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The importance of Environmental Sustainability

Sustainability is currently the most desirable avenue for organisations and corporations (Dunphy, Griffiths & Benn 2003). Sustainability is commonly understood as the capacity to maintain as certain process or state and most recently refers to biological and human systems. The concept of global sustainability is still recent as authors continue to argue amongst one another in regards to the key factors affecting this phenomenon. The prime case is the debate between Parkin (2000) along with Wilkson and Yencken (2000) whom examine the three pillars and the five capitals model. The three pillar model argued by Wilkson and Yencken (2000) is based on the factors of; social sustainability, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability which all inter-relate to create sustainability as seen in Figure 1 – The three Spheres of Sustainability


The three hemespheres of sustainability
Figure 1


The concept that was constructed by Parkin (2000) is more complex as it involves The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) and the quadruple bottom line to help form the basis for the five capitals which are; Natural, Human, Social, Manufactured and Financial. These five capitals can be further explained in Table 1.


Table 1:                               ‘The Five Capitals’ (Parkin, 2000)

Sustainability Dimension
(i.e. Triple Bottom Line)

Type of Capital


Flow of Benefits

1. Environment

1. Natural

Soil, sea, air, wood, ecological systems

Energy, food, water, climate, waste disposal

2. Social

2. Human

Health, knowledge, motivation, spiritual ease

Energy, work, creativity, innovation, love happiness


3. Social

Governance systems, families, communities, organisations

Security, shared goods (e.g. culture, education), inclusion

3. Economy

4. Manufactured

Existing tools, infrastructure, buildings

Living/work/leisure places, access, material resources


5. Financial

Money, stocks, bonds

Means of valuing, owning & exchanging the other four capitals


Both models provide the correct information in consideration of their target market, as the simple three pillar model could easily marketed to the citizens of the community whilst the ‘five capital’ model could be targeted to corporate businesses.
Ultimately, they both provide the essential information describing the factors that are hindering the capacity of the Earth to be a sustainable entity. It is clearly evident that all over the world resources are running low as BBC News explains that by 2025 two-thirds of the worlds people are likely to be living in areas of acute water stress (Kirby, 2004). Furthermore, Kirby states that an “estimated 1 in 6 people suffer from hunger and malnutrition while attempts to grow food are damaging swathes of productive land” and the biggest issue to date is climate change which can be visibly witnessed across the globe as increased storms, floods and droughts are currently occurring.

Since the first emergence of sustainability in the global arena at the 1972 UN Conference 113 nations pledged to initiate the correct strategies to clean the environment and to tackle environmental issues on a global scale (Kenworthy & Newman, 1999). Specific sustainability strategies for cities such as the ‘Extended Metabolism Model of Human Settlements’ are imperative, especially in first world countries where survival of humanity is in jeopardy as viewed by the optimistic (Halliday, 2008).


Climate change is at this moment the biggest environmental challenge as it is described as the unpredictable change in weather patterns including storms, extreme temperatures in both directions and droughts just to name a few. Scientific evidence has confirmed that climate change can occur in two manners which are naturally and it can be caused by human’s activities. Furthermore, Kirby (2004) exclaims that there is in-depth scientific evidence to prove that the Earth has reached a stage in its life span that has never been encountered before.


Statistics graphs on the changes on earth

Figure 2


Several factors have contributed to anthropogenic climate change which has been collated via the observation of physical changes to the environment.
The increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were measured by collecting air samples in bubbles of air trapped in ancient ice cores.
As seen in figure 2, there is information dating back to the 1700’s that consumption of resources has continually increased and can be argued that this is caused by the increase in the global population (Kirby, 2004). Moreover, figure 3 depicts the radical change in surface temperature from 1880 in comparison to 2000 as it has increased by approximately one degree Celsius.
Some other factors that have essentially been the cause of anthropogenic climate change are; the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, the change in length of season and the change of habitats.

Australia is considered a different country, most likely due to its unique low-land woodlands, temperature grasslands, mallee and heath. Climate Change and First World development are two crucial factors affecting the huge loss in bio diversity in the world (Lindenmayer, 2007). Australia is the worst contributor to the global bio diversity loss with more than fourteen percent of vertebrate species and twelve percent of the plants being threatened; this percentage is substantially larger even in comparison to the next two countries which are the U.S.A. and Mexico (Lindenmayer, 2007). The lack of water supply in the southern regions of Australia is a major cause to many of the issues Australia is facing and seems to be eminent as climate change is grabbing a hold of the Earth.

Temperature development since the 1860's

Figure 3


In an informative manner Kirby (2004) clarifies that the existence of complex species on Earth is due to the natural greenhouse effect which is responsible for retaining the precise amount of heat for these species to thrive.
The atmospheric CO2 level has increased by some 25 percent since 1850 due to fossil fuel combustion, land use (largely deforestation) and has resulted in a massive depletion in the Earth’s ozone layer (Schneider, 1989).

