Opportunities for sustainability

I-Hsien Porter

Recycling bins

Recycling bins: sustainability in action?

From the 2012 Olympics to doorstep recycling collections, one issue that geographers are repeatedly confronted with is ‘sustainability.’ For example, in a recent photography project, the photographer Andy Spain imagines how London’s architecture would look in a more sustainable and ‘greener’ future.

One of the most widely used definitions of sustainable development is that of the UN’s Brundtland Report, published in the 1980s: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

A paper by Colin Williams and Andrew Millington, in The Geographical Journal, explores two possible responses to sustainable development, either (1) increasing the amount of resources available or, (2) reducing the amount of resources we need.

Many of our responses to the sustainability challenge have focused on the first option. Developing renewable resources, finding substitutes or making more effective use of resources are all ways in which we can meet present and future needs.

But long term planning must also look at ways of reducing the demands we place on the Earth (e.g. by consuming less), so that we need fewer resources to meet our needs in the first place.

In practice, the boundaries between these two approaches are rather more blurred, and sustainable development usually involves some combination of both. This, argue Williams and Millington, generates new opportunities to unite different aspects of geography to generate new ideas about our planet’s future.

‘Ecocities’, a photography project by Andy Spain

Williams, C. and Millington, A. (2004) ‘The Diverse and Contested Meanings of Sustainable Development’, The Geographical Journal 170 (2): 99-104

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