Sustainability may be defined as using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.
Sustainability is also critical in the functioning of a business, a concept which is succulently dealt with by the Financial Times at http://lexicon.ft.com/Term?term=business-sustainability
"Business sustainability is often defined as managing the triple bottom line - a process by which companies manage their financial, social and environmental risks, obligations and opportunities. These three impacts are sometimes referred to as profits, people and planet...Business sustainability requires firms to adhere to the principles of sustainable development. According to the World Council for Economic Development (WCED), sustainable development is development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” So, for industrial development to be sustainable, it must address important issues at the macro level, such as: economic efficiency (innovation, prosperity, productivity), social equity (poverty, community, health and wellness, human rights) and environmental accountability (climate change, land use, biodiversity)...Environmental management systems: These systems provide the structures and processes that help embed environmental efficiency into a firm’s culture and mitigate risks. The most widely recognized standard worldwide is ISO 14001, but numerous other industry-specific and country-specific standards exist;" Courtesy Financial Times
Biodiversity Is the term used to describe the variation of life forms on Earth. This includes plants, animals and all of the world’s habitats. Biodiversity may also be a measure of the health of the world’s ecosystems. Humans are but one part of this enormous web of life. We depend on biodiversity for fresh air, clean water, soil fertility and healthy food. The economic benefits of biodiversity are immense. They include purification of water, recycled nutrients providing fertile soil and insect pollination of crops, (which is estimated to be worth tens of billions in economic services to mankind). Biodiversity also provides security for water, timber, paper, fiber and food. Loss of biodiversity must be considered as a threat to economic stability. Other benefits of biodiversity include photosynthesis, carbon storage, medicine, protection against erosion and flooding, and the world's biggest services industry; outdoor recreation and tourism. Furthermore, unfettered human exploitation of the world’s natural resources is likely to directly contribute to extreme weather events.
Human health is also dependant on biodiversity. Many of the drugs in use or in development phase derive directly from the earths natural resources, any diminution of which will almost certainly impede further progress in the development of important drugs. Moreover, many of the species likely to disappear are those that buffer against infectious disease transmission while surviving species tend to be the ones that increase disease transmission. I refer to West Nile Virus, Lyme disease and Hantavirus and to a study done which was co-authored by Felicia Keesing, and ecologist at Bard College, and Drew Harvell, associate director for Environment of the Atkinson Centre for a Sustainable Future (ACSF) at Cornell University. Biodiversity loss may also be the catalyst for water scarcity and food shortages and consequent movements in populations.
It is a scientific fact that we are currently living through the greatest mass extinction event in c.65m years. Species are now disappearing a 1,000 times faster that the natural background rate.
Economists and ecologists must work in tandem to plan a sustainable economic future and to put a value on the free goods and services that natural ecosystems provide us with. Biodiversity is threatened by many modern practices and the non-enforcement of existing regulations. Moreover, light touch regulation of many of our industries continues to be problematic. The way we manage our lives has the biggest impact on biodiversity. “The planet should not be used as a warehouse of resources to serve humanity's selfishness” - Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, 2007 Christmas address.
The dependence on fossil fuels is unsustainable. Some researchers have proven that 5 calories of fossil fuel are burned for every 1 calorie of food produced. This is utterly ridiculous and must be investigated as a matter of the gravest urgency. The escalating price of fossil fuel will also dictate that this needs to happen very soon. Our food system has developed from a locally focused sustainable production, to a fossil-fuel addicted industrialized system.
Animal Welfare: Farms have become more industrialised in recent times. Animals have become commodities. They are considered units of production, rather than living, breathing beings. This leads to inhumane treatment of animals. But increasingly, more and more consumers are demanding better treatment of animals.
Additives: Much of the food offered for sale in retail outlets is highly processed and has been adulterated with additives of all kinds to increase the shelf life, to add nutrients, etc. This is unsustainable and unhealthy and must be discontinued.
Antibiotics: The use of antibiotics in feedstuffs has become a worrying practice in recent years. Overuse of antibiotics inevitably leads to resistance. Just as immunization helps the human body fight disease by exposing the body to small amounts of a virus or bacteria, when bacteria are continually exposed to small amounts of antibiotics they can develop immunity to them. Over time this leads to the development of new, stronger strains of bacteria, with the antibiotic immunity passed on to subsequent generations. Furthermore, this is contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteriain humans. While it is accepted that in certain very limited circumstances that antibiotics may be required, the current practice is unsustainable and dangerous. It is submitted that policy must proscribe the use of antibiotics in foodstuffs and further restrict their use generally. This would carry enormous benefits for humanity.
Biodiversity is dealt with in more detail above. In purely agricultural terms, a variety of plant and animal species is highly desirable because it provides a valuable pool of genetic material. Industrial agriculture tends to use a single breed/ variety. An infection has the potential to wipe out a whole crop, therefore over reliance on chemical use develops to prevent such an occurrence. This is unhealthy and unsustainable.
