Thanks to my husband, I recently spent some time thinking about what sustainability means to me. Through the process I realized how complex it was to explain sustainability. I had to break it down with hopes to put it back together . . . so that I could understand the many different parts of the holistic problem we face. After a few days of reading, writing, and pontificating, this is how I began viewing sustainability.
People, planet, profit . . .
I began thinking about sustainability as an equation:
[ (Community + Individuals) / Planet ] x Profit = Sustainability
Community and Individuals are the most important variables in the Sustainability equation. We all impact this Earth and we all contribute to environmental problems. The sustainable movement should bring people around the world together for a single goal. The sense of community that can occur out of sustainability is overwhelming. That community must share with and help one another in order for such large goals to be accomplished. If we embrace our community, share our knowledge, and help one another, we will see large scale changes made simply by our ability to stand together. Our combined efforts, along with having compassion for one another, can have a huge impact in the way our planet is treated. If we focus on investing in our community, we set a good foundation for the community and the generations to come.
Investing into a community is not just for the people, but for the environment and organisms that reside there as well. We must recognize that other organisms encompass our community. Biodiversity is slowly starting to diminish and this could wreak havoc on the environmental system on which we all depend. Opening our communities to all living things, recognizing the need for them in our lives, and having compassion for how we affect their survival is important in understanding sustainability; this is why the community and individuals are the most important variables.
They are also the variables that must be resolved for the equation to continue. The rules of math require problems inside parentheses to be completed first. This is extremely important in solving the sustainability equation because this is where sustainability begins, with individuals and individuals within their community. This is the rule and each person must be willing to participate for the equation to work. This means every person must be educated, informed, and motivated toward pro-environmental lifestyles and choices. It means we must be responsible for our own actions and we must hold other individuals accountable for theirs. The individual and the environment cross paths in many ways and we must be able to recognize those paths before we destroy them. This can be as simple as reusing plastic baggies instead of buying more or picking up trash along the sidewalk while running with your dog, but it can also be as complicated as engineering more efficient solar panels, regardless, it must be done. The equation must work. Our planet depends on it.
Division is next and tends to be tricky; the numerator can be very buoyant or it can be very hefty. This is why I put Community and Individuals on the top, the magnitude of our impact threatens to suffocate the planet. We must recognize the Earth is alive and we are the parasites that need it to survive. It is up to us, as the inhabitants of this being, to learn to live in a symbiotic relationship; not to divide and conquer. We must lighten our reliance on natural resources and fossil fuels so we do not heat up the Earth and disrupt the natural balance; like the way the division line balances on the dominator. We cannot let that line divide us. That is why brackets embrace all three variables, helping us hold together; our person, our families, our communities, all of which are dependent on our planet. We must all recognize the need for, and live in, balance for our equation to work.
The last part of the equation is profit. The sum of [Community + Individuals / Planet] is to be multiplied by profit, because that is where our profit must go; in helping strengthen all three of those variables. Multiplication, like that of division, walks a thin line. Multiplication in the right area, i.e. investments in renewable energy, can bring sustainability to the forefront of our lives; however, multiplication in the wrong areas, i.e. increasing our dependence on wood from the rainforest, can send us over a tipping point from which we will never return. The profit variable can make or break this sustainable equation.
To me, this is what sustainability is. It is using the smallest part in the most efficient way so that the machine runs longer and using the machine to help repair the smallest parts. We must begin with ourselves, the individual, and embrace our community. Then, we must use the strength of our community to change our world. In the process of changing the world, we must not forget ourselves.
This is what sustainability is to me . . .
A huge math problem.
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