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Earthwalk is dedicated to exploring sustainable solutions and teaching about sustainable living.

What is sustainability any way?

In short it is the ability to provide for the needs of the world's current population without damaging the ability of future generations to provide for themselves. When a process is sustainable, it can be carried out over and over without negative environmental effects or impossibly high costs to anyone involved.

What do you think it means to live sustainably?

A. Living within Earth's limits
B. Reducing our impact on the earth's resources
C. Making lifestyle and consumer choices to limit our use of resources
D. Living more simply
E. Taking care of nature so nature can take care of us
F. Meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs
G. Creating a balance between our natural systems, our economic system and our social system
H. All of the above

The best answer would be H. Sustainable living and sustainability mean different things to different people. However it has come to mean the ability to meet present needs without damaging or depleting the environmental, economic or social resources that future generations will need." And that is what permaculture is all about.

Sustainability is a characteristic of a process that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely. For planet Earth, it is thus the intent to provide the best outcomes for the human and natural environments both now and into the indefinite future. Sustainability relates to the continuity of economic, social, institutional and environmental aspects of human society, as well as the non-human environment.

For many the concept of sustainability is relatively new in spite of the fact that it is emerging as the most dominant issue of our time. Unfortunately, we can not wake up slowly to this issue. Timing is critical and the alarm bells have already been ringing for some time.

It has fallen on this generation to deal with this issue in very concrete if not dramatic terms in order to save life as we know it on this planet.

Any way you look at it SUSTAINABILITY is an concept that must grow in our consciousness as in many respects we are at the "push come to shove" point in our history. We can not afford to put off decisions or actions that can contribute to the sustainability of life as we know it on this planet. We MUST move beyond debate to concrete action and we must do it NOW. The "too little too late" in this case will be definitely TOO LATE! as there will not be a second chance to avoid the dire environmental, economic and biological consequences of inaction. We are already up against the wall and yet most people have not yet even looked up from the sidewalk to see the writing on the wall.

It is hard to express the urgency of this issue without sounding reactionary however the evidence that we are heading for a potential eco system collapse has become overwhelming and this time we cannot put off until tomorrow the actions needed yesterday.

In a sense we have upset natures apple cart and unless we can get it all tidied up in a big hurry there may not be any more apples to worry about!

Here we will be exploring the subject of sustainability with news, articles and reports on a wide variety of subjects related to sustainability. Below is just an example...so stay tuned and come back for more.

From a purely academic perspective I liked the way Wikipedia explored the subject ... which underlined the connectedness of all things which we have been somewhat oblivious too in our rush to chase what we saw as success.

Time have changed and each generation has its challenge to meet. Unfortunately ours, it turns out, is pivotal to the future of mankind and all life as we know it on this planet. We did not ask for this to be on our plate, but neither did other generation get to choose the lesson of their time.

My grandfather used to say that "It is not what happens to you that matters but what you do about it that will make the difference in your life."

From many perspectives there is only one success that counts right now and it all starts with understanding what it means to be sustainable.

Purpose and the focus on outcomes
At its least, sustainability implies paying attention to comprehensive outcomes of events and actions insofar as they can be anticipated at present. This is known as full cost accounting, or Environmental accounting. This kind of accounting assumes that all aspects of a system can be measured and audited (Environmental audits).

This can be a limited biological interpretation as in ecological footprint analysis, or may include social factors as in the ICLEI—Triple Bottom Line standards for urban and community accounts. The introduction of social factors to the debate implies a much more complex and contentious debate, and those focused on ecological impacts tend to strongly resist non-ecological interpretations.

At most, sustainability is intended as a means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving bio diversity and natural ecosystems, and planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals in a very long term. Typically at least seven generations—the maximum span that any individual human is likely to experience directly. Sustainability can be investigated at every level of organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire planet.

None of these extended definitions, however, ever deny or downplay the importance of the ecological interpretation of sustainability as defined by the science of ecology itself. All advocates of sustainability accept that ecological, not social, factors, are the most measurable and universal indicators of sustainability. Values vary greatly in detail within and between cultures, as well as between academic disciplines (e.g., between economists and ecologists). [9] At the heart of the concept of sustainability is a fundamental, immutable value set that is best stated as 'parallel care and respect for the ecosystem and for the people within'. From this value set emerges the goal of sustainability: to achieve human and ecosystem well-being together. It follows that the 'result' against which the success of any project or design should be judged is the achievement of, or the contribution to, human and ecosystem well-being together. Seen in this way, the concept of sustainability is much more than environmental protection in another guise. It is a positive concept that has as much to do with achieving well-being for people and ecosystems as it has to do with reducing stress or impacts.

Common principles
Some people now consider the term "sustainable development" as too closely linked with continued material development, and prefer to use terms like "sustainability", "sustainable prosperity" and "sustainable genuine progress" as the umbrella terms. Despite differences, a number of common principles are embedded in most charters or action programs to achieve sustainable development, sustainability or sustainable prosperity. These include (Hargroves & Smith 2005):

Dealing transparently and systemically with risk, uncertainty and irreversibility.

