10 Sustainability Topics You Need to Know
By Patricia Hunting and Mike Cain
Buzzwords in the environmental world keep evolving. Here is our list of top 10 sustainability terms you need to know.
10) Sustainability. At first, everything and anything related to the environment was “green.” Like most terms that go mainstream, it became overused. “Green” has now become “sustainable.” Sustainable systems seek to maintain and to not take away. However, we have discovered that sustainability is no longer enough—we need a more deliberate approach to combating climate change—now an ever-present force. We need to regenerate! Regeneration is the current way to describe how to not lose ground, better yet, how to revitalize and restore what is most needed in the fast-paced environmental movement.
9) Regenerative Agriculture. To regenerate is to take something that is nearing the end of its useful life, and transform it by giving it new life. Regenerative agriculture is the rehabilitation of soil that has been degraded by the industrial, agricultural system. With regeneration, farmers leave the land better than they found it, while simultaneously producing healthier produce, flowers, and animals. We can see how the words sustainable and regenerative can be applied to many areas of life including economies, forests, relationships, climate, and indeed, our entire planet.
8) Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Developed in Japan in the 1960s, this agricultural model was promoted in Germany by a “biodynamic” farmer, Rudolf Steiner. In 1984, two German farmers in New Hampshire introduced the system in the US. CSAs encourage consumers to invest in local and regional farms, which in turn supports a “Zero Waste” initiative. Zero waste eliminates the need to ship products across the country, reducing the use of gasoline, the release of C02, and in some cases, the use of packaging. The investor receives boxes of fresh, seasonal products, grown locally all year long. CSAs help local farmers with much needed capital while providing food security for families. With the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, the CSA system has seen explosive growth. Today there are over 12,500 CSA farmers in the USA.
7) Zero Waste. Zero waste is an important target we need to strive for if we want to continue living a healthy life on a healthy planet! To determine if something is zero waste, examine the lifespan of a product. How much energy is used in its creation? Is there a byproduct? Can that byproduct be incorporated into another product so that it doesn’t end up in landfills? How is it packaged? How far does it travel to reach the marketplace? Are the people involved in its creation fairly compensated? At the end of the product's “natural” lifecycle, can it be reused in another way or “upcycled?” These are the questions to ask every time we purchase something.
6) Compost. Compost is soil that is generated by processing food waste, leaves, grass clippings, cardboard—anything organic. When all these items begin to decay microorganisms are created which break down the material, raising the temperature to 132 degrees, killing any pathogens and weed seeds. The compost is periodically “turned” in order to create just the right balance between air and humidity. Once the process is complete this rich, nutrient dense “black gold” can be used to grow gardens and farms.
5) Permaculture. Developed between Australian professor, Bill Mollison, and then student, David Holgrem, in 1978, permaculture started with the two words: “permanent” and “agriculture.” The two men realized that there was an element missing in their newly coined term: culture. The fusion of these three words became permaculture, which is the interaction of humans and nature coexisting harmoniously. It is agriculture that is not only sustainable but resilient, with buildings strategically placed to maximize passive solar energy (minimizing the need for traditional heating/cooling systems). Rain barrels are used to collect water and systems can be designed to recycle the water used in the home and on the property. Additionally, micro climates are specifically developed around buildings providing shade and enough humidity to decrease fire risk. Permaculture is a way of living in the least wasteful way possible. To learn more about this complex subject, please watch this 7.5 minute clip, “Permaculture, The Documentary, How it Started” on YouTube!
4) No-Till Farming. No-till is an ancient way of farming before “modern” tools were developed, such as the plow. It leaves the soil undisturbed, by not stirring up all of the microorganisms that have a positive effect on the earth’s quality. Without these nutrients in place, soil becomes depleted and dusty, creating the perfect conditions for fires or dust bowls. If the soil is well balanced, it helps generate the rain necessary to maintain it. (To learn more about how this is possible, we suggest watching the 1 hour documentary, “Kiss the Ground.”) The no-till process, in conjunction with a diverse range of plants, helps to energize the soil and regenerate the carbon that naturally occurs in earth. Part of the concept also includes harvesting the plants above ground, leaving the roots intact.
3) Global Warming. Enhanced by human-created pollution, global warming occurs because of the release of too much carbon dioxide into the air, raising not only the temperatures on earth, but also in the oceans. When the earth and the oceans overheat, it becomes more difficult for living organisms to survive. If the polar ice caps and air temperatures are not in balance, the ice caps melt, causing sea levels to rise resulting in flooded land at sea level. If left unchecked, global warming will eventually leave our coastal cities at risk of being underwater.
2) Biodynamic Farming and Biodiversity. Biodiversity, according to The World Wildlife Foundation, is simply “the total variety of all life on earth”...plants, animals, people, the ocean, and all of its inhabitants. We need biodiversity in order to survive, and to make all of the terms discussed in our list possible! Biodynamic farming is the predecessor of organic farming. (An Australian farmer calls it “more-ganic” more than organic!) It started in 1924 with the German farmer, Rudolf Steiner. He believed in the integration of science with the spirit of nature through holistic, ecological, and ethical practices in farming and gardening. Biodynamic farming is a self-contained system in which everything needed to grow and reproduce happens directly on the farm. The animals eat the food grown for them, naturally creating fertilizer through their own waste which enriches the soil, avoiding the need for any pesticides.
1) Carbon Sequestration. The Earth Institute’s definition of carbon sequestration is “the act of safely storing carbon away from the atmosphere.” One way to do this is by keeping carbon in the ground through regenerative agriculture and biodynamic farming. Additionally by not tilling the soil, the gasses that are normally released remain in the ground. Another way is to capture the carbon produced in factories burning gas and oil before it is emitted from the smoke stacks into the air. And a third option is to reuse carbon by reconverting it into a healthier, safer substance. This can get technical! Watch Earth Institute’s video, here to learn more about carbon sequestration.
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