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What Is Sustainability, And Why Is It Important?

Sustainability has become a buzzword for businesses and public figures, but it’s so much more than an idea. Sustainability experts at Unity Environmental University answer the questions of what is sustainability, and why is it important. 

Ensuring the Earth remains habitable for future generations is an essential responsibility of the current generations. Sustainability is how we achieve that responsibility. Looking beyond the trend, this post examines what sustainability is in science, business, and other fields as well as highlighting its importance.

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Want to support sustainability in environmental science? Donate to Unity’s Sustainability Fund, an unrestricted fund that helps with the sustainability of Unity Environmental University.

What Is Sustainability?

Sustainability is about meeting our current needs while also maintaining the resources needed for future generations. It acknowledges that we need natural resources to survive and that many of those natural resources are not renewable. Therefore, we have a responsibility to ensure that resources are available for many years to come. Activities like recycling and tending to a community garden are rooted in sustainability.

There are three pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.

  • Environmental: Preserving the natural environment and natural resources
  • Economic: Managing resources and economic growth in responsible ways
  • Social: Promoting equity and human rights for all people and communities

What Is Sustainability In Environmental Science?

Environmental science and sustainability are intricately connected. Environmental scientists are trained to study and understand ecosystems and environmental resources as well as how human interaction impacts them. Their knowledge and skills are essential in the movement toward sustainable living. 

The concept of sustainability in environmental science has been around for a while. In 1970 in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created to promote environmental sustainability, although the word sustainability was not specifically used. In the late 1980s, sustainability became a major focus of the United Nations (UN), and the word and concept began to enter the mainstream after that.

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Find degrees that incorporate sustainability with Unity Environmental University’s Program Search.

How Does Sustainability Help The Environment?

Thinking about the environment’s future beyond our own lifetimes has numerous positive benefits. Some of the benefits of sustainability may take years or decades to be noticeable, while others are more immediate in their environmental impact. Here are just a few of the many ways that sustainability helps the environment:

  • Reducing pollution
  • Improving soil, water, and air quality
  • Conserving natural habitats for wildlife
  • Preserving biodiversity

Why Is Sustainability Important?

Why is sustainability important for future generations? Put most simply, without sustainability, there will be no future generations to meet. It is key to the continued survival of humans and the planet as we know it. What about current generations? As demonstrated in the three pillars, sustainability is multifaceted. It has benefits for the environment, the economy, and society now and for years to come. The benefits elaborated below touch on all three pillars of sustainability.

Preserving Our Natural Resources

When people think about the importance of sustainability, they often think about natural resources first. We all know we need clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and safe food to eat to stay alive.

We also need natural resources for building shelters and transportation, and we rely on the environment to provide all these essential resources. Working to preserve these resources not only ensures they will still be around for future generations but also helps reduce waste and pollution.

Sustainability is applicable in all industries that work with natural resources, including:

But anyone, no matter their job or age, can help preserve natural resources with these simple sustainability tips

Combating Climate Change

While we may not be able to reverse many of the effects of climate change, we can prevent them from worsening by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Doing this requires collective commitments from businesses, governments, and individuals to use renewable energy sources. Environmental scientists are also key to improving renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency. 

Other ways that sustainability is important in fighting climate change include shifting to electric or hybrid vehicles and reducing emissions through more efficient supply chain management. Transporting materials and products requires large ships and trucks which burn fossil fuels. This is part of why sustainability is often focused on buying locally when possible to reduce the amount of shipping happening worldwide. 

Economic Benefits and Sustainability

There are tax credits for homeowners and business owners who invest in renewable energy, such as solar panels. You will also save on energy costs in the long run. When large corporations, institutions, or governments adopt renewable energy, cost saving occurs on a larger scale and can boost the economy. Furthermore, money can be saved by avoiding environmental disasters through sustainable practices and responsible economic development. 

Another economic reason why sustainability is important is that it promotes innovation which drives market growth. Businesses, organizations, and governments will need to get creative in finding solutions to current and future environmental concerns. This creates new market opportunities and career possibilities, further boosting the economy.

Enhancing Quality Of Life And Social Equity

Sustainable practices enhance the quality of life for all, addressing issues like health, education, and equal opportunity. Pollution, improper waste management, and poor water quality are all threats to human health. Improper waste management also attracts more rodents and insects that could be carrying diseases. Sustainability helps ensure that communities are clean and safe.

Social equity and environmental sustainability are connected as communities with less wealth and power are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation and the effects of climate change. And resources are not being used equitably. 

For example, in 2021, the US was the second greatest producer of carbon emissions producing about 14.86 tonnes per person, more than any other country in the top ten carbon emitters list. Part of living sustainably is finding the balance between having all our needs met and not consuming more than our fair share as individuals and as societies.

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Did you know higher education has the power to increase environmental stewardship and overall quality of life?

How To Incorporate Sustainability In A Business

Why does sustainability matter in business? If you are a current or aspiring entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the planet by incorporating sustainability into your business. Some possible ways to do that are:

  • Ethically-sourced materials and/or ingredients
  • Packaging made of recycled materials
  • Sustainable supply chains
  • Energy-efficient offices and buildings
  • Incentives for employees to use sustainable forms of transportation (subway, carpooling, or cycling)
  • Tuition support for employees to pursue degrees in sustainability

Creating a sustainable business is hard work. It’s important to set clear, measurable goals as soon as possible and involve a variety of stakeholders in the creation of the goals and the plan to achieve them. The plan should be outlined in detail but also flexible to allow for adjustments as needed based on data. 

An example of a measurable sustainability goal would be using recycled packaging materials for 100% of products by next year.

How Unity Environmental University Has Pledged To Be A Sustainable University

Unity is committed to using a sustainability science framework to guide all our research and academic programs. We view sustainability as a trans-disciplinary field of study that integrates and transcends various disciplines. Our academic programs prepare students to address environmental challenges using a liberal arts foundation. Our institutional principles also incorporate economic and social sustainability with our emphasis on promoting diversity and inclusion and integrating sustainable practices into everything we do.

Unity Environmental University has pledged to be a sustainable university at all levels. We were the first university to completely divest in fossil fuels, and we didn’t stop there.

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How To Incorporate Sustainability In A Career

Sustainability can be incorporated into so many different career paths. For example, if you work in healthcare, you may think about the environmental factors affecting your patient’s health and promote public health initiatives that address environmental factors. As an engineer, you could help design energy-efficient products, buildings, or transportation. Below are more examples of possible career paths following the three pillars of sustainability:

Because there is a growing recognition of the importance of integrating environmental and social responsibility into various professions, sustainability jobs are expected to continue to be in demand in some industries for many years. Earning a degree in sustainability is a smart investment for your future.

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Unity Environmental University: A Sustainable University That Offers Sustainability Degree Programs

Sustainability is key to the longevity of the Earth and the people and other living creatures that inhabit it. We need more trained experts in environmental science to tackle current and future environmental issues. If you want to be part of this essential work, consider a degree focused on sustainability, such as a B.S. in Natural Resources Conservation & Management or Sustainable Horticulture.

Because everything we do at Unity Environmental University is based on sustainability, you get more than just a degree when you attend our university. You are becoming part of a community of leaders in environmental stewardship and sustainability education. Our campuses include an organic farm, a wilderness lodge for experiential learning and outdoor recreation, and a sustainable dining hall. For academics, no matter which degree program you choose, you can rest assured it will be rooted in sustainability from orientation through graduation.