Episode 1: How did we get here?

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TRANSCRIPT

Full transcript available here. 

SHOW NOTES

There are many ways of looking at this idea of “sustainability” and we’re here to take you on a guided tour of some of them. Below you can find some extra show notes, resources, and other goodies.

This episode was recorded on 21 and 24 January 2019.

WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?

  • Different ways of looking at it
    • Often defined narrowly: As environmentalism. Conflicting studies or viewpoints. Less often a conversation happening with everything taken together: Integrative, interdisciplinary, or multidisciplinary.
    • Trying to bring together different ideas, voices, perspectives, practices.
    • Especially marginalised ideas or voices
  • Our coming together was in an interdisciplinary class: physical geography + human geography = “the geography of sustainability“.
  • Our university school specialises in integrative studies: The Fenner School of Environment and Society.

DEFINING SUSTAINABILITY

  • Using history in understanding why we have so many different approaches. Started with environmentalism.
  • Out of the green movement comes these conferences on “sustainability”
  • 1972: Stockholm Declaration: Majority are environmental, but some important non-environmental concerns (freedom, dignity, etc).Starting to see, even from the outset, that it is something about more than environmentalism. Sustainability is about more than the environment.
  • Brundtland Commission: At this point talking about environment even less, and when considering humanity does so intergenerationally, from the perspective of current and future “needs”.
  • Sustainable Development: “Sustainable Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
    • Sustainability as a concept tied to time.
    • Tied to more than just our environment: tied to concepts of justice, equity, and society.
    • As a uniting term.
  • MDGs (2000 – 2015): Goal #7 only mention of sustainability – sustainable environment.
  • SDGs (2015 – 2030): Great shift here to focus on this idea. Mentioned in their very name / suggesting a much broader aspiration to sustainability: for example “Sustainable consumption and production”.
  • If we achieve these goals we are closer to achieving “sustainability”?
  • Advanced cross-sectoral work, a more multidisciplinary perspective to each of these challenges. Greater coalitions of voices lending greater plurality of voices, once marginalized or sidelined.
  • Seeing a trend over time here of an increasing body of work being built up around sustainability – covering a range of concerns beyond (but always related back to) the environment.

DEFINITIONS AND CONCEPTUALISATIONS

  • Literal definitions: Sustaining over time (a certain period of time)
    • Time-based conceptualisations:
    • Physical / Structural sustainability
      • Cyclicality (and continuity), stable systems, feedback loops (Ouroboros), circular economy
ouroboros2
The Ouroboros!

HOW IS IT PRACTISED? WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

  • Three Pillars theoretical framework that is practised explicitly: Triple Bottom Line
    • To what extent does it mirror sustainability? To what extent is this a good framework for practicing sustainability? It depends: corporate social responsbility varies according to the case you’re looking at
      • True Believer CEO vs. Greenwashing Interface (product to service) vs McDonalds Filet-O-Fish in New Zealand. Profit motive frequently conflicts with sustainable outcomes
      • A great deal of discourse around whether capitalism (or the profit motive) is compatible with sustainability or sustainable development.
      • Similar debate over growth. Related to capitalism, but not always.
      • Individual action as consumers? Structural change? Broader questions here about how to best achieve sustainability: Who practises sustainability? Is it just environmentalists? What about intersections between other progressive causes?

THE GRASS CEILING

  • Do a simple Google search of the word “sustainability” and see what you find. A sea of green: plants, leaves, the famous motif of the hand holding the plant. What we’re trying to challenge here is the dominance of an environmental perspective when it comes to sustainability.
    • Because we want to embrace complexity. Because we want to learn about other perspectives, especially those outside the mainstream.