Let sustainability be a matter of fact not an emotional response.

Let sustainability be a matter of fact not an emotional response.

What is sustainability? At the moment sustainability is driven by poor science, bad accounting, large subsidies and emotion. 

This is a bad thing.  At the moment, for someone to call something sustainable is enough to make it so. 

This of course is untrue.  There is no measurement of sustainability against any metric and no appetite for doing so.  If somebody “in authority” says this is sustainability it becomes so and anyone who disagrees is  treated as an earth destroying radical.  Far too often, the environmental lobby is given the veto - meaning that sustainability is only about environmental protection.  But sustainability and environmental protection are not the same thing.

Let’s look back  to the Brundtland Commission in 1987 where sustainable development was defined as, “Sustainable development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” And again to our own Local Government Act which states that councils must take, “a sustainable development approach...” including social, economic, cultural and environmental.  Both of these refer not to sustainability but to sustainable development.  This is important as without development we cannot have sustainable development.

For example, there are real issues around using rainwater tanks as a supplementary supply in a reticulated area.  We want to make affordable housing in Auckland and yet we are adding $10,000 per household to install something that offers no environmental benefit, has no measurable social benefit and has little or no cultural benefit.   Much uniformed and badly researched material has been produced showing how “sustainable” these things are. 

Power generation is another area where people assume that a wind farm or solar panel is “sustainable”. 

For example, the United Kingdom had subsidies for people to put in solar power generation systems and made the energy suppliers buy back the surplus energy from the household.  “Great” we all shout, “let’s get in there!” 

  But when do solar panels produce their power?  During the day when everyone is at work.  When are the power spike demands?  Between 6am and 9am and between 6pm and 9pm when the sun is low and solar panels are doing nearly nothing. (It’s dark during these times in the winter in the UK when power demand is highest). 

So the power companies have to buy power at a premium (because it’s green power) during the day when they don’t want it and they have to wind up their power stations during the high demand periods when solar is not helping at all. 

How does this help?  Who is paying for these subsidies and who do you think the power companies are charging for buying this unwanted premium cost power?  The poor British taxpayer and the poor British consumer, that’s who.  (In Australia, where the air conditioning is running all day and the sun actually makes an appearance, it may be a very different story.)

For something to be sustainable development then first it must be development and then we need metrics against which to measure the sustainability.  Anything else is an emotional response which will cost our country millions of dollars and continue to have no measurable impact on environmental protection, social improvement or cultural respect.

This thought leadership article by Iain Rabbits, a Senior Water Specialist Engineer at Harrison Grierson, is intended to provide you with an insight into the real meaning of sustainability. Our thought leadership articles on topical and specialist issues are designed to present the key points in an easy to digest and interesting manner.

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