I have been thinking about the word “sustainability” a great deal recently and more importantly about the meaning it adopts due to the cultural context that surrounds it. I also find that I am concerned with a parallel thread that seems completely inter-relatedt; health and wellness.
Let us start by looking at a historical perspective of health and wellness. Until recently health was considered as an absence of disease, during the 1980’s it took on a larger mantel. This new vision of wellness incorporates achieving and balancing physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social and environmental health. By changing the way we look at health and wellness we make it easier to achieve because we understand it more. The very definition also allows us to move towards something attractive rather than away from something that we do not want which ties in with contemporary thought on goal setting.
What has this got to do with sustainability? Well for starters, to be sustainable a body or organization has to be healthy. I think this is something that has yet to be given sufficient significance within the discussion on sustainability. I also believe that the definition of sustainable needs to be expanded beyond “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Brundtland report 1983) Ultimately, sustainability could be about creating healthy people, organizations, environments, learners etc. which go on to (pro)create more healthy…
Another aspect that can be incorporated from the wellness movement is how to incite motivation that changes behavior. When a person is obese they need to see that they are overweight, there is no need to judge oneself, there is though the need to make a change. It is about being honest with oneself and making small changes that over a period of time create big results. It is about seeing something for what it really is rather than either being a conspiracy or for someone else.
The similarities go further still. Both are holistic concepts; a situation will never be truly healthy / sustainable until all the components are taken care of and nurtured. Therefore all the components need to be identified.
For a university to be sustainable there is a need to have healthy students who are able to achieve their optimal state of learning in the same way that there is a need for a small carbon footprint. Encouraging exercise and good and local nutrition is as important as recycling. Aiding students to feel a necessary part of a thriving society is as relevant as energy efficient buildings.
My thoughts then turn to what should a University Sustainability Club do. Obviously all the mentioned areas need to be incorporated and there is a lot more examples of Universities that have been focusing on environmental sustainability who provide an extremely good model. I believe though that where possible we can focus on initiatives that marry as many concepts together as possible. For instance:
· Encouraging self powered commuting – which might involve cheap / free rental of equipment (bikes from bike club, skis from student union), organizing leaders / guides (from clubs such as PE majors club), encouraging facilities to groom trails on campus rather than scrape them, prizes for people who are involved, more safe & covered storage and showering facilities on campus
· Socials that involve exercise, education, networking and fun
· Lobbying the food providers on campus to really consider the food that they are supplying and ensuring that there is information on all the food sold and that it is also measured for how healthy and local it is. All while working under a tight budget to reduce the costs. Perhaps, this would be more easily done if UAA provided the food on campus rather than contract it out.
I know that this is not really original thinking and yet I am inspired by a man I was lucky enough to spend some time with. Bill Mollison; the originator of permaculture, once said to me, “by myself I can do nothing, with one friend I can change the world.” Bill does not have many new ideas he has though taken lots of well proven ones and strung them together in a package that has been making a real difference in the world. I suggest that we do the same.