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How has your environment changed your perspective of sustainability?

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Charissa Worthmann

Bloemfontein, South Africa

To left, stretches of grassland becoming encroached with urban sprawl as people move to the city in search of a better future. To the right, farmers working around the clock to keep production on the go in preparation for their annual harvest. In between, a botanical garden showcasing the importance of nature to sustainable livelihoods. This all in the middle of one of central South Africa’s most arid environments. Being in the midst of an environment exposed to constant aridity and high numbers of poverty changes one’s perspective on how dependent the majority of a developing country is on nature, how global impacts affect local livelihoods, and how important sustainability is for local and global security.

Sustainability is the concept whereby needs are secured without harming or compromising future generations. This is based on the protection of three pillars: environment, social development, and economic growth. Balancing these pillars is particularly challenging, as within each lies a myriad of interactions and systems. Regardless, all goals and actions are based on one common concept: security with as minimal harm as possible. Sustainability is extremely important for regulating growth and development while improving human well-being. This is achieved through sustainable development and is based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals.

Living in the epicentre of a developing country with primarily rural communities that are highly dependent on ecosystem services to sustain livelihoods is a challenging experience. The surrounding environment provides services these communities rely on. For example, climate regulation services such as carbon sequestration, water provisioning, flood attenuation, nutrient cycling, pollination, and other services that sustain biological processes.

Although globally speaking, positive steps have been taken in addressing poverty, the current development strategies are not enough in achieving sustainable development. There is inequity in economic and social progress and the global financial crisis has negatively impacted progress alongside accelerating environmental degradation which has increasing costs on society. These impacts are felt deeply by developing countries where many are living on a hand-to-mouth basis. Central South Africa is one of the agricultural hubs and climate has a heavy impact on food security for locals. In 2018 South Africa had record $10.6 billion in export, but in 2019 there was an 8% drop because of a country-wide drought and drought-related illnesses. This has a cascading effect on the country’s GDP and collapsed many small-scale agricultural sectors. They closure of these sectors has caused high unemployment rates and urban sprawl in the hunt for jobs closer to cities. Unsustainable and illegal informal settlements contribute significantly to pollution, unsustainable resource usage and illegal trading. The impacts are counterproductive to the sustainability goals, and further hinder all forms of development. This type of living has been associated with inability to access basic services, unemployment amongst women, high levels of criminal activity and severely underreported gender-based violence against women.

Globally the United States, United Kingdom and parts of Asia contribute the most to climate change. Yet, the effects of climate change are felt worldwide, not only in the country of origin. This changes the perspective that action must be taken where impacts are experienced, to a view that the global contributors of climate change must act locally to avoid environmental degradation, economic degradation, and societal fragmentation in vulnerable developing countries. Only once one lives within one of these countries and experience real-time impacts can one stress the importance of sustainable development. A mindset based on well-founded attitudes and motivation for change are important components for sustainable thinking, and planning for a secure future. To achieve this globally, neither financial incentives, nor regulations or the pure passing on of knowledge is enough. A concept such as educational sustainable development is a useful approach as it facilitates the development of values and sparks thinking around the re-consideration of existing values and attitudes.

Additionally, having an environmental management system in place will be of advantage to assist in reducing risks to a minimum level, manage and improve environmental performance of a company, and can save costs by well-managed use of resources. To successfully have a set of procedures in place to reduce environmental footprint of daily activities, performance indicators must be determined. Namely, environmental performance indicators, operational condition indicators, management performance indicators and benchmarking. These will reveal lag and lead indicators and therefore inform the project team on what has happened in the past and what can be done to act proactively towards prevention of an impact. Environmental management systems are processes and practices that allow organizations to reduce environmental impacts and increase efficiency in operations. A changed viewpoint towards accountability and transparency are key to ensuring sustainable development.

Thank you for reading!


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