According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sustainability is a call “…for policies and strategies that meet society’s present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (epa.gov/sustainability). The international movement toward sustainability seeks to address the social, economic and security needs of all peoples now and far into the future. Sustainability represents a profound paradigm shift in human experience that is (albeit slowly and incrementally) redefining how we think about everything from economic development to national security to agriculture and necessitating a fundamental reorientation of our relationship with the natural world.
Here at Mercyhurst College, our sustainability efforts have for the past decade or more been primarily aimed at improving the environmental performance of our physical plant by, for example, making buildings more energy efficient. We employ renewable energy wherever we can and experiment with sustainable building materials and practices such as our new green roof. More recently, courses across the curriculum, focused through our Sustainability Studies academic program prepare our students for a future in which the principles of sustainability (environmental and public health, localized development, social equity) will increasingly shape and impact every walk of life.
Much of the movement toward a sustainable future is driven by a desire to strengthen local communities’ ability to feed themselves and provide for their energy needs.
This is seen in the widespread emergence of farmers markets, which provide healthier food choices for individuals and families, while also supporting local farmers and offering tangible lessons in sustainable economics.
Similarly, new companies developing renewable energy sources and ways to improve energy efficiency help to strengthen the security of communities that are now at the mercy of the utility- controlled power grid and long-distance transmission. Even long-established companies such as the giants of the American auto industry are finding new life and generating American jobs by developing more fuel efficient and smarter vehicles that can help wean America away from our dependency on oil and minimize future environmental disasters like the recent Deepwater Horizon tragedy.
Every step counts, no matter how small. The old bumper sticker slogan is true: Everything is connected. Turning off the lights when you leave the room is linked to the urgent need to end mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. Buying local, buying less, buy fair trade, replacing your light bulbs at home, walking, biking or using public transit when you can, using reusable water bottles, turning off the lights and computer… We all know what we need to do.
But if you’re not convinced, then remember what we at Mercyhurst have learned, along with countless businesses and governments around the world—being environmentally responsible does save money. Get involved.