Sustainable, enduring and lasting

The definitions of sustainability.

Sustainability has become a word so widely used that most people, including me think right away of ecological, organic, fair and honest. The most common interpretation of these words is ‘not harmful for the environment’.

 literally sustainable means maintainable, endurable and lasting. This insinuates that if something is sustainable, it will exist for a long time.

What I want to talk about is the two ways of putting this maintainability into practice. I will explain this using the recognizable example of the coffee cup. One point of view of the sustainable coffee cup is that it is the best to use biodegradable cardboard coffee cups which are disposed after one time use. This can be seen as sustainable because the cardboard will be recycled and will last this way through time. Another position is to make a cup out of plaster and use it many times for a longer period, that is durable seen in another perspective.

The same disunity is visible in architecture. In some architect’s opinion it is best to use materials that are biodegradable or recyclable after use, structures need to be light, have small impact on the area and might only be in use for twenty years. It might me structures that are able to be disassembled and assembled again in another place or used in another building. Others are convinced that it is more sustainable to build a heavy building out of metal and concrete so that it will last through time, these buildings need to be flexible from the inside so that the building can be used for different functions and purposes through time.

For both there are pros and cons, and they are both in their own way sustainable although they are so fundamentally different in approach. This is the same with the example of the coffee cups. Often the complaint is heard that the term sustainability is so wide and vague, these examples might have shown why. In my opinion it is time to make clear what kinds of sustainability exist and come up with clear definitions. This way it will be much better understandable why a certain products is justifiable instead of just naming it ‘sustainable’. 


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