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Sustainable Glossary

What sustainability means

In this article we want to start a section of our blog dedicated to words to include in a dictionary of sustainability and which are often used incorrectly. We believe it is useful to clarify in order to understand the difference between one term and another, and promote the informed use of the right words: we have called it our Sustainable Glossary. It contains the new words of our times, ones that were recently introduced, because before the problem didn’t exist. Consequently, we didn’t need words to describe it: but now that we are destroying our planet, we now have something to define and solve.

Let’s start with a very common word that you will surely have already heard: sustainability. The word sustainability has its origin in the expression sustainable development: a term first introduced in 1987 by the Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development.

Sustainability comes from the English word “sustain” and refers to the pedal of a piano used to lengthen notes. Within a note there is time and harmony: so “sustainability” literally implies lasting over time. In a broader sense, it means making the best use of the natural resources available in order to grow in a harmonious way.

When we talk about sustainability we immediately think, erroneously, of the environment, but sustainability is not ecology, it is also ecology. It consists of 3 aspects: economic, social and environmental.

  • Economic: it is the ability to create income and work to sustain the population.
  • Social: it is the ability to guarantee, for humans, conditions of wellbeing (safety, health, education and justice) equally distributed among groups and categories.
  • Environment: it is the ability to maintain the quality and the reproducibility of natural resources.

It is therefore an active process intended to guarantee a decent quality of life in the present without taking it away from future generations, without destroying the natural systems from which we take the resources we need in order to live and without exceeding their capacity to absorb the waste we create through our production activities.

You only have to go to the supermarket to understand that our model of development is anything but sustainable. Packaging within packaging within packaging, exotic fruit available everywhere, strawberries can be found all year round, kilometres of meat and fish on refrigerated display counters, and posters that invite us to consume and buy anything and everything.

The concept of sustainability does not only concern the leaders of countries who decide on laws and regulations but also individuals and companies, precisely because it brings many aspects into play and requires a new way of perceiving everyday life and business.

We are absorbed in producing and consuming: this occurs with a disregard for the natural resources we have available and without respecting the cycle of renewing raw materials. The consequences are increasingly visible to everyone: drought and storms, melting glaciers, deforestation of the earth’s green lungs, and problems related to the seasons.

Sustainability is often associated with the Zero-Waste philosophy. Let’s pause for a moment. Being sustainable does not mean depriving ourselves of the comfort that comes from development, technology and growth. It means stopping and thinking about the small steps we can immediately take to change things, not forgoing but changing our simple everyday actions. Sustainability is not deprivation, it is a new opportunity to think about processes, places, people and reference markets. We all can, and must, play our part: in the next article we will see how to start.

This article is the first in a series of posts dedicated to words associated with sustainability and their meanings: see you at the next one with the Sustainable Glossary!