Much of the writing in academic circles and popular nonfiction regarding sustainability reiterates the importance of place in sustainability. In fact, one of our earliest guest posts on 2nd Green Revolution was titled “Place Really Does Matter.” From academics like David Sobel at Antioch University in Keene, New Hampshire to nature advocate Richard Louv – whose latest book Last Child in the Woods was reviewed recently on 2nd Green Revolution – a number of thinkers in the field of sustainability have rallied around the importance of place to sustainable development. What this means, primarily, is that in order for sustainable behaviors to take root, there must be a connection to place and a willingness to begin acting sustainably.
While working on a research paper, I came across a study from 2002 (Place Identification, Social Cohesion, and Environmental Sustainability in the journal Environment and Behavior) that looked at two towns in England with similar demographics, but different attitudes toward their immediate surroundings. The pride in their surroundings exhibited by one town had a positive correlation to sustainability behaviors. Conversely, the neighboring town did not reflect a cohesive connection with their surroundings, and subsequently had a negative correlation with sustainability behaviors.
From the study comes this insightful definition of a sustainable environment. “A sustainable environment involves the protection of natural wealth, the controlled consumption of nonrenewable resources, the controlled emission of contaminant agents, the maintenance of biological diversity, the health of the inhabitants, and the preservation of flora and fauna. Sustainability is neither a vision nor an unalterable state but a creative and local process of searching for balance that spreads into all areas of urban management and decision making. As every city is different, each city must find its own way toward sustainability.”
The study goes on to make the point that “Any attempt to create a sustainable environmental system must in itself be sustainable. Although one can address the problem of sustainability at an individual level, it would seem that any long-term environmental behavior strategy has to be located in the relationships that exist between people in the community and the relationship between those people – individually and collectively – and their environment.”
If sustainable development succeeds, the movement and system cannot rely on a small group of individuals. While Anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous quote – “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – holds a degree of truth. However, sustainability measures will require all of us to do our part. In the 2002 study, the researchers found that “people show proenvironmental intentions only as far as these do not entail personal sacrifice.” The time has come to make smart choices in our consumption habits. A potential change in business and technology means that we do not have to make personal sacrifice (or not nearly as much) as we once had.