seen from the above timeline that the following themes were coming up in one region or the other and was spreading to other regions:

 

1. Climate change – Global warming • Global dimming • Fossil fuels • Sea level rise • Greenhouse gas

2. Conservation – Species extinction • Pollinator decline • Coral bleaching • Holocene extinction event •  Invasive species • Poaching • Endangered species

3. Dams – Environmental impacts of dams

4. Energy – Energy conservation • Renewable energy • Efficient energy use • Renewable energy commercialization

5. Genetic engineering – Genetic pollution • Genetically modified food controversies

6 . Intensive farming – Overgrazing • Irrigation • Monoculture • Environmental effects of meat Production

7 . Land degradation – Land pollution • Desertification 

8.  Soil – Soil conservation • Soil erosion • Soil contamination • Soil salination

9. Land use – Urban sprawl • Habitat fragmentation • Habitat destruction

10. Nanotechnology – Nanotoxicology • Nanopollution

11. Nuclear issues – Nuclear fallout • Nuclear meltdown • Nuclear power • Radioactive waste

12. Overpopulation – Burial , Population increase

13. Ozone depletion – CFC

14. Pollution – Light pollution • Noise pollution • Visual pollution

15.  Water pollution – Acid rain • Eutrophication • Marine pollution • Ocean dumping • Oil spills • Thermal pollution • Urban runoff • Water crisis • Marine debris • Ocean acidification • Ship pollution • • Wastewater

16. Air pollution – Smog • Tropospheric ozone • Indoor air quality • Volatile organic compound •  Particulate matter • Sulphur oxide

17. Resource depletion – Exploitation of natural resources

18. Consumerism – Consumer capitalism • Planned obsolescence • Over-consumption

19. Fishing – Blast fishing • Bottom trawling • Cyanide fishing • Ghost nets • Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing • Overfishing • Shark finning • Whaling

20. Logging – Clearcutting • Deforestation • Illegal logging

21. Mining – Acid mine drainage • Mountaintop removal mining • Slurry impoundments (3)

22. Toxins – Chlorofluorocarbons • DDT • Endocrine disruptors • Dioxin • Heavy metals • Herbicides • Pesticides • Toxic waste • PCB • Bioaccumulation • Biomagnification

23. Waste – E-waste • Litter • Waste disposal incidents • Marine debris • Landfill • Leachate • Recycling • Incineration

 

We may, based on the above ,infer that there are about 98 issues under 23 major-class.

Each issue may be an area of study of  significance.

 

It is noticed that if we are interested in any of the themes of our choice and want to know greater details, we can do so by following the link in the Wikipedia and  further strengthen our understanding with additional reading.

And in the timeline we can also get to know the latest.

If, for example, we take up climate change as the subject and after a detailed study want to know the recent situation, we may visit the following:

http://powershift09.org/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ethicalman/2009/04/tackling_climate_change_is_a.html#comments

The visit to latest event, I wonder, in all probability would make us feel it to be our turn now to join any group for action and make our contribution!

 

 

2

Sustainability, as I understand, is the way economic interest is pursued balancing along with the environmental and social concerns. Everyone may try to formulate a definition, as an exercise!

 

Whichever definition we adopt, it appears that it must facilitate to get a derivative from the definition, with relevance to our zone of influence so that we as individuals can taking up activities in that direction and see results.

In other words, we must be able to relate the definition to our work and life, individually and collectively.

 

To know more my next visit was to:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability

 

The details are provided under the following sections:

1 Definition

2 History

3 Principles and concepts

4 Measurement

5 Environmental dimension

6 Economic dimension

7 Social dimension

8 Transition

In addition, references for further reading and links are also provided.

 

It is interesting to read the varied definitions and interpretations in vogue for the term ‘Sustainability’.

It appeared to me that the way we define Sustainability would define us!

