Sustainability and all it’s various forms is all pervasive; almost every product, service, process, or facility is said to be sustainable in some way. Clearly this can’t be right and it doesn’t take long to realise the deluge of greenwash that surrounds this word and its variations.
An important part of this blog is to challenge what it means to be ‘sustainable’ and how this can be better understood and integrated and embedded into everyday practices and longer term management plans: We want proper sustainability; a legacy to pass onto future generations.
A brief interpretation of some different variations is a helpful starting point:
Greenwash | The projection of an image which isn’t all that it seems. Some organisations will market and promote a product or process which is said to be environmentally friendly or promote their green credentials. The reality is that the clever use of words and imagery frequently hides, or tries to, a less than green image in reality.
Sustainability |The ability to maintain a continuous and beneficial condition over a long period of time and typically living within the limits of a natural system. This can either be considered an outcome of a process rather than the process itself, or a sustainable process that is continually achieving sustainability as part of the activities of a process.
Sustainability is a contested concept which is liable to misuse and greenwash by some organisations. It is a much-overused word within social and written media, often complementing some other word, or words, to give the impression (often misleading) of a successful outcome or achievement. Clarification of the contextual meaning is rarely provided.
Sustainability Appraisal | An appraisal of the economic, environmental and social effects of a plan from the outset of the preparation process to allow decisions to be made that accord with sustainable development.
Sustainability Assessment Method or Tool | A means of, or tool for, assessing the sustainability of a plan, activity or service. Examples may be specific techniques, such as Life Cycle Costing, or processes such as Strategic Environmental Assessment.
Sustainability Evaluation Model |The integration of a range of sustainability indicators, processes, techniques and tools to provide a holistic approach to sustainability assessment and the sustainable management of an amenity, or other, service.
Sustainability Impact Assessment |An assessment that records any positive or negative impacts – social, economic and environmental – that an activity is likely to have on a service.
Sustainability Indicator | A measure of an environmental, economic or social outlook or outcome that can be used to identify areas for improvement in achieving sustainability. Selecting a range of sustainability indicators (SIs), which could be categorised as Environmental Sustainability Indicators, Economic Sustainability Indicators, or Social Sustainability Indicators, that are appropriate for a particular situation is an important decision for stakeholders.
Sustainable | Something which can endure over a long period of time.
Sustainable Community | A community that is planned or modified to maintain sustainable living.
Sustainable Development | This is defined in the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future (often referred to as the Brundtland report after its chairwoman) as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This can be considered a process rather than an end point.
Social, Economic and Environment aspects form the three pillars of sustainable development. Engaging with, and integrating, all three within any implementation of sustainability is an essential requirement of the concept.
Sustainable Management | The holistic management of a service, product, facility or other entity with the aim of achieving a sustainable outcome.
Sustainable Pesticides | A term, which is clearly an oxymoron, that is sometimes used by the pesticide industry in attempt to project a positive and softer image of pesticdes, rather than the toxic substances which they really are. Used responsibly and appropriately some pesticides can offer short-term solutions to some problems. However, introducing man-made substances into the environment is not a principle of sustainability, and is the opposite to what should be occurring, i.e. the removal and explicit non-introduction of man-made substances. This term is another attempt, of many, to further ‘greenwash’ the industry.
Chris Gray, last updated 28th March 2019