Sustainability is Progress Not Regress
Tree huggers, sandal wearers and lentil eaters. These are the sort of stereotypes all too often associated with proponents of the sustainability movement. It seems that despite our continued learning regarding anthropogenic induced environmental impacts, there continues to be a fundamental misconception of what the sustainability movement is seeking to achieve. The main objective is to reduce these impacts as far as possible, it is not to revert back to more basic living.
There may be some truth in that life before the automobile, electric plug sockets and mass produced food resulted in fewer environmental impacts, but sustainability does not just focus on the environment, but also economic and social aspects. Therefore reducing CO2 generation at the expense of social welfare or economic strength does not fit well with what the movement seeks to achieve.
The way in which we live and the products that surround us continues to advance. Smart phones, high performance composite materials and fast and accurate robotised manufacturing are some of the prevalent technologies and it would seem perverse to turn our back on these and go back to living basic lives. In any case, the majority of the global population now lives in densely populated cities where growing your own food and having open fires is not really an option. Instead we should be harnessing our technological knowhow to make products last longer, more adaptable for individual needs and trim off any inefficiencies from production, use and recovery of our goods.
This is where the sustainability frontier is: in utilising our current strengths to improve the way we live our lives. Thankfully governments, businesses and even the general public are beginning to accept and embed sustainable thinking into their plans and activities. Research continues to support this movement with activities seeking to learn how to incorporate environmental considerations in the next industrial revolution (i.e. industry 4.0), better manage resources (energy, water & materials), improve consumption patterns and manage materials in a circular economy.
Sustainability is hell-bent on reducing our environmental impacts whilst maintaining or improving social and economic benefits. The most likely way that this can be achieved is by embracing technological advancements, not opposing them. Sustainability is about the future, not the past.