Ensuring appropriate valuation, appreciation and restoration of nature.
Integration of environmental, social, human and economic goals in policies and activities.

Equal opportunity and community participation/Sustainable community.

Conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity.

Ensuring inter-generational equity.

Recognizing the global integration of localities.

A commitment to best practice.

No net loss of human capital or natural capital.

The principle of continuous improvement.

The need for good governance.

Population growth and Consumption
One of the critical issues in sustainability is that of human overpopulation combined with current lifestyle patterns. A number of studies have suggested that the current population of the Earth, already over six billion, is too many people to support sustainably at current material consumption levels. This challenge for sustainability is distributed unevenly. According to calculations of the ecological footprint, the ecological pressure of a US resident is 12 times that of a resident of India and 24 times that of a Somali resident.

With the world population continuing to grow, there is increasing pressure on arable land, water, energy, and biological resources to provide enough food while while supporting viable ecosystems. World Bank and United Nations studies, show that there are over 1 billion people who are malnourished. This is due to a combination of lack of food, low incomes, and poor food distribution. The world population is projected to double from over 6 billion to more than 12 billion within the next 50 years (Pimentel et al., 1994). With expanding population, the food problem will worsen.

Critics of efforts to reduce population rather than consumption fear that efforts to reduce population growth may lead to human rights violations such as involuntary sterilization and the abandoning of infants to die. Some human-rights watchers report that this is already taking place in China, as a result of its one child per family policy.

Albeit, it appears inevitable[citation needed] that human population numbers will be constrained and brought into some form of equilibrium by the Malthusian limit and in accordance with the Lotka-Volterra equation. In his book Collapse, author Jared Diamond presents several societies where population growth mixed with unsustainable consumption levels have led to collapses in population numbers.

Types of sustainability
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has identified considerations for technical cooperation that affect three types of sustainability:

Institutional sustainability. Can a strengthened institutional structure continue to deliver the results of technical cooperation to end users? The results may not be sustainable if, for example, the planning authority that depends on the technical cooperation loses access to top management, or is not provided with adequate resources after the technical cooperation ends. Institutional sustainability can also be linked to the concept of social sustainability, which asks how the interventions can be sustained by social structures and institutions;

Economic and financial sustainability. Can the results of technical cooperation continue to yield an economic benefit after the technical cooperation is withdrawn? For example, the benefits from the introduction of new crops may not be sustained if the constraints to marketing the crops are not resolved. Similarly, economic, as distinct from financial, sustainability may be at risk if the end users continue to depend on heavily subsidized activities and inputs.

Ecological sustainability. Are the benefits to be generated by the technical cooperation likely to lead to a deterioration in the physical environment, thus indirectly contributing to a fall in production, or well-being of the groups targeted and their society?
Some ecologists have emphasized a fourth type of sustainability.

Energetic Sustainability. This type of sustainability is often concerned with the production of energy and mineral resources. Some researchers have pointed to trends which document the limits of production. See Hubbert peak for example.

The United Nations has declared a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development starting in January of 2005. A non-partisan multi-sector response to the decade has formed within the U.S. via the U.S. Partnership for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Active sectors teams have formed for youth, higher education, business, religion, the arts, and more. Organizations and individuals can join in sharing resources and success stories, and creating a sustainable future.

Development Sustainability
Sustainability is relevant to development projects. A definition of development sustainability is "the continuation of benefits after major assistance from the donor has been completed" (Australian Agency for International Development 2000). Ensuring that development projects are sustainable can reduce the likelihood of them collapsing after they have just finished; it also reduces the financial cost of development projects and the subsequent social problems, such as dependence of the stakeholders on external donors and their resources. All development assistance, apart from temporary emergency and humanitarian relief efforts, should be designed and implemented with the aim of achieving sustainable benefits.

Participation and ownership. Get the stakeholders (men and women) to genuinely participate in design and implementation. Build on their initiatives and demands. Get them to monitor the project and periodically evaluate it for results.

Capacity building and training. Training stakeholders to take over should begin from the start of any project and continue throughout. The right approach should both motivate and transfer skills to people.

Government policies. Development projects should be aligned with local government policies.

Financial. In some countries and sectors, financial sustainability is difficult in the medium term. Training in local fundraising is a possibility, as is identifying links with the private sector, charging for use, and encouraging policy reforms.

Management and organization. Activities that integrate with or add to local structures may have better prospects for sustainability than those which establish new or parallel structures.

Social, gender and culture. The introduction of new ideas, technologies and skills requires an understanding of local decision-making systems, gender divisions and cultural preferences.

Technology. All outside equipment must be selected with careful consideration given to the local finance available for maintenance and replacement. Cultural acceptability and the local capacity to maintain equipment and buy spare parts are vital.

