Defining Sustainability in the Digital Realm

By Angelo Balagtas, GLOBUS Correspondent

As of late, sustainability has seemingly become a buzzword. It then begs the question, what is it? Searching the definition of sustainability brings up the following simple definitions:

Wikipedia: Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for the biosphere and human civilisation to coexist.

Google Definitions: (noun) avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.

With it, comes various other websites that are deemed relevant. Namely, sustainability.com, or environmentalscience.org, etc..

Curiously enough, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from the United Nations aren’t in any of the first few options. In fact, one would have to dig quite deep within these pages to find the SDGs. Despite the many criticisms attached to them, they do provide targets to measure against in terms of achieving sustainable development.

I, coming from a study of Global Sustainable Development (a degree very much focused on the SDGs) would then think that in terms of defining sustainability, the SDGs would surely be its integral part. Yet even the UN definitions, seems to be a bit unspecific.

According to the UN, sustainability is described as: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

This definition or these definitions, with all its good intentions, are vague, and therefore lend themselves to various interpretations. This is not to say that they must be faulted for the definition is supposed to encompass so much in terms of environmental protection and conservation, social justice and economic development.

Specifically, in the realm of social media, where there are inherent issues of fake news or self-aggrandising “woke” articles being shared around using the word “Sustainability” almost quite loosely at times as they don’t consider the other aspects of sustainability. Prof. Cailin Orr describes the teaching of sustainability to students as follows:

“Many of them have a misconception that if people would ‘just’ make better choices there would be no environmental problems and that people do not make ‘good’ choices basically because they are greedy or self-interested.”

This, in turn, presents a complexity in determining how to go about it, or even in the most fundamental sense, defining it. Taking the perspective of someone who may not be well versed in the study of Sustainability, it may seem intimidating, or even infuriating to know that it can mean a plethora of different issues, specifically with articles that are often tragic or, at times, sensationalised.

In turn, there must be a certain level of awareness that sustainability is more than just about the environment. However, more than that, there must also be an appreciation that in a time where the power of information is very much in the hands of digital users, easily accessible through a click of a button, we must continue to be critical.

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