2015-11-20 / Community

Sustainable SoPo

What is sustainability?

“It is the vision of the City of South Portland to create a sustainable city that benefits the lives of all citizens through energy savings, preservation of the environment, economic opportunity, and improvement of the health and welfare of the employees and people of the City.”

– From the city of South Portland Municipal Climate Action Plan

“Sustainable” and “sustainability” are words we hear frequently these days and it is easy to assume that everyone understands what they mean. A few basic definitions of the word “sustainable” are:

 able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed

 involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources

 able to last or continue for a long time

However, if you find yourself scratching your head when it comes to defining and understanding how they are used by governments, communities or decision-makers, you are not alone. A succinct definition does not roll off the tongue and there has been considerable debate about what these terms mean ever since at least 1987 when the United Nations Brundtland Commission Report defined “sustainable development” as “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition stresses the importance of strong social and economic development and the protection of natural and environmental resources. These three aspects – social, economic and environmental – are now considered the three pillars of sustainability, and in order to achieve sustainability, it is necessary that these three pillars be considered in equal measure and harmonized.

Depending on your work or world view you may value or give more weight to one or more of the pillars, but sustainability asks that we look beyond the scope of our own lives and jobs and to give equal value and weight to the economic, social and environmental impacts of all of our decisions, choices, actions and behaviors. This will likely require some degree of shift or change and this is not easy.

Sustainability might best be understood as a process, rather than having a static definition. When asked, “What is sustainability?” a handful of city officials responded thoughtfully and acknowledged the challenges and opportunities that the concept presents.

“Some people are afraid of sustainability, because they think it means things will be taken away from them, and they will be forced to make difficult changes in their life, but it also “opens up possibilities of making things better, even if it’s a little at a time,” said Linda Cohen, city councilor and mayor.

City Councilor Maxine Beecher said that it means “being a good steward, alert and knowledgeable of best practices.” She said it also means that we need to ask thoughtful, searching questions about energy choices and our built environment.

Patrick Cloutier said, “At Water Resource Protection we work in the world of sustainability every day. We collect and treat billions of gallons of the city’s wastewater and storm water in order to promote the public health and the water quality of Casco Bay.”

There are many people working hard to understand, define and implement sustainability measures in a way that makes sense for all the people of South Portland. Please consider reading The City of South Portland Sustainability Resolve, which is included in Appendix A (page 34) of the City of South Portland Municipal Climate Action Plan.

The South Portland Energy and Recycling Committee meets the third Wednesday of each month at the South Portland Community Center. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and are open to the public.

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