Surveying Sustainability

Prior to Surveying Sustainability, I had a narrow definition of what sustainability meant. I thought it encompassed resource consumption; prevention of consuming resources quicker than they can be replenished so the environment and those living in it aren’t negatively impacted. I had a vague idea that sustainability was somehow tied to anthropogenic climate change; humans treating the planet poorly.

Given my environmental science background, it’s no surprise, that I thought the natural world as the epicenter of sustainability. The concept of sustainability slowly became clearer to me as the class progressed; I learned that not only are there three pillars, but that they are all inextricably linked by influencing each other. Planet, people, and profit, -the environment, social well-being, and economics- all impact one another. When one truly grasps what it means to be sustainable, a whole new lens is applied to your world view; one gains a ‘sustainability lens’.

The most important thing I gained from this course, that carried me forward for the rest of my SDM experience was ‘systems thinking’ and a ‘sustainability lens’. When I watch the news or discuss ‘toxic culture’ of companies with my friends, I can identify how and why it is a sustainability issue that is embedded within a socio-economic system. This systems thinking hasn’t only carried me through my SDM experience but is crucial practical knowledge that can be implemented when problem solving anything from complicated to chaotic. Learning about ecosystems in my primary major has gone hand-in-hand with learning about ‘wicked problems’ that involve multi-scalar interactions, which has enhanced my learning of both subjects.

With gaining much knowledge about sustainability issues like climate change, despair was right around the corner; ignorance is bliss. Fortunately, becoming more knowledgeable about the issues reinforced my attitude towards making this world a better place and sparked even deeper passion for the natural world than I thought possible. It soon became clear to me that education about sustainability was few and far between, which explains a lot of the inaction that angered me. I know wherever I end up after college, I will adopt the values that encompass sustainability and spread as much knowledge as I can. I now know that sustainability can’t be limited by a simple definition; it is profound and to convey in a couple sentences.

 

Below is an illustration of a system:

Systems illustration