Columns / Discourse / October 23, 2019

Understanding sustainability

“At Knox, we’re committed to creating and nurturing a culture of sustainability.”

“Knox College is involved in many local and national initiatives to increase the sustainability of our campus, community and planet.”

“Here are the results of some of Knox’s sustainability programming.”

Statements like this can often be seen on Knox’s website, in publications, on social media and on posters around campus. Knox seems to care very much about sustainability. We have an office, a student organization, a director and even a Student Senate committee dedicated to promoting campus sustainability. It is even one of its stated values. I’m sure many of you have experienced sustainability programming or initiatives on campus — from Meatless Mondays to recycle bins in your suites. But what exactly is sustainability, and why should we care?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sustainability as “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” The United Nations describes sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Um… excuse me, what?

Put simply, I think of sustainability as just ensuring that our future is one we want to live in. We care about and strive for our future all the time. We work hard for a good education, good grades and good internships because we want a good chance at our future career. We save money because we want to be financially secure in the future. I do my homework ahead of time so that I won’t have to be sleep deprived next week. Ideally, sustainability is the same concept. We want our future to be not too different than the present. We want a happy future, one with as few worries as possible. Being sustainable means acting responsibly and consciously towards such a future.

But what exactly does a happy, worry-free future look like? Firstly, we want the resources we currently depend on to still be here: the water to be clean and drinkable and the air to be clear and breathable. We cannot have any future if we don’t have any habitat to live in.

But being sustainable doesn’t need to be limited to “being green.” Not destroying our planet any further is important, but we want to keep developing technologies too. We want to do that in a way that doesn’t sacrifice or neglect anyone. And we want the various inequalities in current society to shrink, or even better, end. Having a healthy environment, vibrant economy and an equitable and just society all can be considered “sustainable,” too. You can be sustainable by simply being a feminist, buying clothes from thrift shops instead of sweatshops, donating items instead of just throwing them out, fighting for a fair wage or volunteering in your neighborhood. All of these actions shows that you want yours or someone else’s future to be brighter.

The Student Senate Sustainability Committee came up with a holistic and inclusive definition of sustainability, specific to this school. This is the definition in which all of our projects will abide by this year:

“Sustainability at Knox is

  1. a) planning long-term
  2. b) prioritizing justice, equality and human flourishing
  3. c) putting the Earth first
  4. d) embracing the community, not the individual
  5. e) not compromising the future
  6. f) providing for future Knox generations, without sacrificing our generations
  7. g) inclusive
  8. h) sharing resources
  9. i) being aware of the indirect effects of Knox.”

College students, on top of all the responsibilities, should especially care about sustainability. Society will be run by us a decade from now. What do we want our workforce to look like? What do we want out of society when we have a family? What support system would we want? The future is the continuum of today, and the responsibility lies on us to attain the future we want.

Being sustainable isn’t that hard. In fact, we do it all the time! The important thing is to realize how our actions right now impact the future.

Thank you for reading through. Myself and others at the Sustainability Committee hope to keep updating y’all about sustainability through this new column! See you soon!

Neori Yasumaru

Tags:  campus sustainability climate change environmental justice student senate sustainability committee sustainability

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