As everyone is aware, we celebrated SustainAbility day on October 24th – and as part of our campus-wide festivities, we decided to define what we as a student body believe is SUSTAINABILITY. Students wrote on posters and on the whiteboard in Fireside to answer the question “What does Sustainability mean to you?” Here are some of the responses we received: “Billions of tiny efforts.” “Responsibility.” “Thinking about who come after us.” “Reduce Reuse Recycle.” “Being personally accountable.” “Making a world you want your children to live in.” “A better future.”
In 1983, the United Nations put together a commission to pursue sustainable development together in order to address the deterioration of the human environment and natural resources of the time. The mission created the Bruntland Report, famous for defining sustainability as: “[meeting] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
While the student body’s sporadic, individual definitions of sustainability don’t reach the sophistication and cohesiveness of the Bruntland Report’s definition, we can still draw clear parallels between the two. Oles obviously recognize that living sustainably is important for the future – many students offered definitions centering on future generations, our children, or “those who come after us.”
It may be hard to see the effects of individual actions on a broad scale – for example, what’s the difference between throwing this apple core in the garbage next to my desk instead of walking over to my compost bin? What’s the difference between unplugging my phone charger when I’m not using it instead of leaving it in the wall? Thousands of times every day we must make these seemingly trivial choices between being sustainable and being wasteful.
This is where I believe our responses to “What is Sustainability?” differ from the Bruntland Report’s definition. Students talked about how being sustainable was making the right individual decision and recognizing both a personal responsibility and accountability to our actions. I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase: Think globally, act locally. It is meant to inspire communities and persons to address a larger, broad problem – like detrimental anthropogenic impacts on the environment – in a simple, individualistic way.
As we walk away from SustainAbility Day, I hope we remember that each individual action we take is making a difference. It’s not only about participating in our campus-wide events encouraging sustainability, but it’s about the “billions of tiny efforts” we each make every day to be sustainable. What will you do today to promote sustainability?