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1- Understandings and critiques of

sustainability and sustainable
• Sustainability has become a buzzword in many aspects of
m o d e r n s o c i e t y. I t i s u s e d o n t h e p a c k a g i n g u s e d t o
protect goods, in the sales pitches that provide us with
information about everything from white goods to cars,
and even used to help persuade us which energy supplier
we should be using.

• Sustainable has long been associated with being

e n v i r o n m e n t a l l y f r i e n d l y, r e n e w a b l e a n d g r e e n . T h e u s e
of these terms has become an ambiguous way of claiming
that products, services or policies either reduce harm or
h a v e n o n e g a t i v e e ff e c t o n t h e e n v i r o n m e n t . T h i s l e a d s t o
a lot of confusion around the use of the word
S U S TA I N A B L E .
• The term ‘sustainability’ is hard to define because it
can be linked to an idea, a property of living
systems, a manufacturing method or a way of life.

• We g e n e r a l l y a s s o c i a t e t h e t e r m ‘ s u s t a i n a b l e ’ w i t h
b e i n g e n v i r o n m e n t a l l y f r i e n d l y, r e n e w a b l e a n d g r e e n .

S e e t h e m u l t i p l e d e f i n i t i o n s , Te xt b o o k p g . 2 3 1 - 2 3 2

L e a r n i n g Ta s k :
Fill in the definitions table in the 4.1.1 digital work
The Demise of the Rapa Nui People
• Located in the South Pacific, otherwise
known as Easter Island
• Famous for the giant stone moai statues

• By the time Europeans arrived in 1722,

the indigenous population was in

Research the Rapa Nui:

1. Describe their relationships with the environment and outline the consequences.
2. Outline what contemporary societies can learn from the plight of the Rapa Nui
There have been four key collaborations that have contributed
to our understanding of the concept of sustainability.

Outline the contributions of each of the following:

• Brundtland Commision 1987
• Earth Summit 1992
• World Summit 2005
• United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2012
Elements of sustainability


Society Environment


Sustainability can only be achieved through integrating three key elements

These elements are referred to as the pillars of sustainability.

• Refers to the promotion of standards of living and market

productivity of a country.
• Many countries (like Australia) have focused on resource
extraction and manufacturing processes, which can have a
detrimental impact on the environment in order to achieve
economic growth.
• About 80% of the world’s private consumption is consumed by
only 20% of the world’s population
• Consumption and population rates are increasing, demanding
more from the environment and consuming its resources
• We are starting to understand that the economy that we
socially depend on is a part of the environment

• Refers to the social wellbeing of all people, regarding the

meeting of the basic needs for survival
• Inequality between rich and poor is increasing.
• 1% of the world’s population own 40% of the world’s wealth
the poorest 50% own only 1% of the world’s wealth
• A major focus of sustainability is social equalisation – to enable
all humanity to access basic needs, many of which stem from
environmental resources
 Australia is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world,
largely due to its dependence on fossil fuels.
 Australians spend $10.5 billion annually on goods and services that
are never or hardly used. This is more than the total spent by
governments on universities or even roads.
 It takes the same amount of energy to make 20 aluminium cans
out of recycled material as it takes to make one new can.
 Waste paper accounts for 40% of all solid waste.
 Glass can be recycled indefinitely, it never wears out (or breaks
 Australian is ranked 5th highest in the world for the production of
municipal waste (households). This is equal to 52 mega tonnes a
year. This averages out to 2.25kg of waste, per person, per day!
• Environmental protection was very low, or even non-existent in
governmental policies. The environment suffered due to this
• The past 30 years have seen greater understanding of the links
between environmental health and social and economic
• Much of out social and economic development relies on the
precious resources provided by the environment
• This has seen the development of environmental health
monitoring and the adaption of ‘cleaner’ methods to survive
• Companies and industry are investing in environmentally
friendly technologies, processes and products
• Consumers are far more aware of theses and actively seek
them out for the benefit of the environment
L E A R N I N G TA S K :

With a partner- write a short response about the progression of evolution

shown in the image above, which represents the relationships over time
between humans and the environment.
Measuring an ‘ecological footprint’ is one of the
methods used to help people understand their impact
on Earth’s resources.

This is a measure of how much

productive land (global hectares)
is required to produce the goods
and services and dispose of the
waste necessary to support a
particular lifestyle.
An ecological footprint allows us to
consider and recognise the following:
• Everyday activities consume
• Many of these resources we consume
unconsciously- that is, we use them
with out even considering the
environmental effort that goes into
producing them.
• Human activity consumes these
resources faster than the Earth can
produce them
• The Earth’s capacity to produce
materials and absorb waste
generated by humans is known as its
Built up land 4%

Forest use

Greenhouse gas

Crop land and grazing

Humans can take a short questionnaire on they lifestyle.

