Within the span of just a few decades, the term sustainability has made an extraordinary rise to fame as it has become one of the defining features of the 21st-century reality. Today, the term sustainability encompasses a whole paradigm shift to our understanding of the world and our place within it. This new paradigm of sustainability is set to have a fundamental effect on how we manage and design systems in the 21st century as it will affect all aspects of our economy.
Increasing uncertainties on environmental issues in our societies have fostered differing opinions that can be resolved by embracing sustainability. It is a broad discipline which gives insight into most human world from business to technology to the environment and the social sciences.
Sustainability is a big concept that is easier to understand than to succinctly define. However, hundreds of definitions exist and often share similar views. The Brundtland Report of 1987, states that sustainability is the development that meets the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is a desirable healthy and dynamic balance between human and natural systems. Central to this definition is the sustainable applicability to the three elements of life; social, economic and environmental. The concept of sustainable development is the result of the growing awareness of the global links between mounting environmental problems, socioeconomic issues to do with poverty and inequality and concerns about a healthy future for humanity.
Pillars of sustainability
Sustainability seeks new ways of addressing relationships between societal growth and environmental degradation- to allow human societies to grow without destroying or over-exploiting the environment or ecosystem in which they exist. In 2015, the World Summit on Social Development identified three core areas that contribute to the philosophy of social science of sustainable development that forms the backbone of tackling the main challenges of sustainability.
The three pillars- economic viability, environmental protection, and social feasibility. Economic viability entails; financial feasibility, long-term management of resources and balance of the global economy. Social feasibility, on the other hand, focuses on; promotion of community resilience, eradication of poverty and ensuring human equality. Lastly, environmental protection encompasses; the conservation of resources, protection of nature and preservation of wildlife. In order to successfully achieve sustainability, these three pillars need to be incorporated efficiently with the goal of preserving and maintaining resources.
The nature of human socio-ecological systems has changed fundamentally as we have developed new technologies, institutions, and new energy sources. Subsequently, this has affected our environment- the whole ecosystem that the society depends upon for various resources.
To counter this change, sustainability has been encouraged to foster the change in public policies and individual behavior towards conserving nature and resources. Sustainability encourages and provides incentives for change rather than mandating change. It is far the most important conversation in Africa and the world at large.
Africa today majorly relies on natural resources for its development and sustaining lives. However, the global supply of these resources is declining while the resource demand is escalating leading to a lack of balance in the ecosystem.
Challenges such as pollution, resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, climate change have significantly shown a growing human footprint which is not sustainable raising alarm for Africans to act differently and embrace sustainability.
According to the Living Planet Report of 2012, nature is described as the basis of our well-being and our prosperity. However, biodiversity has declined globally by 30% from 2007 to 2018. This raises the need for practices such as smart agriculture, water stewardship, climate action, circular packaging, and entrepreneurship – embedded within the concept of sustainability- to influence people’s opinions and attitudes towards sustainability and hence will see Africa positively scale its economy higher and successfully achieve its sustainable development goals. The media can be used as a tool for sensitizing the public and making known the skills, values and behaviors needed for sustainability.
Amid all the gloom surrounding the future, the promise of science shines brightly. Optimists hope that new technologies and urban infrastructure, built with environmentally sound practices, can support a sustainable, happy population. The motivation behind sustainability is often complex, personal and diverse. It is unrealistic to create a list of reasons why so many individuals, groups and communities are working towards this goal. Yet for most people, sustainability comes down to the kind of future we are leaving for the next generation.
Sustainability as a value is shared by many individuals and organizations who demonstrate this value in their policies, everyday activities, and behaviors. Individuals have played a major role in developing our current environmental and social circumstances. The people of today must, therefore, create solutions on how to preserve the earth and ensure the continued survival of future generations and adapt them.