What Does Sustainability Mean to You?

What is sustainability?

Typically, most individuals know what recycling means and what the three R’s stand for. We know that disposing of harmful chemicals correctly, and driving our vehicles minimal distances will reduce our carbon print on this planet, but do we know what sustainability actually means?
A more significant step to practicing sustainability could also mean learning about green technologies such as wind turbines, hydroelectric energy, and water purification mechanisms and how to apply it. For example, for the past two months I have been working for an environmental services consultancy, where I focused on the development of renewable energy projects like mini hydroelectric power plants in the Andes of Peru. Not only was this concept new to me when I first started my work here, but I had no idea that what I am involved in was called sustainable.

Using natural resources to produce energy for consumption can yield a great benefit for the environment. For example, one of the projects we developed in the Peruvian Andes was marketed towards mining companies in the area. Generally, mining companies pollute the environment—a negative externality inherent to the industry, but with our efforts to provide them with a clean source of energy, their impact could be parameterized to that of mining only since they no longer had to rely on coal or petroleum.

Sustainability is a complex subject. Not only does it encompass green initiatives but it also possesses economic attributes—which is what I personally want to emphasize in this blog post. For me, sustainability has a slightly different yet still pertaining meaning. Although measuring the value of intangible costs may involve a more sophisticated approach than just a simple cost-benefit analysis process, we can easily asses the value of the cost of what we are incurring when we do certain things that affect the environment. In the case of farming, we can calculate the damages of unsustainable farming practices by subtracting the value of prime agricultural and cultivated land at a previous point in time by a later value of that land. Whatever is left over is the declining change in price, which we can then divide by the time since the first valuation of that property—then we have a change in price over time period. We can then use this metric and multiply it by a factor, which could depict the magnitude of damaged land in a certain area.

Costs can also be regarded as the future decline in profits from an affected farm land. It could also be viewed as the health costs that these farming runoffs afflict on individuals—or the costs afflicted on other surrounding non-farm lands that are practicing sustainable farming methods.  Perhaps it is these forms of perspectives that we need to start emphasizing on.