What is sustainability?

The UN World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” What does this mean in practice? Currently, we have an economic system that values industrialisation and economic growth and this is propped up by consumer spending. This model is unsustainable. Our resources are not infinite, so they will eventually be depleted. If we, as a species want to continue to exist and have the water, materials and natural resources we currently take for granted then a new approach is required. This new approach can be split into several areas. These are:

Energy and Conservation

Currently, industry requires energy and lots of it. To power industry, we use various types of fuel to create the energy we need. We currently use a mix of fuels to create the energy we require. Fuels like coal, oil and uranium used for nuclear are being depleted and will not be replaced. This is the very definition of unsustainable. We also use renewable energy, which comes from sources such as wind power, solar power and tidal power. Sustainability experts are looking at ways to wean us off unsustainable fuels, conserve natural resources and protect the environment.

Development of a sustainable society

Quality of life is an issue that will become pressing as we move further into the 21st century. A sustainable society’s goals are living in harmony with our natural environment, conserving resources not only for their own generation but for their children and their children’s children and enjoying a high quality of life. This can be achieved by allowing equal opportunities for all in areas including shelter, clean water, education, energy, economic opportunities and employment.

 

Creating sustainable businesses

Currently business operates purely for profit and only has a responsibility to shareholders. Creating sustainable businesses will change the culture of business by looking at creating long-term practices to preserve the environment, the wellbeing of employees and the prospects of future generations.

Research into sustainable technologies

Technology gives us the opportunity to change our consumption habits and help preserve resources for future generations. Despite some politicians’ anti-green agenda, propped up by funding from big energy, it’s obvious that green technology, clean energy and demand for sustainable solutions will be the way forward for humanity. What type of new technologies are emerging to help create a sustainable society? Currently, green energy is intermittent in its nature. Wind and wave power have peaks and troughs when they generate electricity. If this energy is not stored then any energy generated will go to waste. New battery technology known as fuel cells are being designed that store environmentally friendly electricity. Current battery technology requires chemical reactions to store energy. These reactions need some kind of catalyst and we use metals such as platinum, palladium and iridium. New research shows that graphene can be used as a catalyst. Graphene is far cheaper and less volatile than the metals currently used, meaning batteries with higher capacity can be produced more cheaply. Applications for this type of battery could be in power stations to store environmentally generated electricity and as fuel cells in electric cars, boosting their range from 150 to 400 miles and potentially longer. This is just one example of emerging technology and there are countless others that will revolutionise the way we work and live.

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