Wednesday, 9 June 2010

What does sustainability mean to you?

As oil spills into the Gulf of Mexico The World Ocean Council are holding a conference (in Belfast) to bring together industries with concerns in marine environment sustainability.

Being responsible, for one of the worst man made environmental disasters in history, is hardly the kind of carbon footprint that any company would want to carry. BP’s ruptured well lies 1,600 metres below the surface, and plugging it is proving difficult.

Carrying the can for the environmental footprint of a large petroleum organisation is way beyond the thinking that most of us will ever engage in. But if sustainability runs through every area of your life it will inevitably affect the smallest, and the biggest, decisions that you make. Rather than being a private matter, it is something that travels with us to work, on holiday and into our social lives. When it comes to sustainability the personal really is political.

Cross cultural, economic, geographical and social differences effect the way we live our lives. Worrying about how to offset my air miles is irrelevant to my life but may be a major cause of concern for others. The poorer you are the less you consume the world’s resources. This begs the question; if you don’t enjoy the luxury of travelling by plane do you have the same responsibility, as the frequent flyer, for sorting out your rubbish?

Is it possible, or even desirable, to share a vision of sustainability in a world of inequality? If sustainable living meant equal responsibility, and equal benefit, it would be easy to see why those who consume the least felt less inclined to concern themselves with environmental issues.

Luckily it doesn’t. Sustainability is about raising the quality of life for everybody in a community. When you take on environmental responsibility social responsibility comes with it. I live in hope that if the wealthiest countries live in a sustainable way, the poorest countries will benefit the most.