Sustainability Discussions: creating a platform for discussion on the challenges of the natural environment.
The roots of most of the challenges of the natural environment are embedded in human behavior. It is therefor crucial to understand the human psyche and the resulting behavior patterns if we are to create a path towards environmental protection.
How the human mind works is still a mystery but we do have enough scientific and spiritual evidence in our hand to help us decifer most parts of the "puzzle". Human behavior is shaped by various direct external inputs (like sounds, images, scents and physical movements & vibrations) as well as internal inputs which originate from the body (and mind) itsself. These internal inputs, which stem from the DNA as well as the mind, take the form of audio-visual "data" which have been converted into thoughts and concepts.
Unlike the original primate mind, the contemporary human mind uses words as a tool for the mental process. Converting audio-visual data into geometric forms like letters (and words) is a "by-product" of our current civilization. It is through this conversion of images into words and re-conversion back into images that the true meaning of words are lost.
Words which are meant to represent an object or action in the real word have slowly become "concepts" or "data" which represent only a blurred or distorted version of reality. This new version of reality, which is the product of the human mind and culture, has gone beyond being a tool for communication and metamorphosed into a tool that can easily be used to manupilate human behavior.
At this point we also need to add that there is an "existential difference" between historic words like "plant" and contemporary words like "computer".
Newly invented words have not had enough time to "develop" and reflect the wisdom of culture. Due to the fact that the calculator preceeded the computer and the first functions of the computer imitated that of the calculator, the (gadget and the word) computer represented numbers and not writing/words, hence its name. Today, the computer is more widely used as a tool for audio-visual commumnication which has nothing to do with computation. Hence a typical example of mis-naming.
Coming back to historic words: language reflects culture and culture reflects all of the life experience and wisdom gathered through the lives of generations. Words and particularly the series of words act as tools for storing this wisdom. Take for example the words plant and planet used in English. There is a reason why these two words are so similar, the only difference is the letter "e". Analysing these words with relation to each other, one can deduce that this similarity is an indication of the message embedded in this "duo".
And the message is obvious: plants and the planet are in an intricate relationship. One can not exist without the other, and what's more: they both represent life.
Now we will add "green" to the "equation". The planet represents life, and plants represent the planet, and since most plants are green, "green" represents life.
This is the reason why most environment related ideas, concepts, writings, images, products, policies use "green" either as a word and/or as a physical color. The "product" is called "green", for example: green building. To further support the "green image" of the product or idea, all related audio-visual material (physically/literally) use green as a color in the design. Sometimes the product itsself is painted green.
With time, the interconnection between the color green and its representation of life/environment faded away and we were left with an "aura" that sounds more like a "propaganda". Is this the reason why the term "green" is now gradually being replaced by the term "sustainability"?
The words sustainable and sustainability are very popular these days. Everybody is "talking" about sustainability. Discussions, negotiations, writings, reports, advertisements, policies... all proudly present the word "sustainability" to their "audiences". The "presenters" do so because they are aware that this word will create a positive effect on the "target audience". This positive effect is based on the fact that the word "sustainable" is perceived to more or less mean "environmental protection". Hence any concept, idea or product presented in connection with sustainability is more welcome by the public.
The increasing public awareness on sustainability is a positive development, however, we need to prevent the "abuse" of the word and concept of "sustainability" to assure that "sustainability" goes beyond a commercial & political sales jargon and transforms into an initiative that truly helps protect our environment.
Let us focus on sustainability: what does sustain mean ? It means to maintain, continue, prolong, exist. Hence, the term "sustainable business" means "sustainable profit" which means "keeping on gaining/winning/earning money": something all companies strive for. And this does not neccessarily translate into protecting the environment.
It is important to note here that sustainable business/growth has no direct relation to protecting the natural environment. The term creates an environmentally friendly "aura" but has nothing to do with the environment . This is the reason why the term "sustainable development" is so popular. The public is made to believe that the initiative/project/product helps protect the environment. This helps sell the idea/product and hence monetary profits/gains continue (for the company). The company/institution is happy because they know they will continue to exist and be in power/control. So all seem to be happy, but once you dig beneath the surface, things change...
Here we must add: not all individuals/institutions/companies/governments abuse the terms/words to manipulate the public. All don't, but many do.
We will continue our discussions with a real world example: green car (as depicted in the photo above left). According to the widely misused definitions, the vehicle depicted in the photo is a "very green and sustainable product". Let's go into more detail: the vehicle is colored green. This shows that it is "close to nature". In fact it is parked under a green plant (pine tree) which makes it more "environmentally friendly" and "green". Its color is green, it is parked in a green environment so the vehicle is definitely green !
Independent of how we define this vehicle, there must be a reason why the owner insists on parking this vehicle in the same spot and why the public is not disturbed by this fact: there has been no reaction to this (parking) initiative. Is it because it is painted green, is it because of its make and model (now considered to be classic) ?
