Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Visualizing & Defining Sustainability

One of the challenges we encounter when working with members of the campus community is properly defining and describing sustainability.  Sustainability is a complex and complicated issue, so giving a clear definition of what we are talking about is an important first step.  Many people try to better understand concepts by using graphics (myself included). The blog Computing for Sustainability takes a comprehensive look at the graphics and diagrams used to express sustainability.  When you look through them, you get a sense that how you understand and perceive these interconnected issues will affect how you choose to visualize sustainability.


We frequently refer to the 1987 World Commision on Environment and Development's definition of "Sustainable Development:" meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  Sometimes, sustainability is compared to efficiency: doing more with less, or maximizing output with the least amount of input.  I created this diagram to explain how the Office of Sustainability focuses various stakeholders on campus, using sustainability principles, to accomplish goals and projects that result in behavior changes that produce a more sustainable institution.
One's personal definition of sustainability is also important.  I often think of sustainability as a process, or a path to take in your own life. So, like any good hiker, you want to practice the art of Leave No Trace: use a place to fulfill your needs, and when you're finished, leave the place as you found it.  To me this encompasses sustainability; the efforts you take is as much about protecting and healing what you use as it is about gaining enjoyment from that use.

But that's me.  And like I said, understanding and describing sustainability can be difficult.  So what's your definition of sustainability?  How would you describe it, or visualize it?  What do you think of the diagrams?  Let us know in the comments.

[Computing for Sustainability via Resilience Science]

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