Around our campus, we hear about sustainability quite often. Most people consider it an environmental buzzword that really rolls off the tongue when bragging about FGCU.
In short, sustainability defines whether or not something can be continuously done without any negative consequences. Driving 150 mph down Ben Hill Griffin isn’t sustainable because you’ll either get a ticket or crash your car. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day isn’t sustainable because you’ll eventually get lung cancer.
We typically think of sustainability in three broad aspects of what we need to protect: people, planet, and profit. These three things combine in what’s referred to as the triple bottom line. That part is simple. It gets a little more complex when you add in time to the formula.
Most people are hardwired to be short sighted. It’s human nature to place a higher value on the present than on the future. We want what’s best for us now, regardless of the detriments to our future selves.
What if I offered you the choice of $500 right now or $1 per day for the rest of your life? Given you live another 17 months, you’d make more money by choosing the daily plan. Most people – at least what can be assumed by their actions – would rather choose the $500 up front, though.
That reasoning is what we see all throughout the modern world. It’s what we’ve seen for generations. When faced with the decision between consumption and saving, most choose to consume. Looking back years later, those who saved are more prosperous; they are able to consume more in the future because they saved in the present.
When looking at the three components of the triple bottom line, we find that what is good for the planet is also good for people and profit. Trees are an amazing example of this. (Some random guy recently approached me in the nature trails and proposed cutting them all down and using their wood to build parking garages on campus.)
Trees are natural resources that provide benefits to people, planet, and profit. We all know about how trees use photosynthesis to turn harmful carbon dioxide to useful oxygen. Humans and other animal life kind of need this to survive. Trees also provide life to bird and insect species, as well as food for many herbivores.
We cut down trees to produce many products, like paper or wooden materials. Trees provide a monetary profit when we cut them down, but the overall profit is actually negative if not done sustainably. In Pricing the Environment, professor Nancy Beckham calculates the dollar value of an individual tree’s service at $193,250. Since trees can naturally reproduce, the more trees we leave in tact, the more trees we have later. This means that saving our current trees will allow us to consume more in the future.
Another clear example is fishing. The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that half of the world’s population relies on fish as the primary source of protein. Overfishing in the oceans has let to a major depletion in fish populations. This disrupts valuable oceanic ecosystems. We risk the lives of all those that depend on fish as a food source.
Fisheries jeopardize their own future profits by over-consuming their most valuable resource. Harvesting a more sustainable yield will allow fish populations to replenish each year, which allows fishermen to earn continuous profits year after year.
Solar power is an evolving example of energy sustainability. It costs more to implement — though that’s soon to change — but saves money with the monthly utility bill. It’s cleaner for the environment, more reliable and renewable for people, and cheaper for profits in the long run.
The clear-cut, simply put fact is that the only moral way to live is a sustainable one. Even the cruelest of people, who only care about themselves, cannot claim to truly care about themselves if not living sustainably. They may care about their present selves, but certainly not their futures ones.
Triple bottom line sustainability is what’s best for each individual, best for everyone as a whole, best for the planet, and best for the wallet. It’s time we start thinking about tomorrow when making today’s decisions.