What is sustainability? According to the Brundtland Commission (previously known as the World Commission on Environment and Development) it is defined as, “Development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Many people have misconstrued sustainability as being solely about the environment and recycling. This is not true, it encompasses, as suggested by the above definition, so much more.
Sustainability looks at many facets. In the economy, it focuses on the needs of third world countries. In the developed world, our advanced technology and abundant resources have allowed us to take basic education for granted. But in the third world, basic education is still a luxury that many never get the opportunity to experience. In this context, sustainability revolves around making education accessible to those who live in underdeveloped nations.
But another important aspect of sustainability is that it places a high value on nature and it makes the preservation of national parks a top priority. It is about quality of life, not just today, but for those who come after we are long gone. It examines the effects of CO2 gases as they impact our atmosphere and how they affect our weather patterns. It delves into the concerns of the vast use of non-renewable resources, or fossil fuels. It looks at the intrinsic value of the environment, and the effects that being so disconnected from nature have had on the human population.
Why does any of this matter? That’s the question that millions of people from many different walks of life are asking. In 1971, an influential environmental activist named Wendell Berry published a book titled “The Unforeseen Wilderness: An Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.” In this book, Berry emphasizes that we should have a long-range plan that looks out for our environment. A quote from his book states, “I am speaking of the life of a man who knows, this world is not given by our fathers, but borrowed from our children.” Generally speaking, as a society we have failed to adopt this humble attitude that Berry perpetuates. We have pressed ahead as if the resources of this world are here for our express pleasure alone.
Our campus has put forth a lot of effort toward becoming a complete self-sustaining university. Although we are not 100 percent there yet, improvements have been made on this campus that have left a huge impact on the surrounding areas. In fact, in June of 2014, the University of Washington, as a combined campus (meaning both the Seattle and Tacoma Campuses) were awarded the “Sustainable Campus Excellence Award” by the International Sustainable Campus Network. This award was only given to four universities, and the University of Washington was the only university to receive this award in America.
As citizens of this planet, we can become more sustainable by reexamining our usage of resources. We can cut back on our carbon footprint by making a conscious effort to use our resources more wisely. Making simple changes like choosing to recycle, turning off lights and appliances when not in use, carpooling, and utilizing public transportation are just some of the ways we can help the environment. A few other good tips include switching to LED lightbulbs, buying energy efficient appliances, and taking shorter showers using a water-saving shower head. Even using a filtration pitcher and reusable water bottles can make a huge difference. In the end, it comes down to not using more than our fair share so that our children, and our grandchildren, will enjoy the splendor of this beautiful world in its entirety.