 

Under History the following are covered:

 

2.1 Early civilizations

2.2 Emergence of industrial societies

2.3 Early 20th century

2.4 Mid 20th century: environmentalism

2.5 Late 20th century

2.6 21st century: global awareness

 

Similarly, under Principles and concepts, Measurement, Environmental dimension, Economic dimension, Social dimension and regarding Transition the details are provided as per the following sub-themes:

 

3 Principles and concepts

3.1 Scale and context

3.2 Global goals

3.3 Consumption, population, technology, resources

3.4 Population

3.5 Direct and indirect environmental impacts

 

4 Measurement

4.1 Global human sustainability

4.2 Global human impact on biodiversity

 

5 Environmental dimension

5.1 Environmental management

5.1.1 Atmosphere

5.1.2 Ecosystems

5.1.3 Extinctions

5.1.4 Biological invasions

5.2 Management of human consumption

5.2.1 Energy, water, food

5.2.2 Materials, toxic substances, waste

 

6 Economic dimension

6.1 Nature as an economic externality

6.2 Decoupling environmental degradation and economic growth

6.3 Economic opportunity

 

7 Social dimension

7.1 Peace, security, social justice

7.2 Human settlements

7.3 Human relationship to nature

8 Transition

 

 

A reflection on the list!

There appears to be about 198 points/concepts/predictions/proposals etc. in total.

It is a huge task for one person to meaningfully know all these contents.

But we as a community can get to know fully by allocating certain areas to each one in a group!

 

A reflection on the number of issues, if tabulated year wise, would make us see that the issues were piling up one after another over a period of time.

There may be some issues which have been resolved too. These must be identified and the method adopted for their resolution understood too.

There would be some issues relevant to certain geographical region alone and some with widespread relevance.

 

With such knowledge we can also identify those relevant to our own organizations to plan further action.

All issues would not be relevant to all organizations; all the issues would not be relevant all the time.

Even among the relevant issues there would be those significant and not so significant. Review of the relevance annually would make the organization to attend to the appropriate issue. The approach, it appears, is verymuch in vogue.

There is ample evidence as to what Oil & Gas industry addresses with keenness (pl see http://www.ipieca.org/ ), what Tourism & Travel industry addresses (pl see http://www.sustainabletourismcriteria.org/ ), what the Chemical industry addresses, what the Mining industry addresses (pl see http://www.icmm.com/) and so on.

 

3

Now let us take up Sustainability as propounded by Welford.

I would suggest reference to Chapter 2, titled ‘Corporate Strategy and the Environment: the Theory’ by Sangeeta Bhargava and Richard Welford and to chapter 14, the last one titled ‘Beyond Environmentalism and Towards the Sustainable Organization’ by Richard Welford and David Jones in the book,”Corporate Environmental Management – Systems and Strategies” by Richard Welford (Ed),1996,Universities Press.

Welford includes the following seven themes under this term:

  • 1. General Principles
  • 2. Equity
  • 3. Futurity
  • 4. Biodiversity and animal protection
  • 5. Human rights
  • 6. Local action and scale
  • 7. Life cycle impacts

 

Under ‘General principles’ the topics are: Accountability, Transparency/Openness, Education and learning.

Under ‘Equity’ the topics are: Empowerment of all stakeholders, Participation, Trade practices.

Under ‘Futurity’ the topics are: Precaution, Use on non-renewables .

Under ‘Biodiversity and animal protection, the topics are: Habitat and species conservation, Animal testing.

Under ‘Human rights’, the topics covered are: Employment policies and equal opportunities, Quality of work life, women, Minority groups, Indigenous population .

Under ‘Local action and scale’ the topics covered are: Community Linkage, appropriate scale, partnership and cooperation strategies, Appropriate location.   

Under ‘Life cycle impacts’, the topics covered are: Product stewardship, Life cycle analysis, Design, Product durability, Product justifiability.

For each topic several measures also have been identified and it amounts to about 90 measures.

Here again, not all the measures and key targets would be applicable to all organizations.

Addressing Sustainability would then mean contextualizing the knowledge to an organization and planning and implementing action, followed by monitoring and measuring the results to achieve continual improvement. In some cases even breakthrough solution may be aimed at.

 

Conclusion

There may be many ways to understand Sustainability. I, in this blog, have suggested visiting Wikipedia for the timeline based details and also reading the book edited by Richard Welford for the theory.

This may be a limited approach to understand the subject. But it appeared a good place to start.

One may further visit organizations, visit places and regions, discuss real issues faced and solved by them in their context, talk to academics and so on.

With such knowledge the understanding would no longer be fractured, we can hope.

Time to open the door and step out together?

 

Sam Anbazhagan

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