During my time interning at Chora Connection, I have thought a lot about sustainability as a concept and what it’s practical application looks like in today’s world. Denmark is leading the global quest for achieving a “sustainable future,” with environmentally friendly laws and policies spanning the country. Copenhagen is widely regarded as one of the most sustainable cities in the world, with noticeable lifestyle changes such as the popularity of bike riding in the face of rising carbon emissions. However, the founder of Chora Connection who I report to, Karen, was recently sharing her ideas on sustainability that sparked an interesting idea for me.
Karen is pursuing her PhD in sustainability, but her research actually focuses on the idea that true sustainability is unattainable. Shocking, that an individual who leads an organization dedicated to promoting sustainable behavior in one of the most sustainable cities in one of the most sustainable countries, is claiming that sustainability is not a viable possibility. What Karen discussed, actually, was the idea that societies have a certain threshold that sustainability is not possible within.
This threshold can be understood within the framework that sustainability is applicable to several aspects of society. In development literature sustainability is commonly viewed in three contexts: social, economic, and environmental. A society may be able to achieve social and economic sustainability, economic and environmental, or social and environmental, but not all three. To have all three of these dimensions seen as sustainable would be passing society’s threshold.
Although I don’t know all of the relevant research regarding this topic, and certainly don’t have as strong of an understanding as Karen does, I had to write about this idea because of how controversial it is. Sustainability has become a buzzword for political groups and organizations everywhere, something that sounds good in annual reports and makes it seem like society has a grasp on progressive futures. However, it’s essential to step back and actually consider what a sustainable future would look like.
How can sustainability interact with culture? How can we prioritize which aspects of sustainable living are most desirable for a country’s citizens? Who decides what’s better, social, economic or environmental stability? Should we continue to use the word sustainable as the goal for our future, or adapt new language that reflects our realistic capabilities? There are many questions to be asked, and although there’s no certain way of finding any answers, it’s important to explore different options for the international community moving forward.