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The 5 W’s of Sustainability
By Helen de la Maza   View more articles by this author
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December 08

What is sustainability? Does this word actually mean something or is it the same as the words “natural,” “eco-fresh,” and “green” on a carpet cleaner bottle? Who can be sustainable? Do I have to ride my bike to work every day to qualify? Where can I do it? I live in a rural area. I live in an apartment building in New York. I live in the ‘burbs of the O.C. When do I do it? Does it have to be all at once? Why should I care about this stuff?

Today we are kicking off the first in a series of articles about sustainability. This introductory article will answer some of your questions, the what, who, where, when, and why, about sustainability. After reading this article, hopefully you’ll realize that you can begin down the path of sustainability at any time, any where, and go as slowly or as quickly as you want or need to.

So what is sustainability? I’m not sure if “natural,” “eco-fresh,” and “green” on a carpet cleaner container mean something because currently only the words “certified organic” are regulated in the marketplace. So let’s forget about those words and concentrate on sustainability and how it’s related to our lives. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the verb sustain means “to keep in existence; maintain or prolong.” Sustainability, therefore, is the practice of living in such a way that the resources available today are kept in existence for use in the future. Growing, eating, and sharing all of the delicious peas I grow in my garden is wonderful, but only short-term. If I were to practice sustainability, I might eat and share 50% of the peas, and dry the other 50% of the seeds to plant next year. Sustainability is using resources in the short-term keeping their long-term viability in mind.

Who can practice sustainability? Where do I have to live or work? Do I have to sell my car and live in the forest to qualify? Do I have to wait until the stars are aligned and it’s a full moon? Absolutely not! This is what’s so cool about sustainability. Whoever you are, wherever you are in your thinking about “going green,” and wherever you are in your use of resources, you can adopt sustainable practices. A millionaire living in a mansion can use solar panels as a source of energy and drive an electric car (recharged by the energy from those solar panels, of course). It took a long time for the millionaire to decide to purchase that solar array, and an even longer time to get the electric car, but it eventually happened. A college student can live in an apartment with five other people and bike to school every day. Both of these individuals, as disparate as their lifestyles are, have adopted sustainable practices. You don’t need to get “somewhere” to start thinking about sustainability; you can start where you are today!

Why does all this “green” stuff matter to me? I love where I live, what I drive, what I do with my friends when we hang out, and the food I eat; I’m set.  I could keep doing this same stuff forever! Ah, but there’s the rub. Many of the things we rely on today are based on resources that are nonrenewable, which means that they can’t be easily made or replaced. Unless you’re planning on paying for cryogenic body freezing so you can wait out the 300 million years it will take to replenish the fossil fuels that currently run most cars, it looks like you may benefit from thinking and acting sustainably. Our planet is only so big with so much land. Some of that land is taken up by mountains, glaciers, developments, and parks, so we can’t grow food on it. We have just a tiny percentage of soil that can still grow crops; oh, and did I mention that our population is increasing? Well, at least freshwater is always being replenished through the natural water cycle, right? True, however, this is one of those resources that is extremely scarce in some areas (think walking miles to collect water from a well) and is heavily polluted in others. And even though our modern water treatment plants can clean the water that comes from our showers and toilets, it’s not available for use while it’s being treated. If you love where you live, drive, what you do with your friends when you hang out, and the food you eat, and you want to continue doing it for a while, then this “green” stuff matters. Remember, sustainability has to do with using resources in the short-term in such a way that they will still exist in the long-term. This may involve using less of what we have now, using alternatives, and using our human creativity and inventiveness to develop sustainable solutions.

Think about it.  I won’t leave the light on while I wait, but you’re welcome to stop by anytime.

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Comment by Sweetfilter
22 Feb 2010 11:14 AM
Septic tank and sewer vent pipes all controllable point sources that contribute more than 40% of all greenhouse gases from buildings and homes. Vent pipe filters cost under $50/pipe, last for 5 years, and contain Zeocarbon that captures and holds these gases for recycle as a nitrogen rich fertilizer. Help us promote their use.
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