Redefining Sustainability

 

BY: MARGARET ALLEN, SUSTAINABILITY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM, 2017

Participating in the Office of Sustainability Internship Program (SIP) allowed me to expand upon my own knowledge of environmental conservation and explore why and how sustainable choices are implemented, particularly in institutional settings.  With a modestly privileged childhood of playing outside, recycling regularly, and learning about water conservation, I saw environmental stewardship as the primary goal behind being sustainable.  In our first SIP seminar, multiple definitions of sustainability were presented;my personal favorite came from the UN’s Brundtland Report from 1987, which highlights meeting the world’s current developmental needs “without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” However, many other sustainability definitions include three purposes, not one: environmental, social, and financial.

The variety of discussions held within SIP seminars, field trips (like to Lakeshore Recycling Systems) and other UIC sustainable facilities planning meetings (for my internship, regarding implementing green infrastructure) has opened my eyes wider to what this “triple bottom line” means. Optimistically, social justice should follow naturally from environmental justice. Pessimistically, people in industry only care about their profit. Yet realistically, every solution should start by accounting for these three components to create change that is fair to all.  Additionally, achieving global sustainability will require substantial negotiations between cultures and nations to define what truly is “fair.” By adjusting my definition and approach to sustainability, I can ensure my future career’s work in civil and environmental engineering is more comprehensive, far-reaching, and sustainable.