“Sustainability”; it’s a word you’ve probably heard from time to time, you’ve possibly even used it yourself, but what does it really mean?
WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?
Sustainability is difficult to define, and even more difficult to accomplish. A common understanding of sustainability is based on a definition of sustainable development as specified by the 1987 Brundtland Report, ‘Our Common Future’, whereby sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. As such, sustainability is not necessarily environmental, but acknowledges the complex links between environmental, economic, social and political issues. In other words, sustainability is a general approach to equality, consumption and lifestyle choices. It involves taking measures to minimise waste, and reduce the long term negative consequences associated with our actions.
Given a move towards sustainability will likely require widespread transformational changes to current economic, social and political practices, it may be nearly impossible to achieve true sustainability in our lifetime. However, that shouldn’t stop us from striving to work towards a more sustainable future. After all, even small positive actions have significantly better long-term outcomes than inaction.
THE FINANCIAL BENEFITS OF SUSTAINABILITY
Financial incentive is one of the most effective ways to encourage widespread change. Therefore, it is important to understand the financial motivation behind institutional change that may enable us to tackle sustainability, even if it is only considered to be a by-product.
One of the first steps towards becoming more sustainable is understanding the current inefficiencies in energy and water systems, such as heating, cooling, and lighting, and then investing to improve these efficiencies. These system changes can reduce electricity, gas, and water bills, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, these actions do not rely solely on behavioural change to reduce energy or water consumption, but instead allow changes to fit in within current practices.
In many cases, improving the energy and water efficiency of a building can be the first step of many towards sustainability, and can act as an excellent motivator to make further changes.
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