Having a LEED certified building is another benchmark: if a building has that certification you know how much energy it uses, and what kind of technology it utilizes.
But there isn’t a sustainability certification, at least a popular one. When a grower, or a store says they are “sustainable,” what does that mean? Some farmers tie it to growing organic, and stores to their LEED certified building. But does that mean it’s sustainable?
It is common knowledge that the world’s environment faces several challenges in the 21st century: over-extended water basins, alarming rates of extinction, groundwater, surface water, and air pollution, invasive species and food uncertainty to name a few. These problems are signs of unsustainability. Is it fair to say that any company that contributes to less of these then contributing to them is sustainable?
Not only would that mean most farms are unsustainable, but that most organic farms typically aren’t sustainable because they contribute to an over-extension of water resources, plowing over what otherwise could be natural land for native animals and plants, and depending on their equipment, air pollution. Meanwhile they only contribute to solving food uncertainty.
It would also assume that a large hypothetical building that solves a problem completely, say a building that stood on stilts to preserve the native land under it who’s function was cleaning the air and eradicating invasive plant spores and seeds present in the air. But say it installed the pollutants into the water making it useless. Based on the “it solves more problems then it contributes to” argument would mean this would be sustainable because it solved 3 minor problems, but it doesn’t account that it took one problem and made it into a crisis.
So what is sustainable?
Vanderbilt University says: meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs .
The EPA says: Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.
The UN Sustainability conference says: Sustainability calls for a decent standard of living for everyone today without compromising the needs of future generations.
So apparently not even experts can agree 100%. But it looks as though everyone agrees it’s a scale instead of a state. Instead of saying “it’s sustainable,”, it could be said “it’s more sustainable then…”
An organic farm is typically more sustainable then a conventional farm, and a permaculture farm is typically more sustainable then an organic farm. All three aren’t sustainable because each has it’s own set of drawbacks, but as they move up the scale they have fewer drawbacks.
Wind energy is more sustainable then coal, and solar is more sustainable then oil. But neither is “sustainable" because wind energy kills billions of birds, and the manufacturing of solar panels is very polluting.
Your Freshest Food buys from farms that are more sustainable then typical farms in that they spray less, use water resources responsibly and are small farms creating a diverse environment of farms and food.
So next time someone, or something states that it is sustainable, pause and ask yourself what they mean by that, and if it truly is “more sustainable,” then the alternative.