Free Range: The treating of animals as commodities rather that living creatures has led to the unprecedented rise in factory farming practices. Examples being battery poultry, large pig-production units, beef fattening facilities, etc. These creatures are generally fed highly processed foodstuffs, which often contain unhealthy additives. The age-old maxim of ‘You are what you eat’ comes to mind. Quiet aside from animal cruelty, common sense would suggest that free-range animals would produce more nutritious and tastier food, which would be far healthier. It is therefore submitted that factory farming should be the subject of restrictions.
Desiccants: the destruction of a crop prior to harvest is usually done with chemicals, which are know as desiccants. This is a highly questionable practice. The food we are about to introduce into the human chain is being sprayed to kill it so it can be more easily harvested. This is so ludicrous as to render further debate unnecessary. This practice should of course be proscribed with immediate effect.
Food Irradiation: If foods aren’t already processed enough, irradiation of foods is becoming more prevalent in western society. Irradiation is done to increase the shelf life of foods. Common sense would suggest that such a practice is dangerous as it potentially kills off beneficial organisms. We invite departmental agencies to apply the precautionary principle and consider proscribing this practice.
Co-operative v Body Corporate: An unfettered capitalist system has resulted in the buying up of cooperatives by large body corporate’s. This results in an industry being concentrated in the hands of a few large corporations. The senior people within these corporations are invariably paid obscene amounts of money at the expense of the producer at the bottom end of the spectrum, who is relentlessly browbeaten into accepting less for their products in order to maintain the unsustainable status quo. Because the producer is relentlessly bullied into ‘increased efficiencies’ this gives rise to the use of many unsustainable and unhealthy practices such as the use of growth hormones, overuse of precautionary pesticides, lower standards of animal welfare, etc. The price of food in this context must also be examined. The unsustainable levels of pay for senior executives all the way up the chain means that the consumer is not benefiting from this system of mass production.
Genetic Engineering: is a process where genes are transferred from one plant or animal to another. The dangers of interfering with nature are enormous. There are many aspects to this debate. One example is the production of a crop with a resistance to glyphosate (the herbicide more commonly known as ‘Roundup’), which poses all sorts of problems. What happens if and when such a crop goes to seed and cross-pollinates with other plants in the environment? In other situations, the crops produced are sterile. This means that the crop will not be able to produce seed for regeneration purposes, meaning that a large body corporate has complete control over supply of the crop, giving it the potential to influence availability and price, etc. Genetic engineering is unsustainable and unethical. It is considered that research into sustainable land use and energy production would be far more advantageous to the future of both mankind and indeed the profit margin of these companies.
Genetic Engineering: The recent EU Case C-442/09 (decided in 2011) between Bablok and others v Freistaat Bayern is relevant. The plaintiffs were beekeepers in Bavaria. Their hives were close to land owned by the Land of Bavaria on which genetically modified maize (MON 810) had been planted for research purposes. DNA from that maize was found in the pollen harvested by their bees, and also in the honey produced by those bees. The lead plaintiff sold honey and also pollen-based food supplements. Amongst other things, the Court disagreed with Monsanto’s claim that GM material which entered the honey accidentally should fall outside the scope of the Regulation. The Court replied that the presence of the pollen was not accidental. Monsanto argued that the GM maize in question had been authorised under other legislation (Directive 90/220) in 1998, so its presence in other products was implicitly covered by the authorisation. The Court rejected this argument. Directive 90/220 and its successor (Directive 2001/18) covered the deliberate release of GMOs and included an assessment of the environmental and health consequences of releasing the GMO into the environment
It must be accepted that ‘Sustainable Agriculture’ puts back what it takes from the environment, while factory farming usually exerts unreasonable demands on energy usage and often pollutes the water soil and air.
A radical departure is required in our schooling system to instill a sense of responsibility for the way we live together with an appreciation of our precious and irreplaceable natural environment.
Furthermore the public must be properly informed in their purchase decisions to encourage an understanding of ‘sustainable food’ and the knowledge of how far food has had to travel to get to the point of sale. The recent phenomenon of year round availability of foods such as strawberries are but one stark example of this. So too is the availability of foreign potatoes which are bulky and exert an unnecessary demand on finite fossil fuels to deliver them such distances. ‘Food Security’ must also be included in any future policy.
The wholesale destruction of rain-forrests is resulting in catastrophic consequences. There are a number of consequences:- biodiversity loss, it also renders the land susceptible to erosion, loss to pollenating insects, loss of carbon sink, material effect on climatic conditions and so on.
Much of the timber from these forests ends up in the west where it is used in the construction industry and more particularly in the print industry.
The Forestry Stewardship Council was established to encourage the sustainable use of timber as a resource. A certification scheme was introduced to certify that timber is from a sustainably managed plantation. Factors such as environment, economic, social and marketing are encompassed.
For further information, visit: http://ic.fsc.org/
In 2008, the UN introduced a programme to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. This program is known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
You are invited to visit their site on: http://www.un-redd.org/
See also The Forest Carbon Partnership: http://www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/fcp/
See also the Forest Investment Programe which is hosted by the world bank: http://www.climatefundsupdate.org/listing/forest-investment-program
See Greenpeace on: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/forests/
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© Kieran Cummins