Environment. Poor rural communities that depend on natural resources should be involved in identifying and managing environmental risks. Urban communities should identify and manage waste disposal and pollution risks.

External political and economic factors . In a weak economy, projects should not be too complicated, ambitious or expensive.
Realistic duration. A short project may be inadequate for solving entrenched problems in a sustainable way, particularly when behavioral and institutional changes are intended. A long project, may on the other hand, promote dependence.

The definition of sustainability as "the continuation of benefits after major assistance from the donor has been completed" (Australian Agency for International Development 2000) is echoed by other definitions (World Bank, USAID). The concept has however evolved as it has become of interest to non grant-making institutions. Sustainability in development refers to processes and relative increases in local capacity and performance while foreign assistance decreases or shifts (not necessarily disappears). For a presentation of this evolution in the health sector of development, see publications on: http://www.childsurvival.com/documents/CSTS/sustainability.cfm

Barriers to a sustainability culture
Acknowledging the barriers to sustainability, numerous publications from the Tellus Institute examine the factors necessary to achieve an environmentally sustainable future, something Tellus terms a ‘Great Transition’ (see Raskin et al, 2002; Rajan, 2006; Kreigman, 2006). Using scenario analysis, Tellus shows that a new sustainability paradigm is possible if progressive elements of civil society, government, business, and an engaged citizenry work together to create an alternative vision of globalization centered on the quality of life, human solidarity, environmental resilience, and shared information.

The phenomenon of change resistance
The above concepts focus primarily on the proper practices required to live sustainably. However, there is also the need to consider why there is such strong resistance to adopting sustainable practices.

Unruh (2000, 2002) has argued that numerous barriers to sustainability arise because today's technological systems and governing institutions were designed and built for permanence and reliability, not change. In the case of fossil fuel-based systems this is termed "carbon lock-in" and inhibits many change efforts.

Thwink.org argues that if enough members of the environmental movement adopted a problem solving process that fit the problem, the movement would make the astonishing discovery that the crux of the problem is not what it thought it was. It is not the proper practices or technical side of the problem after all. Any number of these practices would be adequate. Instead the real issue is why is it so difficult to persuade social agents (such as people, corporations, and nations) to adopt the proper practices needed to live sustainably? Thus the heart of the matter is the change resistance or social side of the problem.

Barriers to ecological sustainability
Despite the now overwhelming evidence that the human species is set on a population adjustment course of immense proportions, and despite long-standing and widespread public awareness of the seriousness of the consequence (e.g., Nelson, 1986; Yankelovitch, et al., 1983; Diamond, Jared (2005) ), it seems impossible to alter the course of our destiny.

This is generally attributed to “change resistance” (see, e.g., Thwink.org), viewed as involving change in individual values, whether at personal, corporate, or collective levels (see e.g., Stafford Beer). Unfortunately, it has been frequently demonstrated, e.g., in the studies cited, that people’s values are, in general, in the right place. The problem is to enact them. This has led to the preparation of numerous “wish lists”—such as that compiled by Shah, H., & Marks, N. (2004)—drawing together many recommendations for government action.

Government and individual failure to act on the available information is widely attributed to personal greed (deemed to be inherent in human nature) especially on the part of international capitalists. But even Karl Marx did not suggest this, instead highlighting sociological processes which have been in operation for thousands of years. If fault is to be found with Marx's work it can be argued that it lies elsewhere. Because he believed that the collapse of capitalism was imminent, he never discussed how to run society in an innovative way in the long term public interest.

Two things seem to follow from this brief discussion.

It is vital to follow up the study of the sociocybernetic, or systems (see also systems theory), processes which, it seems, primarily control what happens in society. We should use the social-science-based insights already available to evolve forms of Public management that will act on information in an innovative way in the long term public interest.

Precautionary principle
The precautionary principle states that if there is a risk that an action could cause harm, and there is a lack of scientific consensus on the matter, the burden of proof is on those who would support taking the action.

When competing "experts" recommend diametrically opposing paths of action regarding resources, carrying capacity, sustainability, and the future, we serve the cause of sustainability by choosing the conservative path, which is defined as the path that would leave society in the less precarious position if the chosen path turns out to be the wrong path.

Governments seem to be slowly if not surely coming around to an understanding of the need to develop sustainability plans. Recently the UK Government has produced 'Securing the Future- UK Government sustainable development strategy' ( DEFRA, 2005) which identifies sustainable development as having five key principles as shown in the figure below:

All this is simply underlines how important it is to talk with others about this issue. It underlies and is directly connected to all the other challenges we have as a society for if we do not deal with this issue all the other issues will indeed become irrelevant.

We all have to do our part and we need to do it now. In short it is time to consider the shortest distance between where we are now and were we need to be and to take direct and urgent action to get there.

If we work together we can not only save the day but we can create a truly sustainable world for this and future generations to come.


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