Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 1. Definition, Historical Context, and Frameworks

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This is the first post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review.

Today's post focuses on the first chapter which was written by Sandra Garren and Robert Brinkmann titled Sustainability Definitions, Historical Context, and Frameworks. 

Like many large books with many chapters, this book's first chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book. What many will find useful is that it defines sustainability from a variety of perspectives. For example, it raises the issue as to who is defining sustainability. From a Western viewpoint, sustainability could be all about trying to reduce our carbon footprint by cutting down on energy use, while in a more impoverished area it could be all about trying to gain access to basic resources like water or food.

Another important point that the chapter makes is that there are real environmental limits to human survival on our planet that are exacerbated by our ability to make our planet less sustainable. For example, by creating greenhouse gas pollution we are causing planetary changes that are significantly disrupting important earth systems. Sustainability is also different from the environmental movement that came before it in that it recognizes the economic and social realities of human existence and thus strives to balance economic justice, social equality and justice, and environmental protection.

One of the most important organizations in the development of sustainability thought and creation of important initiatives is the United Nations. The chapter summarizes the key events in UN history that led to important agreements, documents, and initiatives including the development of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Finally, the chapter reviews several ways that we have developed frameworks to "do" sustainability. These frameworks range from global initiatives like the UN's Sustainable Development Goals to national and local initiatives which include things like green building rating systems and personal sustainability and our initiatives to try to reduce our own carbon footprints.

This chapter is a quick read and provides a quick background on the field of sustainability that would be a good assignment for students or a primer for practitioners to place their work within the context of the discipline. 

Here are some discussion questions if you happen to use this chapter for an assignment:

1. How can you define sustainability in your own words?
2. What is the significance of the UN's definition of sustainability in the Brundtland Report and how does it differ from the definition of sustainability published by the United States EPA? Why do these differences matter?
3. Why do you think it was important that the environmental movement evolved into sustainability by including social and economic considerations?
4. What were some of the key historical events in the United Nations that are associated with Sustainability?
5. Take a look at the Sustainable Development Goals here and click on one of the goals. What types of information did you find out about the goal?
6. Why is benchmarking important to sustainability?
7. What kinds of benchmarking frameworks can you think of that are associated with sustainability or some other type of topic?
8. What types of personal sustainability goals do you have? What new ones can you add to your efforts?

Previous posts in this series:

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