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Writing a New Sustainability Story


Posted: 9:41AM February 19th, 2016 | Comments

Let’s start with a word association game. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear “sustainability?” Ask almost anyone and they’ll say “recycling,” “trees,” or “water conservation” and if you ask a Madisonian, you’ll likely hear “lake pollution” or “local food.” What you probably won’t hear: “collective efficacy,” “relational trust,” “wealth distribution,” “volunteerism,” or “economy of care.” It’s an easy assumption to make: sustainability is about keeping the Earth nice for all future lives, so caring for the natural environment is what matters. I was guilty of this very mindset up until a few months ago when I started working at Sustain Dane. Honestly, I walked into the first day of my internship convinced that the environment was all that mattered when it came to sustainability. But take a walk outside and it’s obvious why that’s not the case. Look around at the trees, birds, soil, and appreciate the infinite moving parts in the natural world around you. Around you. Now look at yourself, look at the building you just walked out of, the people and businesses around you. Realize that you (representing all of humanity, big job here) are an inextricable component of the environment and to achieve real sustainability, our human economic and social systems must change right along with the environment. A healthy environment goes hand in hand with a just economy and strong community: you need one to have the others. Perhaps we need to redefine “environment” in the context of sustainability so that the economy and community are implied. We can’t change the environment without changing ourselves in it. So let’s revisit two phrases mentioned above: “all future lives” and “you representing all of humanity.” There’s an unavoidable duality here: not only does everyone (no matter skin color, income, age, sex, or species) deserve a safe, comfortable life where all their needs are met, but everyone can and needs to play a role in crafting a planet where this is possible. We need to rewrite the sustainability story to one where everyone’s choices matter and everyone is choosing to support a sustainable environment (economy, community, and physical world!).


So now you’ve read why we need a new sustainability story and what it generally needs to be. Stay tuned for a more specific idea of what a sustainable planet should look like and some of the questions that must be asked to get us there.





By: Ida Yu

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