Dunphy et al, (2003) explain five major issues pressuring corporations to create a more sustainable lifestyle as a global citizen. The five key concerns are poverty, increase in industrialization of the developing world, failure of the international community to address these concerns, destruction of environmental habitat and the social side-effect of the ever growing human population.
The common relation between these problems is the fact that they have all been caused by humans and the only method of nullifying these effects is through in-depth strategies with the collaboration of world leaders.
It is only since 1997 that an assessment was constructed to track the interaction between the environment and society. It was aptly named the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) and in the year of 2004 more than 100 governments and 50 partner organisations came together to strengthen the scientific base of UNEP (United Nations Environment Program). This is definitely a sign in the right direction as the cooperation of nations is essential to tackle such a massive issue of the climate change and the increase in carbon emissions.

Conversely, there are individuals who disagree with the approach that sustainability is what the world must lead towards to succeed (Lomborg, 2001; Treanor, 2008). One issue that has been set forth by Treanor (2008) is the elite power and practices of exclusion in the education industry. The case in this situation, due to sustainability being well-accepted especially now in the education sector, there is a now a barrier placed on individuals whom oppose sustainability. One prime example is as follows;

“Consider the situation of two students: A is anti-sustainability, B is pro-sustainability. Both start a relevant course at university – planning, or energy policy. From the first day on, A finds that there are no anti-sustainability courses, while B can choose from several courses. Student A fails all the exams by giving anti-sustainable answers. Student B is rewarded by passing the exams, getting extra travel grants, a second degree, a research post, and so on.”
(Treanor, 2008, p 3)


This example is supported by evidence revealing that no university in Europe offers a course in anti-sustainability in turn, creating enormous social pressures on students to accept the fact of sustainability. In a society that claims to grant free speech it seems illogical to disallow the ability of free-thinking.
As a world phenomenon, sustainability is viewed as the only option to regaining peaceful living on Earth without having hugely detrimental issues for future generations.

The harmonisation of societal, economical and environmental factors appears to be the present and forthcoming option to equitable sustainability.
On a historical view point there is a plethora of evidence to declare that the majority of human’s actions are responsible for producing such a drastic change in the global climate (Schneider, 1989; Lindenmayer. 2007).
There have been obvious attempts to initiate and aware the global population of this threat and world leaders have in the past and present continued to steam ahead on strategies to reverse the greenhouse gas effect followed on by the climate change (Kenworthy & Newman, 1999; Dunphy et al, 2003).

In opposition to the cause of creating sustainable living are a few individuals that argue against this universal idea such as Lomborg (2001) and Treanor (2008). They both believe that there are several contradictions to issues that have been placed forth by pro-sustainable activists and believe their word is as good as theirs.
The scenario that the world is facing at the moment is that the idea of sustainability is acceptable, but is there any substantial proof to illustrate the population’s pro-activeness towards this cause? The design of Earth Hour at this instance is the only worldwide event that exemplifies the awareness of sustainable living and only occurs once annually (Earth Hour, 2009).
In conclusion, climate change will only reverse in the same time frame as it took for it to reach this point and the concept of a sustainable society is argued to be the best option at this point in time. Essentially it will be the power of the people to heal the world.





Triple bottom line

The triple bottom line (abbreviated as "TBL" or "3BL", and also known as "people, planet, profit") captures an expanded spectrum of values and criteria for measuring organizational (and societal) success: economic, ecological and social. With the ratification of the United Nations and ICLEI TBL standard for urban and community accounting in early 2007, this became the dominant approach to public sector full cost accounting. Similar UN standards apply to natural capital and human capital measurement to assist in measurements required by TBL, e.g. the ecoBudget standard for reporting ecological footprint.

In the private sector, a commitment to corporate social responsibility implies a commitment to some form of TBL reporting. This is distinct from the more limited changes required to deal only with ecological issues.

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Anthropogenic effects

Processes or materials are those that are derived from human activities, as opposed to those occurring in biophysical environments without human influence

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Mallee is the growth habit of certain eucalypt species that grow with multiple stems springing from an underground lignotuber, usually to a height of no more than ten metres

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A heath or heathland is a dwarf-shrub habitat found on mainly infertile acidic soils, characterised by open, low growing woody vegetation, often dominated by plants of the Ericaceae. It is similar to moorland, but is generally warmer and drier

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Dunphy, D., Griffiths, A., & Benn, S. (2003). The Drivers of Change: Organisational change for corporate sustainability. Routledge, London.

Halliday, S. (2008). Sustainable Construction.Boston, MA: Oxford Butterworth-Heinemann

Kenworthy, J., & Newman, P. (1999). Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence. Washington, D.C.: Island Press

Kirby, A. (2004). Introduction: Planet under pressure.

Lindenmayer, D., (2007), On Borrowed Time: Australia’s Environmental Crisis and What We Must Do About It. Camberwell, VIC: CSIRO Publishing.

Lomborg, B., (2001). The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, New York: NY: Cambridge University Press

Parkin, S. (2000) Sustainable Development: The Concept and the Practical Challenge. Civil Engineering, 138, 7.

Schneider, S. (1989). The Greenhouse Effect: Science and Policy. Journal of Science, 243, 4892, 771-781.

Treanor, P. (2008), Why Sustainability is ‘wrong’. http://web.inter.nl.net/users/Paul.Treanor/sustainability.html

United Nations Environment Programme, Global Environmental Outlook 4: Summary for Decision Makers, [online], United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya, 2007,

Wilkinson, D., & Yencken, D. (2000). Resetting the Compass: Australia’s Journey Towards Sustainability. Collingwood, VIC: CSIRO Publishing.