Sustainability refers to the idea of ensuring the longevity and health of systems, including social, economic, and environmental ones, so we continue to function and thrive indefinitely.
The term “sustainability” can be used in several contexts.
These definitions are interrelated and often overlapping, meaning sustainability in one area often depends on sustainability in another. The overall goal is a balanced system where we live and work that respects environmental boundaries, social equity, and economic stability.
Environmental Sustainability: This is probably the most commonly thought of when the word “sustainability” is mentioned. It’s about how human activities impact the environment and how to lessen this impact. This includes topics such as pollution reduction, conservation of resources, protecting biodiversity, and managing waste effectively. It’s about using our resources in a way that meets our present needs but does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Economic Sustainability: In this context, sustainability refers to practices that support long-term economic growth without negatively affecting social, environmental, and cultural aspects of the community. This could involve things like sustainable business practices, fair trade, ethical investment (an example being the Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) framework), etc. It could also refer to the stability of a country’s economy and how it can withstand economic downturns.
Social Sustainability: This aspect of sustainability concerns the idea of creating an equitable society that meets the needs of all its members, maintains a healthy community, and continues to do so for future generations. Social sustainability can involve topics like human rights, labor rights, public health, community development, education, etc.
Cultural Sustainability: This focuses on preserving and maintaining cultural identities as a vital part of sustainable development. This might involve protecting indigenous knowledge, promoting cultural diversity and inclusion, or preserving historic sites.
Personal Sustainability: On a personal level, sustainability might mean making lifestyle choices that reduce one’s environmental impact. This could involve things like reducing energy usage, minimizing waste, recycling, composting, and making dietary choices that are more sustainable.
Corporate Sustainability: This is a business strategy that prioritizes the balance between running a profitable business and contributing positively to society and the environment. This could involve corporate social responsibility initiatives, sustainable supply chain management, green building, and employee wellness programs. Investments in Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) frameworks and generous philanthropy on the part of corporations can be of great benefit to the community and potentially improve the corporation’s marketing efforts, as opposed to green-washing their company’s brand (which is a tactic companies use to mislead the public about their business so that it appears sustainable).
Political Sustainability: This refers to the creation and maintenance of stable and robust governance systems that are democratic, transparent, accountable, and have respect for human rights. These systems should also be resilient and capable of navigating political crises without resorting to violence or causing severe social disruption.
Educational Sustainability: In the realm of education, sustainability means incorporating themes of environmental responsibility, economic fairness, and social equity into curricula at all levels. It’s about educating students to be responsible global citizens and future leaders who can make decisions that contribute to a sustainable future.
Health Sustainability: This refers to creating and maintaining health systems that can provide high-quality care for all, without causing undue harm to the environment, and that are resilient in the face of challenges such as population growth, aging, or pandemics. This includes public health initiatives and investments that are designed to prevent disease and promote health over the long term.
Technological Sustainability: This focuses on developing and implementing technologies that are sustainable in their design, manufacture, use, and disposal. Such technologies should contribute to efficiency, reduce pollution, and be accessible and affordable for all. It also considers the social and economic implications of technology.
Agricultural Sustainability: This term refers to farming practices and systems that are environmentally responsible, economically viable, socially fair, and that produce food on a continuing basis. Sustainable agriculture involves techniques that preserve the soil, minimize water use and pollution, promote biodiversity, and reduce the reliance on non-renewable resources.
Urban Sustainability: This refers to the development and design of cities in a way that minimizes their impact on the environment, supports economic prosperity, and promotes social equity. This could involve green building, efficient public transportation, energy-efficient infrastructure, biodiversity conservation in an urban context, and the creation of social spaces that are inclusive and accessible to all.
Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 global objectives adopted by the United Nations. They aim to address urgent global challenges and achieve sustainable development by 2030. The goals encompass a wide range of areas, including poverty eradication, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land, peace, justice, and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals. The SDGs provide a comprehensive framework for a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous future for all.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emerged from the Brundtland Report, also known as “Our Common Future.” The report was published in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland. It highlighted the urgent need for sustainable development to address environmental, social, and economic challenges. The report’s concept of sustainable development, which emphasized meeting present needs without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs, laid the foundation for the SDGs. The SDGs build upon the principles of sustainable development outlined in the Brundtland Report and provide a practical framework to guide global efforts towards a sustainable future.
Language Sustainability: The sustainability of languages, also known as language preservation or revitalization, is about ensuring the survival and ongoing use of languages that are in danger of becoming extinct. This concept is underpinned by the belief that language diversity, much like biodiversity, is vital to human culture. Each language is a vessel for unique knowledge systems, cultural values, and historical narratives.
Explore these various initiatives around the world exemplifying language sustainability and making a real difference in our shared understanding of the earth's inhabitants:
Revitalization of the Tohono O'odham Language: Ofelia Zepeda, a Tohono O'odham linguist and poet, has played a crucial role in revitalizing the language. She developed grammar books and textbooks and co-founded the Tohono O'odham Community College where the language is taught. Her poetry, available through the University of Arizona Press, is a beautiful demonstration of the language's expressive power.
Revival of the Hebrew Language: Hebrew, an ancient Semitic language, had ceased to be spoken in everyday life by late antiquity. However, a successful revival led by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in the late 19th and early 20th centuries turned it into a vibrant, living language spoken by millions. The Academy of the Hebrew Language, established in 1953, continues to oversee the development of the language, formulating new words and phrases to meet the demands of modern discourse.
