Friday, March 9, 2012

Sustainable.......much more than just a buzzword.

I have been very fortunate over the past few months as a recognised Candidate for the next Regional Council elections to have had many very interesting and enlightening conversations with people I might otherwise have not met, or not had the opportunity to converse with.

There are many things that people choose to bring to my attention and several of those I have followed up on or noted down in the hope that win or lose, I may have an opportunity to affect a better outcome on those particular issues. There are a few things that keep cropping up though that require a much broader scope in which to make lasting changes.

I am a huge fan of encouraging grocers and market stalls to display food mileage on their produce. Not individually, just a simple sign on each food bin that indicates where the fruit and veg has come from and how far it travelled to get there. Many consumers will still decide on the imported or interstate produce when taking account of costs but others would prefer to make an informed choice for their basket or trolley. There are several other environmentally or locally based initiatives I am interested in exploring as well and this is the reason for my post.

It is very apparent that many within the community would like to make some changes, both small and large, to reduce their footprint on their surrounding environment. The options are now readily available to do just that and there are sound bytes everywhere proclaiming that the future look, feel and direction for our region must be sustainable. Sustainable economics, sustainable growth, sustainable consumption and sustainable building and development. Sounds great! But what does it really mean and how can it be achieved? Perhaps even more importantly, how does it sit with residents?

The most common misconception with this word is that it somehow belongs to a fringe, radical group who are all vegan, long-haired and wear sandals. It is creeping into conversation in all sectors now but it remains true that it is still seen as slightly extreme which is very unfortunate. Speak to anyone who works hard in the arena of sustainable native animal populations. They will tell you how difficult it is to get the attention of newspapers or radio when there is a crisis that needs better management. Speak to anyone in the RealFood Network and they will say the same. The numbers are growing but it still remains a very difficult prospect to garner mainstream attention.

Of course this isn't helped by the few who are wildly passionate about the cause. Those who want it all, now! It's a wonderful thought to imagine us living in sustainable, solar run houses, eating food from the garden or the front gate from farms, composting, worm farming, caring for native wildlife, no longer buying any 'throwaway' consumer goods or trinkets......... Well, it isn't realistic. Not yet. Maybe we will eventually get to the point where our consumer driven society is no longer impressed with the latest gadget or the newest 'in' thing, but for now, we all need to work harder to get the message out that this change that we have to make (our environment is telling us that we need to rearrange our priorities) can happen, and will happen, if we all just START the process.

People understandably baulk at the idea that their whole world will be flipped upside down (at this point metaphorically) and there really does need to be a better approach to creating a sustainable community. The first thing that needs to happen is it needs to become a mainstream idea. It needs to be recognised that some will grow food in their gardens, add a compost heap and have solar power......but still want to own the prettiest smartphone on the market. Some will happily read the labels on food items to ensure their children are raised preservative and artificially coloured free, but they will still proudly drive a Prado as the family car. Developers may choose to build a unit development out of recycled materials and fill it's walls with louvres to negate the need for air-conditioning.......but install them anyway, along with dryers, for the two or three weeks a year the residents may use them. Small, local businesses may form a working group of their own to pool resources for effective marketing and problem solving, but still employ more casual juniors than full time staff.

Sustainability. In order to work it needs to be a choice. It needs to be presented as a logical, cost effective option which does not come with strings attached or any higher expectations. It needs to be applauded but not segregated and it needs to be accessible.

Long term, sustainable, lasting.......the meanings are very similar. This is NOT a 'buzzword' and should not be treated as such. It's the only way our community will flourish, long after we are no longer around to see it.