Sustainability involves a three-fold strategy:
Reduction is about doing good with less – it is about knowing that enough is enough. Reinvention is finding ways to substitute clean, renewable resources with finite and polluting ones. Restoration is about ‘making things right’.
Reduce, Reinvent, Renew
A sustainable approach
This is about reducing the amount of everything that we consume and waste – energy, goods, water.
Reduction is really a mindset. It comes first because without the right mindset the rest can’t be achieved. The rate at which we now consume cannot be sustained. Until alternatives are invented, and adopted, reducing consumption is the primary strategy.
Reduction includes the tactics of conservation and efficiency. Inefficiencies occur through each step in a supply chain. If the end-user reduces consumption (conservation) then the savings in resources are multiplied back through the chain so that there is a greater saving than you realise.
Reduction is not enough on its own though. Some argue that it is simply delaying the inevitable if everything else stays the same. We also need to be much smarter about what we consume and how.
This is about reinventing the way that we do things.
In actual fact, plenty of reinvention is already done – we have electric cars, renewable energy, clean alternatives to polluting and toxic materials and products, proven commercial mechanisms for capping emissions – it is just a matter of adopting them and then refining and improving them.
Of course the reason we don’t adopt these alternatives is because of cost. However, as a whole, it cannot cost society any more than it is already paying through poverty, disease and illness, taxes and subsidies, degradation and depletion of natural ecosystems.
The current economic system favours the unsustainable players because they do not pay for the damage they create. Society does. If this wasn’t the case how can mining bauxite and turning it into aluminium by melting it with huge amounts of electricity be more practical when there are cans to be recovered.
The fact is that the full cost of production is not factored into prices. Some people will argue that society cannot afford this full cost. This is the point: we cannot afford to destroy the environment.
This is about making it right.
We have beaches, rivers and forests full of rubbish. We have oil-slicks, algal blooms, effluent pits, even built-up toxins in our own tissues. This all needs to be cleaned up. We have diminishing habitats that need to be restored. We have an atmosphere that has been radically transformed by humans and needs to be cleansed. We have endangered species, bleached coral reefs, rising sea-levels, changing weather, the list goes on and on.
Something we tell our kids is that if you make a mess you clean it up. It teaches kids that consequences result from their actions and that they need to take responsibility for them.
Some of the tactics for restoring are: offsetting, clean-ups, reforestation, new reserves, and investing in nature conservation.