How Do You Define Sustainability?

12 November 2015

What does sustainability mean to you?  Does it mean trying to promote the most environmentally sustainable practices to protect the environment from further destruction?  Or do you take a more economically sustainable approach, focusing on viability?
    For some farmers who view agriculture as their source of income, they need to do whatever is necessary to hand down soil that can be used for farming by future generations.  This is something economist, Joe Outlaw, talked about at the International Durum Forum in Minot.
    Sustainability is a very flexible word and can have different meanings in different contexts.  While everyone would love to see farmers use less pesticides, rarely do we think about the viability of the farmers.  Often times, when we see fertilizer being sprayed on a farm, our thought process goes a little like: Do they (the farmers) really need all that fertilizer?  It looks like they are just spraying aimlessly.  Joe Outlaw responds to those thoughts saying, “Nothing could be further from the truth because they’re very expensive.”  Farmers have to buy this expensive fertilizer and so they do not want to use it excessively.  For this reason, farmers are very methodical about their placement of fertilizer, even though to outsiders it looks like they are spraying aimlessly.
    While this process of fertilization still seems less than ideal to a person who is very interested in environmental sustainability, Joe Outlaw brings up a good point regarding the “race to nine billion people on the planet.”  If we are to support all those people, the farmers will need to take the necessary measures to ensure they get the most out of their land and crops to be able to feed the world.
    Overall, I found this article really interesting because I have really only focused on environmental sustainability and trying to get farmers to reduce their use of fertilizers.  However, I had never really thought about sustainability from an economic stand point and looking at how farmers can ensure the viability of their farm to continue production for many years to come.  This is especially important right now with the influx in world population.
    I recommend we all take a step back before make accusations and think about why people may be taking the actions they are taking.  This is not to say we should be so lenient that we stop fighting for environmental sustainability.  However, we do need to think about what sustainability means to other people and if there is a way to converge the two ideas in order to reach a common ground.  For example, can we obtain environmental and economic sustainability while keeping both parties happy?  Food for thought.