Why change environment ways to environmentally sustainable ways?

Looking back at my life, the word environment is nothing new at all. I remember those days in junior college when the environmental club would set up their booths during the annual Co-curriculum activities (CCA) fair, trying to recruit members as they gave out “Save the environment badges” and pushed for recycling movements. Something like this:500_environmental_club_jg3a2041

Going even further back in time, I remembered skits done up to emphasise how important it was to save water and love biodiversity. Our own Singaporean Water Wally mascot would parade around the school giving students a hug. (click here to see the water wally shower dance) On a side note, I still think it’s quite sad being called ‘Wally‘… :O 

water-wally

So why do I still have to cover what environment sustainability is? Isn’t it the same as being an Environmentalist? Well, I thought so, but while googling, I realised that there is a difference 😮!

Well, the environmental club in my school was doing as every Environmentalist would- to reduce the effects on environment and protect it through means of mini social movements like “Saving Gaia: switching your lights off for a day” and more. Our ministers are also doing their part to create environmental policies to make production greener- and most companies follow to meet regulations and compete my effectively. However, some cheat the system because they cannot understand the effect of being environment. Some of these environmental projects often don’t impact the environment much. One such example I remembered in class is the campaign that aimed to reduce phantom power by unplugging appliances when not in use. However, the amount of energy saved is insignificant though individuals feel like they did their part for the environment. Through many different instances, governments, individuals and businesses have started to understand that being green is not only about having green projects but also to assess the viability and impact of these projects before their implementations. They have also grown to see why being green can benefit not just the environment but them as stakeholders too!

Environmental sustainability can be described in many different ways: ecological modernisation, meeting the triple bottom line, reformed environmentalism [1]. Big words, huh? Well, to put it in more layman terms, environmental sustainability calls for us to consider beyond the ideas that “being green is merely an obligation” and “environment is the sole priority we should have”. This diagram can help us get a much better idea sustainability as a whole:

howarth_1000px-sustainable_development-svg
Sustainability by Johann Dreo

Environmental sustainability, in this case, is to “seek to improve human welfare by protecting natural capital (e.g. water, air, biodiversity, etc.)“[2]. Another definition of environment sustainability is “the ability to maintain things/qualities that are valued by the physical environment”[2]. As such, looking at the diagram, I think my way of understanding environment sustainability is to protect natural capital. This is a way that makes sense to the society or economy too! I think it is rational to use natural capital as long as the environment is capable of replenishing itself! 🙂

These factors are so intertwined that we could convince stakeholders of the different spheres (social, economic and environment) to care about every sphere and not themselves alone. It can be rational to pursue sustainability. What do I mean by this?

Example 1: Let’s imagine that I own a ridiculously good pizza stall- Coco Pizzeria.pizza_can_easily_rule_the_world_640_18

If my sole consideration is my profits, I foresee that my employees will need to be very efficient. If it is lawful to throw my waste straight into the drain, I would do so- because it is rational. However, from a social point of view, my employees were efficient but slowly became highly unmotivated. They chose to work at Bruno’s Pizzeria instead (cos they are awesome). Also, environmentally, the waste I threw into the drain caused a rat infestation.

To be more environmentally sustainable, I will dispose of my waste well! This will make Coco Pizzeria a much cleaner place to be at. Socially, my chefs and staff will be healthier and feel more motivated to go to a hygienic workplace. They won’t have to fear about dealing with both living and decomposing rats! Coco Pizzeria becomes more bearable! Economically, Coco Pizzeria won’t risk being known for being dirty. I don’t have to waste money on pest control and clogged drains! Coco Pizzeria becomes more viable! WIN-WIN! 😀

Environmental Sustainability made understandable:

IF WE PROTECT/SAVE (insert Natural capital here),

  • the society will become more bearable because (insert social benefit here) and
  • the economy will be more viable because (insert economic benefit here)

For example:

If we protect plants and green open spaces in our neighbourhoods,

  • the society will become more bearable because green open spaces and biodiversity have shown to increase people’s psychological well-being [3]. The break away from the monotonous buildings that reminds everyone about work can help reduce stress!
  • the economy will be more viable because there will be higher property prices [4]! More investments will also come in because of this healthy and happy work force [5]. Lastly, tourism will increase [6] (which explains why I really really want to go to Salzburg’s fields)

You can try this model too! To add, environmental sustainability differs in terms of considerations when compared to human capital, social and economical sustainability. We view consider 2 important aspects:

  1. Environment as provider of natural capital: Can the environment support the population and their level of consumption?
  2. Environment as sink for wastes: Is the environment capable of holding the waste we discharge? Can the decomposition process happen at a healthy level?

I hope this helps you better understand the perspective environmental sustainability comes from! 

Cheers, Owner of Imaginary Coco Pizzeria


[1] Sutton, P. (2004). A perspective on environmental sustainability. Paper on the Victorian Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability. Retrieved on January 31, 2016 from http://www.green-innovations.asn.au/A-Perspective-on-Environmental-Sustainability.pdf

[2] R. Goodland (n.d.). Sustainability: Human, Social, Economical and Environmental. Retrieved on January 31, 2016, from http://tinyurl.com/zhajlbl

[3] Fuller, R. A., Irvine, K. N., Devine-Wright, P., Warren, P. H., & Gaston, K. J. (2007). Psychological benefits of greenspace increase with biodiversity.Biology letters, 3(4), 390-394. Retrieved on January 31, 2016, from http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/3/4/390.short

[4] The Freeway Roadside Environment: Testing Visual Quality at the Road Edge. Center for Urban Horitculture, University of Washington, College of Forest Resources, 2000. Retrieved on January 31, 2016, from http://www.naturewithin.info/Roadside/Rsd-Prefs-FS9.pdf

[5] Dravigne, A., Waliczek, T. M., Lineberger, R. D., & Zajicek, J. M. (2008). The effect of live plants and window views of green spaces on employee perceptions of job satisfaction. HortScience, 43(1), 183-187. Retrieved from January 31, 2016 from http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/43/1/183.short

[6] Gibson, A., Dodds, R., Joppe, M., & Jamieson, B. (2003). Ecotourism in the city? Toronto’s green tourism association. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 15(6), 324-327. Retrieved from January 31, 2016 from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/09596110310488168

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