What is Sustainability?

Nested sustainability diagram

 

Sustainability is larger than UCCS and larger than Colorado Springs -- it is a global issue. Since sustainability encompasses virtually every aspect of our lives, it is a challenge to define it, much as it is with concepts such as 'freedom' or 'liberty'. Sustainability is often divided into three areas or pillars--environment, society, economy--that are represented hierarchically. Below are a few definitions of sustainability; nevertheless, ultimately sustainability is a choice. The choices we make--how we travel, the food and water we consume, the products we buy, the energy we use, how we make a living, and how we treat others just to name a few--are all part of sustainability.

 

Sustainability is...

...meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Brundtland, 1987),

...improving the quality and equity of human life while living within the carrying capacity of support eco-systems,

...acting with respect for nature, universal human rights, and economic justice.

...a Choice

Since the choices that we make in our lives about virtually everything touches on some aspect of sustainability, the one choice we do not have is whether or not we want to be involved in making the world more sustainable, or not. You're involved, we're all involved. We created a series of posters for display on campus to illustrate some of the choices that we make in life and the impact of those choices on the environment, society, and the economy.

 

Sustainability is a choice - shopping bags

Shopping

When we shop, we can choose whether to utilize a reusable shopping bag for our purchases or to acquire another plastic bag that will end up in the landfill. Plastic bags are made from petroleum -- anytime that we choose one, we are depleting our fossil fuel resources, contributing to environmental degradation and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Worldwide, an estimated 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter each year -- tied end-to-end that's enough to circle the earth 63 times! According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. uses 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually and an estimated 12 million barrels of oil are required to make them. Each high quality reusable bag has the potential to eliminate an average of 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime.

Of course, the best choice to make is to shop less and reduce, reuse, recycle when possible: reduce what you buy--reuse what you have--recycle what you can.

 

Sustainability is a choice - water bottles

Water Bottles

Bottled water has come under criticism in recent years for the environmental impacts of groundwater extraction, the energy and environmental costs of the plastic packaging and transportation costs, and concerns about water quality and the validity of some marketing claims. Bottled water is commonly packaged in Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), which requires a significant energy to produce. While PET is recyclable, only a fraction of these plastic bottles are actually recycled. The wells and springs used by bottled water companices can become privatized, often leaving locals with fewer or prohibitively expensive sources of water. In other cases, bottled water is nothing more than municipal tap water.

By using our own reusable water bottles, each of us can eliminate thousands of disposable water bottles; this reduces our carbon footprint not only by preventing the plastic's manufacture in the first place, but also by preventing the added environmental impact of importing the water from distant sources. Additionally, the cost of filling from the tap is hundreds of times less expensive than buying "premium" water at the store, saving you money.

 

 

Sustainability is a choice - food

Food

Modern supermarkets and restaurants have separated us from the lengthy chain of suppliers, processors, and distributors that brings food to our table. Factory farms often raise livestock in crowded and inhumane living conditions whose runoff can cause environmental damage; crops genetically engineered to produce their own built-in pesticides may be harmful to humans; large doses of growth hormones and antibiotics in our meats may affect the body, particularly developing children. Additionally, food can be shipped halfway across the country or around the world, the transport of which creates unnecessary pollution and threatens local agricultural communities. Fast food usually comes with steep, hidden costs to the people who produce it, sell it and eat it, to the environment and to future generations.

Being careful about your food choices doesn't have to be costly -- purchasing locally-produced, organic meats and vegetables, particularly at local farmers' markets, allows you to bypass the middleman and purchase your food directly. Preparing food at home is almost always better than eating out; if you do eat out, avoid fast food establishments!

 

 

Sustainability is a choice - lighting

Lighting

For over a century we have relied on incandescent light bulb technology; since then, these bulbs have changed very little in their design or efficiency. New compact fluorescent lights fit within the same sockets and produce the same amount of light while requiring only 1/3rd to 1/5th of the energy. The initial cost of these bulbs is higher, but the payback is only 3-4 months. CFLs do contain small amounts of mercury; therefore, it is important to recycle these bulbs. Even newer bulbs feature light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. These bulbs consume even less energy and produce almost no waste heat, making them extremely efficient. Though LED bulbs are somewhat prohibitively expensive now, they last for many years and prices will continue to drop over the next several years.

Switching to CFLs and LEDs is one of the easiest ways to reduce your environmental impact and save energy. If every American home replaced just one incandescent light with a compact flourescent lamp, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

 

 

Sustainability is a choice - recycling

Recycling

Recycling today is easier than ever thanks to single-stream collection -- no sorting necessary. Before you toss something into the garbage, make a quick assessment and see if you can recycle it instead. Papers, cardboard, glass, most plastics (#1-7), aluminum and steel can all be recycled. It only takes half a second of your time and will help in the long run to save energy and precious natural resources. It takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to make it from raw materials. Making recycled steel saves 60%, recycled newspaper 40%, recycled plastics 70%, and recycled glass 40%. These savings far outweigh the energy created as by-products of incineration and land-filling.

By recycling, you help to reduce landfill space, air pollution, and even our dependence on foreign oil. Recycling at UCCS is simple! Almost all garbage collection points have two separate partitions for garbage and recyclable materials. Just throw your items in the proper containers and you're done!

 

 

Sustainability is a choice - transportation

Transportation

Our nation's transportation infrastructure was designed around the car and transportation is the single largest source of air pollution in the United States: it causes over half of the carbon monoxide, over a third of the nitrogen oxides, and almost a quarter of the hydrocarbons in our atmosphere. There are other options to consider that will lower your environmental impact and save you money in the long run. Carpooling: Sharing a ride is one of the easiest ways to save on gas. Find a classmate or a coworker who shares your schedule and travels along the same route, and agree to alternate driving days or gas reimbursement payments. Bicycling: Turn your commute into a workout! Start small by choosing one day a week and then gradually increase that frequency as you become more comfortable with your commute. Best of all, biking to work is pollution-free and costs next to nothing! Public Transportation: Colorado Springs Metro offers a limited number of routes throughout the city; if you happen to live near one of their routes, it's worth checking to see if it would be convenient for you to take the bus.

The best reason to choose an alternate form of transportation may be to save on parking! You can save hundreds of dollars every year just by avoiding the parking permit fee, and you won't have to waste all that time everyday trying to find a good parking spot.