Some of the lifestyle measurements the questionnaire

• transport habits
• food consumption
• household energy use
• ownership of goods

The questionnaire determines how many global hectares

would be required to support your consumption.

h t t p : / / w w w. f o o t p r i n t c a l c u l a t o r. o r g /
Yo u r r e s u l t s w i l l i n c l u d e :
1 . Yo u r p e r s o n a l o v e r s h o o t d a y - t h i s r e l a t e s t o t h e d a t e
in the year where you have used all of the resources the
p l a n e t i s a b l e t o p r o d u c e i n a y e a r.
2 . H o w m a n y E a r t h ’s - i n d i c a t i n g t h e n u m b e r o f p l a n e t s w e
would need for everyone to live like you.
3. Resource use by land type - indicating how much land
is used to provide the resources you use.
4. Ecological footprint (global hectares)- indicates the
biological share of the planet your lifestyle uses.
Note: 1 global hectare = 10,000m2 (roughly one soccer field worth of biologically productive space)

5 . Yo u r C a r b o n f o o t p r i n t - w h i c h g i v e s a m e a s u r e o f h o w
m u c h C O 2 y o u r l i f e s t y l e p r o d u c e s i n a y e a r.
• T h e e a r t h c a n s u p p o r t 1 . 7 g l o b a l h e c t a re s p e r
• T h e c u r r e n t a v e r a g e f o o t p r i n t i s 2 . 7 g l o b a l h e c t a re s .
• T h e A u s t r a lia n a v e r a g e i s 6 . 7 g l o b a l h e c t a r e s

• If everyone in the world

lived like the average
Australian, we would
require 3.8 Earths worth
of resources.
To c r i t i q u e s o m e t h i n g i s t o a n a l y s e o r a s s e s s i t .

T h e r e a r e m a n y i s s u e s w i t h s u s t a i n a b i l i t y, m a i n l y c e n t r e d
 The vagueness of the term
 That it is a contradiction/oxymoron
 T h e d i ff i c u l t y o f m e a s u r i n g i t
 It disadvantages developing nations
 Cost/expense involved
• The term is used too widely and has become meaningless
– known as ‘greenwashing’

• ‘Sustainability’ is a term that is overused.

• The term is used in many things from government policies

to cars, holidays, lifestyles and products. It has become a

• “ I t ’s c o m e t o b e a s q u i s h y, f e e l - g o o d c a t c h a l l f o r d o i n g
the right thing” - Robert Engelmann

• B e c a u s e o f h o w e a s i l y, f r e e l y a n d o f t e n i t i s u s e d , o f t e n
without any accountability or understanding and
c o n s e q u e n c e f o r t h e E a r t h ’s r e s o u r c e s ; i t c a n b e d e e m e d
Greenwashing: Companies or organisations who spend more
time and money claiming to be ‘sustainable’ as opposed to
actually working on minimising their impact.
• Contradiction of the term - sustainability is an oxymoron
Oxymoron: a figure of speech used when the subject
contradicts itself.

• To b e ‘ s u s t a i n a b l e ’ , a n y d e v e l o p m e n t w o u l d n e e d t o h a v e
no lasting impact on the environment.

• To d e v e l o p i s t o a d v a n c e , i m p r o v e o r e x p a n d . T h e r e f o r e
t h e E a r t h ’s r e s o u r c e s n e e d t o b e u s e d .

• D u e t o t h e E a r t h ’s e v e r - e x p a n d i n g p o p u l a t i o n , i n c r e a s i n g
amounts of resources are needed… is it truly possible
for society to develop and be sustainable at the same
• Sustainability is too difficult to be measure d.
(think of the issues with measuring your ecological footprint in a
basic way)

• There is no universal measurement indictors or a

c r i t e r i a f o r m e a s u r i n g s u s t a i n a b i l i t y.
• Ecological footprints provide a basic understanding of
o u r r e l i a n c e o n t h e E a r t h ’s r e s o u r c e s , y e t d o n ' t
provide solutions to any problems.
• H o w a r e w e t o m e a s u r e t h e e ff e c t i v e n e s s o f a n y
sustainable developments without measuring tools?
• Developing nations are disadvantaged by having to
d e v e l o p s u s t a i n a b l y.

• Developing countries aren't able to adopt expensive

new technologies

• Developing countries have larger

emissions, not by choice. Their industry
revolves around making sure that the
needs of people are met e.g. food and

• They are unable to meet these needs, so

how could it’s very difficult for them to
focus on sustainable practices.
• Sustainable practices can be very expensive
• Solar panels, grey water systems, economical cars etc
a r e a l l v e r y c o s t l y.
• These can take years to pay themselves of (7 on
average for solar panels).