Preservation of North American Indigenous Languages: Across North America, many initiatives strive to preserve and revitalize indigenous languages. One such effort is the Euchee Language Project, working to save the Euchee (Yuchi) language spoken in Oklahoma. With fewer than 12 fluent speakers remaining, the project's efforts include youth language classes and creating educational materials in Euchee.
Revitalization of the Irish Language: Despite English dominance, the Irish language (Gaeilge) sees promotion, especially in regions known as the Gaeltacht. Conradh na Gaeilge, or the Gaelic League, is a non-profit organization supporting the Irish language, contributing to language planning, and advocating for language rights. Additionally, there are immersion schools (Gaelscoileanna) and Irish language media services like TG4.
Preservation of the Ainu Language in Japan: The Ainu language, associated with the indigenous Ainu people of northern Japan, is critically endangered according to UNESCO. The Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture provides resources for learning and promoting the Ainu language, culture, and rights. Hokkaido University also established a department dedicated to Ainu and Indigenous Studies.
Preservation of the Basque Language in Spain: Euskara, the Basque language, is a linguistic isolate and one of the oldest in Europe. After oppression during the Franco regime, it has seen revival efforts by the Basque government, with institutions like Ikastolas (Basque-language schools) playing a significant role. The Basque language academy, Euskaltzaindia, also works on standardizing and modernizing the language.
Revitalization of the Māori Language in New Zealand: New Zealand has achieved significant strides in revitalizing Te Reo Māori, the Māori language. The Māori Language Commission, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, is central to these efforts, overseeing the development of language resources and promotional activities. Other initiatives include Māori language immersion schools (Kura Kaupapa) and media outlets like the Māori Television.
Preservation of the Welsh Language in Wales: The United Kingdom has seen intensive efforts to revitalize the Welsh language. It's taught in schools until the age of 16, and Welsh-medium schools teach all subjects in Welsh. The Welsh Language Commissioner promotes and facilitates the use of the Welsh language. The dedicated Welsh language TV channel, S4C, also contributes significantly to language vitality.
Preservation of the Quechua Language in Peru: Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire and still spoken across the Andes, has official status in Peru. Bilingual education programs and national broadcasts in Quechua, supported by organizations like the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, are instrumental in its preservation.
Music, a universal language, has woven itself into the fabric of human culture and history, bearing witness to our collective joys, sorrows, and dreams. But perhaps less often celebrated is music's enduring role in championing sustainability. Over the centuries, artists and musicians have been practitioners and proponents of sustainable living, utilizing their creativity and influence to inspire and educate. In times of antiquity, the materials for instruments were sustainably sourced, with each drum, flute, or string instrument bearing the mark of nature’s gift. Back then, concerts and gatherings were community-driven, minimizing waste and promoting social cohesion.
In more recent history, folk and rock musicians have used their art to raise awareness about environmental and social issues, their powerful lyrics echoing in the hearts of their listeners. Today, this commitment to sustainability in music persists and evolves, with artists exploring eco-friendly production methods, fair economic models, and using their platforms to advocate for a more sustainable world. At its core, music holds a mirror to our societies, reflecting our strides towards sustainability and reminding us of the harmonious relationship we strive to uphold with the world around us.
The concept of sustainability has often focused heavily on the environment, while music and arts have been areas of lesser focus for many addressing crisis. Here are a few examples oh the concept of sustainability in artistic and musical communities:
Cultural Sustainability of Music: This refers to preserving and promoting diverse musical and artistic traditions and forms, ensuring they can continue to thrive in a rapidly globalizing world. This often involves education, community outreach, and supporting traditional musicians and venues.
Sustainable Practices in Production: This can involve using environmentally-friendly equipment, reducing energy usage in recording studios, choosing sustainable materials for instruments, digital distribution over physical to reduce material waste, etc.
Economic Sustainability of Music: On an industry level, this could mean creating economic models that fairly compensate artists and other music industry workers, ensuring the industry can continue to thrive. On a personal level, it might mean pursuing a career in music in a way that is financially viable.
Music as a Tool for Sustainability Education: Music and musicians can play a significant role in raising awareness about sustainability issues. Songs with messages about the environment, social justice, or other sustainability themes can help spread these ideas to a wide audience.
Sustainability of Live Music Events: This involves organizing concerts and festivals in a way that minimizes environmental impact, such as waste reduction initiatives, promoting public transportation or carpooling, using renewable energy sources for power, and more.
Sustainability in Music and Arts Education: This can involve incorporating principles of sustainability into music education, such as teaching about the impact of different sustainable aspects of artistic production, or about how music can be a force for social change.
Digital Justice and Sustainability
Digital justice refers to the equal and fair distribution of technology and internet resources. In our increasingly digital world, access to the internet is crucial for education, employment, and participation in society. However, not everyone has equal access to digital resources, which can result in digital divides based on socioeconomic status, location, age, and other factors.
Promoting digital justice is an important part of sustainability. By ensuring that everyone has access to digital resources, we can help to provide equal opportunities for education, employment, and participation in society. Providing affordable or free internet access to low-income communities, investing in digital infrastructure in underserved areas, and providing digital literacy programs to help people make full use of digital resources are just a few projects people are engaging with to empower digital justice across the world.
You can play a role here too, by advocating for digital justice, providing digital resources to communities in need, and offering training and education to help people make the most of these resources.