What is sustainability?

What is sustainability?

Erich Steiner (pictured) shares his thoughts on Sustainability….

The concept of sustainability exists from the early days of human life on earth. It has been about survival. Looking back only as far as the 18th century Carl von Carlowitz, a german thinker, already formerly addressed the idea of sustainable forestry asking how we can combine economic interests with environmental needs without radically changing our way of life. This is the foundation of the idea, finding a balance between economic benefit and managing the impact on nature (and society). The inherent idea is timeless, yet we have only really started to talk about sustainability as a formal concept in recent decades.

In 1983 the UN formed the World Commission on Environment and Development with three objectives in mind: to re-examine the critical environment and development issues and formulate realistic proposals for dealing with them; to propose new forms of international co-operation on these issues that will influence policies and events in the direction of needed changes; and to raise the levels of understanding and commitment to action of individuals, voluntary organizations, businesses, institutes and governments. The results of this commission were published in 1987 as Our Common Future, 4 years of international research on “sustainable development”. Then in 1992 the Rio Earth Summit took these issues to the international stage where 179 countries agreed to work toward creating a “global sustainable development” with a fair balance between economic efficiency, social responsibility and a careful use of resources.

Since these early steps only a couple of decades ago there have been sustainability definitions and eco-labels created in almost every domain of life, including golf, to encourage the industry to “go green”, essentially to think of the social and environmental consequences as well, and not just focus on making more money. The R&A has defined sustainable golf as “Optimising the playing quality of the golf course in harmony with the conservation of its natural environment under economically sound and socially responsible management”. FEGGA has also produced an Environmental Policy Document back in 2000, encouraging the implementation of an environmental programme to bring the greenkeeping profession in line with sustainable practices.

A lot of research, writing and nice words, but the question is: where are we on this path toward a sustainable development some 24 years after the Rio Earth Summit? Are we bored with talking about sustainability? Some say it’s a worn out word. Was it just a passing trend? Has our constant talking replaced the acting and do we even remember our objectives and what are we doing to reach them? We might believe that we are already living in a world of sustainability with organic food shops on every corner and constant talk of green energy and Fairtrade bananas. Yet the truth is something else. The industrialized countries have just begun to make a dent in the total market but there is a long road ahead. GEO is working to help the golf industry becoming more sustainable. Is it working and to what extent?

Decision-making remains difficult with this every present conflict between our heavily dominant economic objectives and the importance of ecological integrity and social responsibility. Within the greenkeeping profession we talk of more environmentally friendly pesticide products and energy efficient machinery, yet climate change continues to rise, habitats are disappearing rapidly and fresh water reserves are more and more threatened. It is not only our increasing population that weighs heavily on this planet but also our economic-based decisions. Even in ecologically minded Germany, more than 1/3 of all native fauna and flora is under threat of extinction and 20% of all bee-hives did not survive last winter in Switzerland. And the world share of wealth if still incredibly unbalanced. We see this every day with the massive numbers of immigration requests trying desperately to find a better life in the western world. We would like to live in harmony with nature and be socially responsible yet the task is daunting. We talk the talk, but do we walk the walk? Where do we start? How sustainable can we be as individuals in a world of massive international conglomerates who make short-term profit their number one objective?

It seems insurmountable yet I believe that each individual can make smart sustainable decisions and when individuals get together, as we are as European greenkeepers, we can make a difference and even help to lead by example for the rest of the golf industry. Corporate sustainability is living together as said by Carl von Carlowitz back in 1713. As golf returns to the Olympics and the world stage this year, let’s stand up and get taken seriously. Let’s start a collective initiative for a collective impact. Let’s help bring a sustainable revolution to golf today, for a better game tomorrow..

Steiner & Partner Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH

Ref.: K:\Projekte\15215 FEGGA-Patrons Representativ\02 Dokumente\Be160314_ Essey on Sustainability.doc

Erich Steiner MSc Landscape Architect FH BSLA, Managing Director

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