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Sustainability – Hijacked by the Establishment

Posted on the 02 October 2011 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Sustainability – Hijacked by the EstablishmentSustainability has (un)officially become a buzzword. It feels like this happened a few years back, perhaps around the time 2nd Green Revolution was founded. However, evidence points to a more recent and sinister shift. The term has seemingly been hijacked by the “establishment.” This is not a conspiracy theory mind you, just an observation. Companies that do not have sustainability as a core component of their business model  have realized there is value in exploiting the term. It is important to ask if environmental concerns are indeed compatible with the market economy. Taking this a step further though acknowledges that there are multiple components to sustainability, not just the environment.

Sustainability has hundreds of definitions, but the truest in terms of environmental sustainability refers to harvesting goods (energy and raw materials) at the rate they are replenished, while economic sustainability is defined by benefits outweighing costs. As the economy slowly shifts to a sustainable one, and perhaps a regenerative economy, there will be a role for nonrenewable resources. These serve as the foundation of the current economic system. However, labeling oil and gas companies as sustainable energy (or clean energy for that matter) is a complete misnomer. Yes, they will be vital in the transition to renewable and hopefully sustainable fuels. But they are not sustainable energy sources. Deriving oil and gas from plants and animals on the other hand is renewable. Whether it is ultimately sustainable remains to be seen. Just because a fuel comes from a renewable source (i.e. it is replenished within our lifetime), does not mean it is sustainable. Good luck capturing methane from a cow’s flatulence.

Many companies in the oil and gas industry have started using the term sustainability. Perhaps they have found something in those hundreds of definitions that covers their industry; doubtful though. Janet Ranganathan, the World Resources Institute’s Vice President for Science and Research, shares a common preconception of the industry. She states, “many people see sustainability in oil and gas sector as an oxymoron. But, like it or not this sector is likely to play a significant role for decades. Thus any effort like sustainability reporting that can help them reduce their environmental and social impacts, while the world transitions to clean energy, is worthwhile.” Let’s say the glass is half full. Here’s to refilling the glass in a sustainable manner.

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