What is sustainability?
Simply put, sustainability is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Although this sounds modest, its embrace is wide, profound, and far-reaching, encompassing social, economic, political, and environmental factors.
We could easily go the way of the dodo bird if we fail to collaborate with nature’s limited resources, which leads us to sustainability: a frequently misunderstood word that deserves clarification, especially when applied to agriculture, food, and food production.
But let's go back a few thousand years...
Farming as a practice began approximately 10,000 years ago, when humans decided they were done with hunting and gathering. We wanted to stay put, build a house, and farm a field. From this simple act, civilizations were born: Villages and cities sprang up, writing was codified, and history was recorded.
Everything went along smoothly until the last two hundred years. The shift to industrialization and all it entails — commodification, standardization, waste, and profits — endangered our natural environment and thus, our future.
It's dangerous to treat the earth as an extractable infinite resource.
Back in the ’80s, The Brundtland Commission, an outgrowth of the World Commission on Environment and Development, recognized the dangers of treating the earth as an extractable infinite resource. The name of one Brundtland report, “Our Common Future," goes on to condemn our present shoot-from-the-hip approach where short-term profits are elevated above public safety, environmental health, and social responsibility, stating:
“Many present efforts to guard and maintain human progress, to meet human needs, and to realize human ambitions are simply unsustainable — in both the rich and poor nations. They draw too heavily, too quickly, on already overdrawn environmental resource[s]. . .They may show profit on the balance sheets of our generation, but our children will inherit the losses. We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying. . .We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.”
"Find a problem that can't be solved in your lifetime ... and with all your heart and soul try to make a difference in the way things are."
One piece of advice I offer my students is this: If you want to have a satisfying career, find a problem that can’t be solved in your lifetime. In other words, set the bar high, choose big, and with all your heart and soul try to make a difference in the way things are.
Let’s take a look at one project that promotes this idea — a book, in this case — emerging from Green Mountain College’s focus on Sustainable Food Systems. In June 2017, founder and professor Philip Ackerman-Leist of the Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems program at Green Mountain College published an eye-opening book called A Precautionary Tale: How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved Its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movement.
Using first-hand research, he and his fellow researchers followed the encroachment of pesticide-driven agriculture that threatened the organic certification and the very life of a small village in South Tirol, Italy.
How does this relate to the Brundtland Report’s definition?
The information in the below diagram is from the book’s introduction by Vandana Shiva, an internationally recognized environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate. “People have the power to change the way we grow our food,” Shiva says.
The diagram confirms the Brundtland’s assertion that how we produce food today affects our planet and descendants tomorrow. At the heart of the challenges is the center circle: a sustainable food system that works for all.
And that is what a degree from Green Mountain College will give you: the knowledge to make a change, the tools to accomplish it, and the motivation to seize a career that will make a difference not only for today but for future generations.
Attending graduate school for an education in sustainability is one way to deepen your knowledge, hone in on your skills, and discover your strengths. For more information on Green Mountain College’s advanced programs, check out our website and see what it would mean for you to become a leader in sustainability.