What about sustainability ? This vehicle has been literally parked in that exact same location since more than 20 years ! This "continue to park in the same location" makes it very "sustainable". Add to this the fact that this vehicle has never moved from that spot since 20 years makes it even more sustainable: it has not emitted any carbon or other gasses since that period. Zero emmission: definitely sustainable as well as environmentally friendly.
As can be seen, this green car is "green and sustainable" by all means and definitions, both literally and naratively, both practically and legally. Some may ask: why would someone buy a car to keep it on the street at the exact same spot for decades ?
Why produce and purchase a product if it is never going to be used ? How can this be sustainable ?
A totally valid point !
At this point we need to introduce another aspect into our discussion: the relationship of time, culture and well-being. When an idea, design or product (including architecture) exists for a certain time period in the awareness of individuals and the society, it becomes part of culture. At a certain point in time it is not questioned anymore and once it is accepted as part of the social and/or physical environment, its presence contributes to the well being of the society (and the individual).
This is why preservation of cultural and environmental heritage is important. The longer the presence of an external visual "element" (like mountain, hill, tree, building, sculpture etc.), the more its contribution to the well being of the society. Hence any change or modification made to this "element" would have negative impact on the society in general and the individual in particular.
Coming back to our "green car", we should note that it has gone beyond being a vehicle (because it has not moved since decades) and metamorphosed into a public sculpture. Its visual contribution to the environment and its public acceptance has modified its identity.
With this new identity, the discussion whether it is sustainable or not takes a new dimension...
John H. Goldman
What is Sustainability ?
There are many meanings "connected" to the concept of sustainability. Each interest group has a different approach to the term. Sometimes the word sustainability is used in relation to "protecting the environment". Sometimes it is used with reference to "protecting investments" or to define "continuation of corporate profits". Needless to say: protecting investments may not neccessarily coincide with protecting the environment. Things get even more complicated when we add the word "development" to the "equation". Depending on how you define sustainability, using sustainability and development in the same context may be totally misleading.
During the last century or two, humanity has been investing enourmous amounts of resources to develop a diverse range of technologies. Allmost all of these technologies have been the cause of environmental challenges. With the gradual increase in environmental awareness of the public in the recent years, extensive amount of resources have been mobilized to analyze and solve the challenges of the environment.
Individuals, institutions, NGOs, companies and governments have been spending billions of Dollars to address the challenges of sustainability. So far, it is hard to claim that humanity's efforts and investments in this field have been effective. The major reason why the outcome of investments, initiatives and projects have been unsuccessful lies in the fact that the term "sustainability" is interpreted differently by different interest groups.
So what is sustainability ? We, as Green Lion Academy, define sustainability as: any idea, concept, design, initiative, policy, program, project or product that helps improve the long term well-being of living species (plants, animals, humans etc.).
Key to this definition are the words "long term". There should be no doubt that when used in an "existential context", the term "long term" goes beyond centuries and focuses more on millenia.
The major challenges of sustainability are two fold. The first one is the lack of public awareness on the actual challenges of the natural environment, and the second one is the time frame involved with initiatives and programs related to sustainability. Humanity has a very fast pace of life, whereas the natural environment has a slow pace. Nature can not keep up with the "demands" of today's humanity.
We, at Green Lion, have been working on a wide range of aspects of sustainability since 30+ years. We have been active on the scientific side, the artistic side, the academic side and the policy side of sustainability. We have had enough time to observe and analyze initiatives in this field. We have hands on experience in what works and what doesn't. We are not affiliated with any interest group, hence can offer true and honest solutions to the challenges of sustainability.
With the above mentioned definition as our guide, let us look at our physical and social environment and evaluate how sustainable they are:
- Does this initiative improve the quality of the soil in that location ?
- Does this initiative improve the quality of the atmosphere ?
- Does this initiative improve the living conditions (well-being) of plants and animals who already exist in the area ?
- Does this initiative improve the living conditions (well-being) of humans living in the area ?
The answer to all of the questions above is: NO. Regarding the environment and the living beings existing in that environment, building initiatives and projects as depicted in the above photos can not be considered to be sustainable. Then why are such projects realized ? Who benefits from these projects ? The only beneficiaries are companies and institutions who build these buildings. They gain financial profits by destroying the natural environment. They will continue doing so as long as social values and legal frame-works allow them to continue their ventures.
However, for the sake of discussion, let us assume that the above depicted buildings were built in a "void environment" without (directly and in-directly) effecting the atmosphere, soil, plants and animals. Again, for the sake of our discussion we are also assuming that the production of the raw materials used in these buildings also had no negative impact on the natural environment. Would these concrete high rise buildings be categorized as sustainable ? To decide and judge whether these structures are sustainable or not we need to analyse how the well-being of humans living in and near these buildings are effected.
What is well-being ? In the social scale, well-being can be defined as the lack of crime, violence, terror and war. Or, put in other words: peace and mutual understanding between different individuals, cultures, nations and regions. In the individual/personal scale, indicators of well-being are: physical health & longevity and mental health (happiness, lack of stress, passion, love).