What is ‘Sustainability’?
There are many ways to describe and define the concept of Sustainability. Having reviewed a number of such definitions, I like the definition taken from ‘the 1987 Bruntland Commission report ‘Our Common Future’ which describes Sustainable Development as:
‘Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’
To me, sustainability is a middle way. It is understanding that our own needs are important but that we each are part of a broader community in geography and over the span of time and that we each have a responsibility to preserve resources for others with needs to be met. When I say ‘resources’, I’m not only referring to water, soil, air, wildlife, food etc… I also mean community, places, ethics, spirituality, skills etc... These too are important resources that can be depleted if care is not taken.
As a simplified concept, sustainability can be broken down into three interrelated components: Environmental, Economic and Social sustainability.
Environmental sustainability speaks to the protection of the environment (natural and constructed) and includes consideration of the carrying capacity of the systems which we rely on. It also refers to the way we develop physical infrastructure including matters such as community, street and building design.
Economic sustainability relates to the acquisition and management of money, goods, resources and services and the manner in which we attract business and investment.
Social sustainability involves considerations such as equality, affordability, accessibility and includes the development of social and community services, as well as the protection of cultural resources.
I think that we are each somewhere in our own journey for sustainability. But it’s not always easy to make sustainable choices…the choices we make are based on our individual needs,
wants, values, priorities and own personal/household economies . We have to make tough choices to find the balance that is right for us.
For example, is it more important to prioritize spending on local food, or use that little bit of extra money to enroll your children in summer sports? Could one pay for the sports in another way, perhaps by cancelling cable TV? Or maybe there’s a combined approach: maybe we cut out the extended service package on the cable, choose one sport instead of two and decide to buy just our meats locally while getting out into the garden to show the kids how to grow fresh veggies themselves. It’s a juggling act and there are an infinite number of ways that we can move towards our sustainability goals.
I think the key is to apply a ‘sustainability filter’ to our day-to-day lives and accept the underlying value of sustainability, making it a consideration in the decisions we make. We will not each necessarily become model sustainable citizens however slowly but surely we will be heading in the right direction and more importantly will be shaping the ‘norms’ of our community to include sustainable thoughts and actions.
Planning for sustainability
In conjunction with the Official Plan Review, Council has authorized a Sustainability work plan for 2012. This work plan includes education of, and consultation with, municipal staff, council, local agencies and community stakeholders as well as the general public.
At the end of the consultations, a report will be prepared (by our lovely consultants Meridian Plannning Consultants Inc. and planningAlliance) giving some recommended Meaford-specific sustainability policies to be included within the Official Plan, as well as setting some benchmarks by which to measure our progress.
I would suggest that one of my goals through this process is to take a good close and personal look at our community, our relationships, our values and priorities in relation to becoming more sustainable and to work out some simple, cost effective ways to steer us in the right direction.
What do you think our priorities should be? Would you like to be involved? How do you incorporate sustainable values into your day-to-day life?
 Our Common Future, Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987. Published as Annex to General Assembly document A/42/427, Development and International Co-operation: Environment August 2, 1987. http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-ov.htm. Retrieved Online Sept 28th, 2011.